A mutual fund is a type of professionally managed collective investment scheme that pools money from many investors to purchase securities. While there is no legal definition of the term “mutual fund”, it is most commonly applied only to those collective investment vehicles that are regulated and sold to the general public. They are sometimes referred to as “investment companies” or “registered investment companies.” Most mutual funds are “open-ended,” meaning investors can buy or sell shares of the fund at any time. Hedge funds are not considered a type of mutual fund.
Mutual funds have both advantages and disadvantages compared to direct investing in individual securities. They have a long history in the United States. Today they play an important role in household finances, most notably in retirement planning.
There are 3 types of U.S. mutual funds: open-end, unit investment trust, and closed-end. The most common type, the open-end fund, must be willing to buy back shares from investors every business day. Exchange-traded funds (or “ETFs” for short) are open-end funds or unit investment trusts that trade on an exchange. Open-end funds are most common, but exchange-traded funds have been gaining in popularity.
Mutual funds are generally classified by their principal investments. The four main categories of funds are money market funds, bond or fixed income funds, stock or equity funds and hybrid funds. Funds may also be categorized as index or actively managed.
Investors in a mutual fund pay the fund’s expenses, which reduce the fund’s returns/performance. There is controversy about the level of these expenses. A single mutual fund may give investors a choice of different combinations of expenses (which may include sales commissions or loads) by offering several different types of share classes.