What is a Mutual Fund?

November 4, 2022 Michael Iachini
What is a mutual fund? A mutual fund is a professionally managed fund that lets you pool your money with other investors to purchase a collection of securities. Learn more about mutual funds and their benefits.

What is a mutual fund?

A mutual fund is a professionally managed fund that lets you pool your money with other investors to purchase a collection of securities—such as stocks and bonds—across multiple corporations or other issuers (government, investment trusts). Although investors don't directly own the securities, they mutually share in the fund's profit or losses.

What are the benefits of mutual funds?

Investors in mutual funds get several significant benefits:

Diversification

Since mutual funds are invested in numerous companies and other issuers, they can help offer immediate diversification. 

Convenience

Mutual funds are easy to buy and sell as they provide one-stop shopping. If you wanted to invest in all the stocks in a mutual fund that owns 100 companies, for example, you could do it the hard and costly way by buying an equal proportion of all 100 companies, or you could buy them all in one place through a mutual fund.

Professional management

Having a professional manager reviewing and researching the mutual fund's portfolio on an ongoing basis takes a lot of the work—and emotions—out of investing. Fund managers have disciplined processes for buying and selling, which can help investors navigate challenging periods in the market, when they might have otherwise let fear or uncertainty negatively affect their investing decisions.

What are the drawbacks of mutual funds?

Lack of ownership

Because you don't directly own the underlying securities, you don't have control over the mutual fund's sales and purchases.

Fees

If you choose to invest through a mutual fund, you pay the mutual fund manager a fee, usually expressed as an "operating expense ratio," or OER. How much you pay largely depends on which of two main types of mutual funds you're investing in, active or passive.

Types of mutual funds

Passively managed mutual funds

The first of the two main types of mutual funds are index funds—otherwise known as passively managed funds. With an index mutual fund, the fund manager aims to match the market's performance. For example, an index mutual fund modeled after the Standard & Poor's 500® index consists of all the companies in the index in the same proportion. In this way, the index mutual fund seeks to track the performance of the S&P 500® index as closely as possible. When the index adds or subtracts from its holdings, the index fund manager follows suit. That's why index funds fall under the category of "passive management." Because index funds require less managerial insight, they are generally less expensive.

Actively managed mutual funds

Actively managed mutual funds, on the other hand, require more decisions on the part of the fund managers. Rather than matching the market, they try to outperform it. That means the fund manager needs to decide not only which securities to buy and sell and when, but also in what proportion to other holdings in the mutual fund. Active managers typically try to buy low and sell high, which can generate taxable gains (profits earned on a sale) that need to be managed as well. Because of these extra responsibilities, actively managed mutual funds typically charge more than index funds.

Despite their differences, index funds and actively managed mutual funds are really two sides of the same investing coin, and many investors use both types in their portfolios.

Are mutual funds right for your portfolio?

How Index Funds Could Beat Hedge Funds over Time

Warren Buffett bet $1,000,000 that an index fund would perform better than hedge funds. See how an S&P 500® index fund stacked up against a hedge fund manager's selections.

Are Mutual Funds a Good Investment?

Mutual funds may be a good investment for anyone looking for diversification in their portfolios. Learn whether mutual funds can be the right investment for you.

6 Things to Know About How Mutual Funds Work

How do mutual funds work? Learn about the tax on mutual funds, mutual fund prices, and how mutual funds make money.

Investors should consider carefully information contained in the prospectus or, if available, the summary prospectus, including investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. You can request a prospectus by visiting Schwab.com or calling Schwab at 800-435-4000. Please read the prospectus carefully before investing.

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

Diversification strategies do not ensure a profit and do not protect against losses in declining markets.

Indexes are unmanaged, do not incur management fees, costs and expenses and cannot be invested in directly. For more information on indexes please see www.schwab.com/indexdefinitions.

Investing involves risk, including loss of principal.

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