As a new (or newer) investor, it's generally helpful to consider your investment choices — including the choice of mutual funds vs. stocks. Confused? Don't worry — many new investors are, which is one reason working with a registered financial representative can help.
When you invest in stocks, you're buying shares (the stock) of a single company. When you invest in a mutual fund, however, you're buying shares in a fund which invests in multiple stocks, bonds or other commodities. Each mutual fund usually has an investment objective, which can be based around an industry (financial, real estate, technology, healthcare, etc.), a region (European, American, Asian or emerging markets) or an index (which tracks a specific collection of companies).
People have different reasons for buying mutual funds vs. stocks. And, of course, someone could do both as part of their investment strategy.
Pros & Cons of Mutual Funds
Investing in mutual funds might work for those who want to participate in the stock market but don't necessarily want to pick and follow specific stocks. Owning "baskets" of stocks gives investors the advantages of being in the stock market and diversifying their investments while saving them the trouble of picking their own stocks by letting financial pros do the picking or by using an automated index approach.
Some pros of mutual funds:
- You spread out some of your risk by investing in multiple companies as part of a diversified investment fund, something that can be harder to do when picking individual stocks.
- If an individual stock loses value, other stocks in the mutual fund can balance it out — in other words, you haven't put all your eggs in one basket. (Keep in mind, however, that all the stocks in a fund could lose value at the same time.)
- A financial professional chooses which stocks go into the fund and then manages them, meaning you don't have to closely monitor individual stocks.
- If you're interested in a specific industry sector, you can invest in that sector without having to individually choose stocks.
Mutual funds do have some cons, however:
- If a single stock excels, you miss out on some of that high growth. You'll benefit from that growth if the stock is included in your mutual fund, but not to the same extent, as the stock will be diluted by the others in the fund.
- Those who prefer greater control over their investments may not like giving away choice in stocks to a mutual fund's managers.
- Some funds have minimum investment rules and require the fund be held for a certain amount of time before cashing out. Mutual funds also charge a percentage of the investment as a management fee.
Pros & Cons of Stocks
Buying stocks can be a good choice for people who want to own specific stocks and are able to handle more potential volatility. Among their pros:
- You control what stocks you invest in.
- If a stock soars, you'll get all the benefit from that increase — if you had that stock in a mutual fund, the benefit would be diluted by the other stocks in the fund. (Again, you'll also have to bear all the loss if that stock falls in value.)
- Some people find it exciting and rewarding to pick and follow specific stocks.
But picking stocks comes with its own potential downsides:
- Stocks can be volatile, and the highs and lows are emotionally difficult for some investors.
- It can be time-consuming to monitor individual stocks, as opposed to simply buying and holding a share in a mutual fund.
- You're charged a brokerage fee every time you buy or sell an individual stock.
If you haven't previously been investing in mutual funds or buying your own stocks — or if you're completely new to investing — you could try each approach to see which you like best, so long as you keep the potential risks in mind (because there are risks involved in both types). Many who are new to investing find it easier and more rewarding to invest in mutual funds. You could also consider talking to a registered investment advisor to find out more about the best option for you.