A mutual fund is an open-end investment company or fund. An open-end fund is one of three basic types of investment companies. The other two types of investment companies are closed-end funds and unit investment trusts (UITs). Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are generally also structured as open-end funds, but can be structured as UITs as well.
A mutual fund continuously pools money from many investors and invests the money in stocks, bonds, money market instruments, other securities, or even cash.
Here are some of the traditional and distinguishing characteristics of mutual funds:
- Mutual funds generally sell and purchase their shares on a continuous basis, although some funds will stop selling when, for example, they reach a certain level of assets under management.
- Investors purchase shares in the mutual fund from the fund itself, or through a broker for the fund. Investors cannot purchase the shares from other investors on a secondary market, such as the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq Stock Market. The price that investors pay for mutual fund shares is the fund’s current net asset value (NAV) per share plus any fees that the fund may charge at purchase, such as sales charges or loads.
- Mutual fund shares are redeemable. This means that when mutual fund investors want to sell their fund shares, they sell them back to the fund or to a broker acting for the fund. Investors sell their shares at the current NAV per share, minus any fees the fund may charge at redemption, such as deferred sales loads or redemption fees.
- Mutual funds are registered with the SEC and subject to SEC regulation. In addition, the investment portfolios of mutual funds typically are managed by separate entities known as investment advisers that are also registered with the SEC.
There are many varieties of mutual funds, including, stock funds, bond funds, and money market funds. Some mutual funds are index funds and other are actively managed. Each may have a different investment objective and strategy and a different investment portfolio. Different mutual funds may also be subject to different risks, volatility, and fees and expenses. Fees reduce returns on fund investments and are an important factor that investors should consider when buying mutual fund shares.
For more information on mutual funds, please read our brochure on Mutual Funds and ETFs: A Guide for Investors. In addition, you should carefully read all of a fund’s available information, including its prospectus and most recent shareholder report before purchasing mutual fund shares.