A mutual fund is an investment fund that pools money from a large number of investors to fund professional management and a diversified number of securities.
Mutual funds offer a number of advantages to offset fees, including participation in a larger investment scale (thanks to the number of investors in the pool), higher liquidity and management by a team of professionals. Mutual funds may be index funds that are passively managed and which follow the performance of an industry of your choosing, or they may be hand-selected by financial advisors and actively managed.
Adding a mutual fund to your investment portfolio is a tried-and-true way to boost your assets over time. But what makes a mutual fund worth the investment? We’ve compiled a list of the most consistently-performing mutual funds on the market along with some tips to help you determine if a mutual fund has characteristics that signal success.
Qualities of a reliable mutual fund
While each fund will be unique in its makeup and, in the case of index funds, its industry. The most reliable mutual funds also share these three defining characteristics:
1. Upfront pricing and information
Financial scams are an unfortunate part of navigating the investment scheme. A good way to avoid scams is to stick with well-known names and managers—corporations like the Vanguard Group and Fidelity have built reputations through decades of successful advising and management.
These companies are upfront about their fees and employ well-known advisors to manage customers’ investments. Be extremely wary of mutual fund companies that make it difficult to find information on who will be managing the fund or what types of expenses and fees are associated with the investment.
2. Low fees
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that higher fees mean that a mutual fund will perform better. Some mutual funds charge very high fees and claim that this is justified by a well-performing fund.
However, this fails theory to consider just how quickly high expense ratios can eat into your profits. Unless a mutual fund performs phenomenally for multiple years on end, there is no excuse for companies to charge over a 1% expense ratio per fund.
3. Good performance over an extended period of time
We know that this advice probably sounds much easier said than done, but it’s crucial that you look at the long-term performance of a mutual fund before you decide to invest. Don’t be blindsided by a few great years of performance—look at data over a 10- or 20-year period. Does the fund seem to steadily increase in value, or has it only had a lucky year? When it comes to your financial security, don’t take risks on mutual funds that haven’t proven themselves.
The best mutual funds you can buy
Now, let’s take a look at some mutual funds that can complement any investment portfolio.
1. Fidelity Contrafund
The Fidelity Contrafund is an open-end, actively managed mutual fund that’s made its way into center stage for its comparatively low fees, clocking in at just 0.68% annual expense. The Fidelity Contrafund is managed by William Danoff, the vice president of the company.
The fund has continually appreciated in value since 2010. With over $129 billion in holdings, the Fidelity Contrafund is the largest and most valuable mutual fund managed by a single advisor in the world.
2. Vanguard 500 Index Fund
The Vanguard 500 is an index fund that seeks to mimic the performance of the S&P 500 index, which is largely considered to be an accurate tracker of the American economy as a whole because it covers 80% of investable market capitalization.
The managers of the Vanguard 500 Index Fund attempt to replicate the performance of the S&P 500 while also offering lower fees—the fund’s expense ratio is 0.14%, which is exceptionally low, and this number drops as low as 0.04% with a $10,000 minimum investment.
The majority of the holdings in the Vanguard 500 are found in Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft.
3. Fidelity 500 Index Fund
The Fidelity 500 Index is very similar to the Vanguard 500 in that it also seeks to track the performance of the S&P 500. However, unlike Vanguard’s $3,000 minimum account holding, you’ll need a $10,000 minimum investment to get started with the Fidelity 500.
The Fidelity 500 also comes along with a low 0.09% expense ratio, which is slightly higher than the Vanguard 500 but still considered reasonable. The fund is managed by a team of six of Fidelity’s most senior investment professionals and holds over $165 million in investments.
4. American Funds Growth Fund of America
Regardless of the fact that the American Funds’ Growth Fund of America managers have a higher-than-average turnover rate (four managers have stepped down from their positions since 2011), the company has built a solid strategy by teaching analysts the skills they need to step into the management role later in their careers.
Experienced analysts make this mutual fund what it is, as the $196.13 billion in holdings requires some serious upkeep. The American Funds Growth Fund of America holds its investments in nearly 400 equities, most of which are stocks that focus on healthcare and technology. The most prominent holdings are stocks from Amazon, Comcast, and Gilead Sciences.
5. Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
Formed in 1992, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund is one of the most popular choices for investors who are looking for a single option to invest in the potential of the American market. It tracks the CRSP U.S. Total Market Index, which (as its name suggests) seeks to replicate the performance of the entire U.S. market.
A massive mutual fund, the Vanguard Total Stock Index holds stock in well over 3,000 of America’s largest corporations, with the highest number of holdings found in Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook. If you’re looking for an index fund with a large blend of different industries and a low expense ratio (coming in at 0.04%), the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund may be right for you.
It’s difficult to determine which mutual fund is the best because where you invest will largely depend upon where you are in your life, how much you’re looking to invest, and your personal philosophy.
Many mutual funds are index funds (which are tied to a specific industry) so if you passionately believe in a certain sector of the market, there’s probably a mutual fund that’s made for you.
No matter what you believe, there are some simple rules that everyone should follow when choosing a mutual fund. Look for funds with expense ratios that won’t dig into your profits, avoid mutual funds that are associated with a higher-than-average risk level if you’re nearing retirement, and research your fund’s managers to make sure you’re putting your money into competent hands.