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Finance Q&A: Should You Invest in Mutual Funds?

  • Deborah Nayrocker Contributor
  • 2009 10 Dec
Finance Q&A: Should You Invest in Mutual Funds?

Dear Deborah,

Q: I'm a single 24-year-old and a full-time employee. I've heard about mutual funds, but what are they and how do I go about investing in them? -- Nathan

A: Mutual funds offer a great way to grow your money for the long-term. These funds pool the money from thousands of investors, buying a larger quantity and variety of investments than a single investor could pay. Investors generally receive capital gains and dividends after expense and management charges are deducted.

With thousands of these funds on the market, you need to know their investment objectives. In general, they consist of company stocks, bonds, and money market funds. Before investing in a mutual fund, read the fund's prospectus with information such as the fund objective, its risks, charges, and expenses.

Mutual funds offer the ability to invest with relatively small amounts needed to get in, and make it easier to diversify, with a bigger variety of funds. Some funds charge a "load" or a sales commission usually paid up front when you invest. The money goes to a stockbroker or sales agent.

If you're eligible to participate in your employer-matching 401(k), take advantage of it. Contact your Human Resources Department to find out more. Look for funds you like and contribute at least the percentage your company will match.

Also consider "no-load" funds when you invest. "No-load" funds don't charge sales commissions. You purchase them directly from the fund company or a discount brokerage firm offering mutual funds. Consider investment-management firms such as Vanguard (800-662-7447), Fidelity (800-544-8888) and T. Rowe Price (800-638-5660) which offer lower-cost managed funds. Use the free asset-allocation suggestions they provide.

These no-load fund companies offer lower transaction costs and annual expenses, saving you more money. If you want to save even more on fees, buy index funds, cutting annual fees by a third to a half. Index funds don't require regular monitoring as managed funds do.

Start saving now while you are young. The earlier you begin, the more you'll save. Time is on your side.

Dear Deborah,

Q: My husband and I are in a financial crisis. He is in the contractor business and was severely impacted by the economic downturn. While we are trying to get caught up on our first and second mortgages, our credit card bills are suffering and the collectors are calling. We have met with Consumer Credit Counseling Services regarding participating in their Debt Management Plan. This would significantly reduce our monthly payments and provide discipline as we plan to become debt free within five years. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about these programs. Would you recommend this type of program? What impact do they have on credit report and credit pursuits?-- F & L in Florida

A: Many families and businesses are experiencing financial problems due to the current economic conditions. Preying on desperate consumers, the airwaves are full of unscrupulous debt settlement companies that promise to get you out of debt fast. They often make promises that seem too good to be true. They cannot "fix" your credit. Be careful.

1.      First and foremost, consumers should work directly with their creditors. After all, the creditors loaned you the money in good faith, expecting you to pay it all back. Call your creditors and explain your circumstances. Can you negotiate lower interest rates or smaller payments? Ignoring the bills or phone calls will not improve your financial situation. Procrastination will make matters worse.

2.      If you do need to seek out credit counseling, it is important to talk with counselors who are certified by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). This is a national nonprofit network of 850 locations whose credit counselors must meet high quality standards and pass counselor certification exams. The network can offer help in person, by mail, online, or through their toll-free hotline (1-800-388-2227).

The counseling agency you consulted with, Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS),  is a reputable agency. It is accredited through NFCC and by the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA). The agency helps consumers manage their household budget and debts.   

The CCCS Debt Management Program (DMP) offers an initial no-cost credit counseling session to review the current financial situation and look at options. If you decide to enroll in the DMP, your counselor will 1) contact the creditors and negotiate a workable repayment plan and 2) work with creditors to waive over-limit fees and late fees. You, the client, pay a monthly payment through CCCS, often withdrawn from your bank account. The credit counseling agency sends those funds directly to your creditors.

Credit counselors set up ongoing sessions to help you be in charge of your financial situation. The DMP is successfully completed when the debts have been paid off.

How will a DMP affect your credit? According to the NFCC:  "Your participation in a DMP may change information that is already on your credit report. If your credit report reflects that you have paid creditors as agreed in the past, a DMP could have a negative impact on a creditworthiness decision by a potential creditor, landlord, or employer because it is an indicator that you are or have experienced financial difficulties."

Self-control is the key to financial freedom. You also need patience and determination to reach your goals and get out of debt. Get rid of the excuses. Don't give up!

Copyright 2009 Deborah Nayrocker. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint required.

Deborah Nayrocker is the author of The Art of Debt-Free Living and the popular Bible study Living a Balanced Financial Life. She is an award-winning writer and columnist.