What are the advantages and disadvantages of mutual funds?

Investing, Mutual Funds
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6 days ago
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Thanks for the question. Here are a few things to consider.

Advantages:

  1. Instant diversification: A mutual fund will provide you with a "basket of stocks" that will provide diversification in your portfolio.
  2. Effective for smaller accounts: Since a mutual fund provides exposure to hundreds or thousands of stocks, you don't need to go out and buy hundreds or thousands of stocks on your own, which could be very prohibitive for you if you have a smaller-sized investment account and limited capital to invest with.
  3. Professional money management: Mutual funds are run by investment managers who would likely be considered "experts" in their field. Mutual fund companies have resources that are above and beyond what one may have as an individual, retail investor.

Disadvantages

  1. No intraday-trading on mutual funds: If you want to make a trade on your mutual fund, you'll likely not know what the "NAV" price will be when you lock in the trade. That is because the NAV (Net Asset Value) is settled at the end of each trading day. If you don't lock your trade in before the end of the stock market close, you'll receive the NAV as of the close of business the following day. This makes it difficult and/or impossible to capitalize on sudden movements in the market (if that is something you're trying to do).
  2. Not tax-efficient: In a non IRA account, mutual funds will process capital gain distributions about once per year, which you will then be taxed on, even if you did not take any capital gains that year. The end investor has little impact or say on how much a fund will decide to spit out in capital gain distributions. The funds have the freedom to delay capital gain distributions in some years, essentially kicking the can down the road for later years. This could adversely impact you as the end investor.
  3. Subject to the herd: If you are a disciplined investor and you know not to "buy high" and "sell low," then you won't panic when volatility occurs in the marketplace. However, when investing in a large mutual fund, chances are that many of your fellow investors will not have the same discipline. They will sell at a low point, causing the fund to sell positions in order to account for the redemption requests. In other words, your performance may suffer because of the lack of discipline of other investors that also own the same fund.
  4. Impersonal connection: When investing in a mutual fund, you do not usually have easy access to the one making the investment decisions. There may be quarterly investor calls and updates, but there will be a significant lack of interpersonal communication with the main folks in charge of the fund.
  5. Costs: Mutual funds always carry some kind of costs. In all cases, costs will decrease your overall rate of return. That is why it is important to limit the annual expenses of mutual funds, the potential front-end or back-end loads, and turnover costs. It takes more than a novice investor to navigate these issues, but this is one of the most important downsides to using mutual funds and thus, should certainly be evaluated and address by all investors.

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Joe Allaria, CFP®

January 2010
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