Like many investments, mutual funds offer advantages and disadvantages, which are important for you to consider and understand before you decide to buy. Here we explore some of the drawbacks of mutual funds. (For some of the benefits, see The Advantages of Mutual Funds.)

Fluctuating Returns
Mutual funds are like many other investments without a guaranteed return: there is always the possibility that the value of your mutual fund will depreciate. Unlike fixed-income products, such as bonds and Treasury bills, mutual funds experience price fluctuations along with the stocks that make up the fund. When deciding on a particular fund to buy, you need to research the risks involved - just because a professional manager is looking after the fund, that doesn\'t mean the performance will be stellar.

Another important thing to know is that mutual funds are not guaranteed by the U.S. government, so in the case of dissolution, you won\'t get anything back. This is especially important for investors in money market funds. Unlike a bank deposit, a mutual fund will not be insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). (For more on this, read Are My Investments Insured Against Loss?)

Although diversification is one of the keys to successful investing, many mutual fund investors tend to overdiversify. The idea of diversification is to reduce the risks associated with holding a single security; overdiversification (also known as diworsification) occurs when investors acquire many funds that are highly related and, as a result, don\'t get the risk reducing benefits of diversification. (To read more on this subject, see The Dangers Of Over-Diversificaton.)

At the other extreme, just because you own mutual funds doesn\'t mean you are automatically diversified. For example, a fund that invests only in a particular industry or region is still relatively risky.

Cash, Cash and More Cash
As you know already, mutual funds pool money from thousands of investors, so everyday investors are putting money into the fund as well as withdrawing investments. To maintain liquidity and the capacity to accommodate withdrawals, funds typically have to keep a large portion of their portfolios as cash. Having ample cash is great for liquidity, but money sitting around as cash is not working for you and thus is not very advantageous.

Mutual funds provide investors with professional management, but it comes at a cost. Funds will typically have a range of different fees that reduce the overall payout. In mutual funds, the fees are classified into two categories: shareholder fees and annual operating fees.

The shareholder fees, in the forms of loads and redemption fees, are paid directly by shareholders purchasing or selling the funds. The annual fund operating fees are charged as an annual percentage - usually ranging from 1-3%. These fees are assessed to mutual fund investors regardless of the performance of the fund. As you can imagine, in years when the fund doesn\'t make money, these fees only magnify losses. (For more on this topic, read Stop Paying High Fees.)

Misleading Advertisements
The misleading advertisements of different funds can guide investors down the wrong path. Some funds may be incorrectly labeled as growth funds, while others are classified as small cap or income funds. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires that funds have at least 80% of assets in the particular type of investment implied in their names. How the remaining assets are invested is up to the fund manager.

However, the different categories that qualify for the required 80% of the assets may be vague and wide-ranging. A fund can therefore manipulate prospective investors by using names that are attractive and misleading. Instead of labeling itself a small cap, a fund may be sold as a "growth fund". Or, the "Congo High-Tech Fund" could be sold with the title "International High-Tech Fund".

Evaluating Funds
Another disadvantage of mutual funds is the difficulty they pose for investors interested in researching and evaluating the different funds. Unlike stocks, mutual funds do not offer investors the opportunity to compare the P/E ratio, sales growth, earnings per share, etc. A mutual fund\'s net asset value gives investors the total value of the fund\'s portfolio less liabilities, but how do you know if one fund is better than another?

Furthermore, advertisements, rankings and ratings issued by fund companies only describe past performance. Always note that mutual fund descriptions/advertisements always include the tagline "past results are not indicative of future returns". Be sure not to pick funds only because they have performed well in the past - yesterday\'s big winners may be today\'s big losers. (To learn more, read Choosing Quality Mutual Funds.)

When you buy any investment, it\'s important to understand both the good and bad points. If the advantages that the investment offers outweigh its disadvantages, it\'s quite possible that mutual funds are something to consider. Whether you decide in favor or against mutual funds, the probability of a successful portfolio increases dramatically when you do your homework.

Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    The 5 Best Buy-and-Hold Energy Stocks

    Understand why energy companies' stock are volatile when oil prices are volatile. Learn about the top five energy companies to buy and hold.
  2. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Mutual Funds Are Not FDIC Insured: Here Is Why

    Find out why mutual funds are not insured by the FDIC, including why the FDIC was created and how to minimize your risk with educated mutual fund investments.
  3. Professionals

    How to Sell Mutual Funds to Your Clients

    Learn about the various talking points you should cover when discussing mutual funds with clients and how explaining their benefits can help you close the sale.
  4. Professionals

    Tax Efficient Strategies for Mutual Funds

    Before you sell mutual fund shares, consider these tax strategies first.
  5. Investing Basics

    Statistical Proof That Buy-and-Hold Investing Pays Off

    Learn about how the data suggests that the buy-and-hold investment strategy still works, even after the huge declines of the Great Recession.
  6. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Is Your Financial Advisor Picking the Right Mutual Funds?

    Learn about the different types of mutual funds and how to know if your financial advisor is choosing the right funds for you based on your investment goals.
  7. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Understanding Lipper Ratings in Mutual Funds

    Take a closer look at the Lipper rating system for mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), how investors should interpret it, and some possible criticisms.
  8. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    How to Find Mutual Funds With High Dividends

    Learn about the important factors to consider when looking for mutual funds that pay high dividends, including how they may impact your taxes.
  9. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The Basics of How Mutual Funds Are Rated

    Learn how the major rating agencies assign mutual fund ratings. Understand what these ratings measure and how they are different from each other.
  10. Retirement

    Should Balanced Funds Be Part Of Your Portfolio?

    Find out why you should include balanced funds in your portfolio, including the importance of customizability, diversification and professional management.
  1. Can mutual funds invest in hedge funds?

    Mutual funds are legally allowed to invest in hedge funds. However, hedge funds and mutual funds have striking differences ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are the risks of annuities in a recession?

    Annuities come in several forms, the two most common being fixed annuities and variable annuities. During a recession, variable ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Do financial advisors get paid by mutual funds?

    Financial advisors are reimbursed by mutual funds in exchange for the investment and financial advice they provide. A financial ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Why is fiduciary duty so important?

    Fiduciary duty is one the most important professional obligations. It basically provides a much-needed protection for individuals ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. When are mutual funds considered a bad investment?

    Mutual funds are considered a bad investment when investors consider certain negative factors to be important, such as high ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Why do financial advisors have a fiduciary responsibility?

    Financial advisors governed by fiduciary duty are bound by law to act in the best interests of their clients at all times. ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  2. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
  3. Revenue

    The amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period, including discounts and deductions for returned ...
  4. Normal Profit

    An economic condition occurring when the difference between a firm’s total revenue and total cost is equal to zero.
  5. Operating Cost

    Expenses associated with the maintenance and administration of a business on a day-to-day basis.
  6. Cost Of Funds

    The interest rate paid by financial institutions for the funds that they deploy in their business. The cost of funds is one ...
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!