Mutual funds are a popular way to invest in securities. Because mutual funds can offer built-in diversification and professional management, they offer certain advantages over purchasing individual stocks and bonds. But, like investing in any security, investing in a mutual fund involves certain risks, including the possibility that you may lose money.
Technically known as an "open-end company," a mutual fund is an investment company that pools money from many investors and invests it based on specific investment goals. The mutual fund raises money by selling its own shares to investors. The money is used to purchase a portfolio of stocks, bonds, short-term money-market instruments, other securities or assets, or some combination of these investments. Each share represents an ownership slice of the fund and gives the investor a proportional right, based on the number of shares he or she owns, to income and capital gains that the fund generates from its investments.
The particular investments a fund makes are determined by its objectives and, in the case of an actively managed fund, by the investment style and skill of the fund's professional manager or managers. The holdings of the mutual fund are known as its underlying investments, and the performance of those investments, minus fund fees, determine the fund's investment return.
While there are literally thousands of individual mutual funds, there are only a handful of major fund categories:
- Stock funds invest in stocks
- Bond funds invest in bonds
- Balanced funds invest in a combination of stocks and bonds
- Money market funds invest in very short-term investments and are sometimes described as cash equivalents
You can find all of the details about a mutual fund—including its investment strategy, risk profile, performance history, management, and fees—in a document called the prospectus. You should always read the prospectus before investing in a fund.Mutual funds are equity investments, as individual stocks are. When you buy shares of a fund you become a part owner of the fund. This is true of bond funds as well as stock funds, which means there is an important distinction between owning an individual bond and owning a fund that owns the bond. When you buy a bond, you are promised a specific rate of interest and return of your principal. That's not the case with a bond fund, which owns a number of bonds with different rates and maturities. What your equity ownership of the fund provides is the right to a share of what the fund collects in interest, realizes in capital gains, and receives back if it holds a bond to maturity.
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Mutual funds are offered by Horace Mann Investors, Inc., member FINRA. Horace Mann Investors, Inc. is located at #1 Horace Mann Plaza, Springfield, IL 62715. As with all securities, mutual funds involve a risk of loss, including a loss of principal.