How to Evaluate and Choose Mutual Funds

Many investors today utilize mutual funds as part of their overall investment plan. Whether you must make your own mutual fund selections for your 401(K) or employer sponsored retirement plan, or use a professional investment advisor for other types of investment accounts, mutual funds can be an effective way to own baskets of stocks or bonds, with a small amount of investment dollars.

Understanding Mutual Funds

To successfully invest in mutual funds, you should understand what they are and how they work, so let’s start with some basics.

A mutual fund is a company that gathers money from many investors, and allocates that money by buying stocks, bonds or other assets. A mutual fund is like a big basket which holds a number of investments like stocks or bonds. When you buy a mutual fund, you actually buy a piece of the basket. In this way, you can own a small percentage of many different assets that you might not otherwise be able to afford on an individual basis.

The value of the fund is based on the value of the assets it holds. As the stocks or bonds within the fund increase in value, the fund increases in value. Conversely, as the stocks or bonds within the fund decrease in value, the fund also decreases in value. Mutual funds only trade at the end of the day based on their net asset value (NAV). To determine the NAV at the end of the trading day, the mutual fund company looks at all of the assets that are in the basket, determines their value and divides that number by the total number of outstanding shares in the fund.

Types of Mutual Funds

Mutual funds are divided into two categories: closed-end funds and open-end funds.

Closed-end funds have a fixed number of shares issued to the public. If you want to purchase a piece of the fund, you have to purchase an existing share from a shareholder that is selling.

Open-end funds have an unlimited number of shares. If you want to purchase a piece of the fund, the fund creates a new share and sells it to you. There are significantly more open-end funds than there are closed-end funds. Closed end funds can trade at values that are above or below their NAV, while open end funds only trade at their end of day NAV.

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