There are certainly some benefits to mutual fund investing, but you should also be aware of the drawbacks associated with mutual funds.
- No Insurance: Mutual funds, although regulated by the government, are not insured against losses. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) only insures against certain losses at banks, credit unions, and savings and loans, not mutual funds. That means that despite the risk-reducing diversification benefits provided by mutual funds, losses can occur, and it is possible (although extremely unlikely) that you could even lose your entire investment.
- Dilution: Although diversification reduces the amount of risk involved in investing in mutual funds, it can also be a disadvantage due to dilution. For example, if a single security held by a mutual fund doubles in value, the mutual fund itself would not double in value because that security is only one small part of the fund’s holdings. By holding a large number of different investments, mutual funds tend to do neither exceptionally well nor exceptionally poorly.
- Fees and Expenses: Most mutual funds charge management and operating fees that pay for the fund’s management expenses (usually around 1.0% to 1.5% per year for actively managed funds). In addition, some mutual funds charge high sales commissions, 12b-1 fees, and redemption fees. And some funds buy and trade shares so often that the transaction costs add up significantly. Some of these expenses are charged on an ongoing basis, unlike stock investments, for which a commission is paid only when you buy and sell .
- Poor Performance: Returns on a mutual fund are by no means guaranteed. In fact, on average, around 75% of all mutual funds fail to beat the major market indexes, like the S&P 500, and a growing number of critics now question whether or not professional money managers have better stock-picking capabilities than the average investor.
- Loss of Control: The managers of mutual funds make all of the decisions about which securities to buy and sell and when to do so. This can make it difficult for you when trying to manage your portfolio. For example, the tax consequences of a decision by the manager to buy or sell an asset at a certain time might not be optimal for you. You also should remember that you are trusting someone else with your money when you invest in a mutual fund.
- Trading Limitations: Although mutual funds are highly liquid in general, most mutual funds (called open-ended funds) cannot be bought or sold in the middle of the trading day. You can only buy and sell them at the end of the day, after they’ve calculated the current value of their holdings.
- Size: Some mutual funds are too big to find enough good investments. This is especially true of funds that focus on small companies, given that there are strict rules about how much of a single company a fund may own. If a mutual fund has $5 billion to invest and is only able to invest an average of $50 million in each, then it needs to find at least 100 such companies to invest in; as a result, the fund might be forced to lower its standards when selecting companies to invest in.
- Inefficiency of Cash Reserves: Mutual funds usually maintain large cash reserves as protection against a large number of simultaneous withdrawals. Although this provides investors with liquidity, it means that some of the fund’s money is invested in cash instead of assets, which tends to lower the investor’s potential return.
- Too Many Choices: The advantages and disadvantages listed above apply to mutual funds in general. However, there are over 10,000 mutual funds in operation, and these funds vary greatly according to investment objective, size, strategy, and style. Mutual funds are available for virtually every investment strategy (e.g. value, growth), every sector (e.g. biotech, internet), and every country or region of the world. So even the process of selecting a fund can be tedious.