Mutual funds are pretty transparent. You can easily find out what stocks are in a mutual fund by searching online. Many financial sites list the holding of funds. The price of a share, often called a unit, is posted on these sites, and you can find it easily if you use an online discount broker as well.

Mutual fund trades may be subject to a variety of charges and fees. Some funds carry a sales charge or load, which are fees you pay to buy or sell shares in the fund, similar to paying a commission on a stock trade. These can be in the form of upfront payments (front-end load) or fees you pay when you sell shares (contingent deferred sales charge).

Net Asset Value

The easiest way to find out the price of a mutual fund is to look at its net asset value. NAV is the total value of a mutual fund's assets, less all of its liabilities. Many mutual funds use this number to determine the price for transacting units of the fund. When you buy and sell mutual funds, you typically do so at the NAV.

Changes in Net Asset Value

For most mutual funds, the NAV is calculated daily since a mutual fund's portfolio consists of many different stocks. As each one of these stocks may be changing in price frequently throughout the day, an exact value of a mutual fund is difficult to determine. Thus, mutual fund companies have chosen to value their portfolio once daily, and each day, this is the price at which investors must buy and sell the mutual fund. The exact valuation technique may vary from fund to fund as some may use an average of the last three traded prices. All mutual funds, however, set a valuation of their NAV once a day.

Your Actual Price

When you buy or redeem a mutual fund, you are transacting directly with the fund, whereas with exchange-traded funds and stocks, you are trading on the secondary market, according to Fidelity Investments. Unlike stocks and ETFs, mutual funds trade only once per day, after the markets close at 4 p.m. ET. If you enter a trade to buy or sell shares of a mutual fund, your trade will be executed at the next available net asset value, which is calculated after the market closes and typically posted by 6 p.m. ET. This price may be higher or lower than the previous day's closing NAV.

How to Get the Exact Price You Want

In the case of an exchange-traded fund (ETF), which is an index fund that trades like a stock, the NAV is first determined the same way it is for stocks. Buyers and sellers bid on shares, and the price rises and falls moment by moment. You can place a limit order, and it will execute when the ETF share price is at or below your limit price.

You should note that an ETF is not a mutual fund. They are similar, in that both pool investors’ money to buy stocks, but an ETF’s shares trade like stocks, which means the price will change rapidly.

The Bottom Line

While the price of a mutual fund is easy to find, the truth is, no one knows what it will be worth when your buy order is executed. You will find out the next day what you bought it for. The only way to get the price you want is to buy an exchange-traded fund instead of a mutual fund.