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Mutual fund is a financial instrument which pools the money of different people and invests them in different financial securities like stocks, bonds etc. Each investor in a mutual fund owns units of the fund, which represents a portion of the holdings of the mutual fund. Let us understand with the help of an example. Suppose you invest Rs 100,000 in a mutual fund. If the price of a unit of the fund is Rs 10, then the mutual fund house will allot you 10,000 units. Let us assume the total money invested in the fund by all the investors is Rs 100 crores. The mutual fund invests the money to buy stocks. Then each unit will represent 0.000001% of all the stocks the mutual fund has in its holdings. If you have 10,000 units, then your portion of the mutual fund stock holdings will be 0.01%. As the value of securities held by the mutual increases or decreases, so will the price of the units.

What are the advantages of mutual funds?

There are 5 key advantages of investing in mutual funds:-

1. Risk Diversification:

Mutual funds help investors diversify their risks by investing in a fairly portfolio of stocks across different sectors. A diversified portfolio reduces risks associated with individual stocks or specific sectors. If an equity investor were to create a well diversified portfolio by directly investing in stocks it would require a large capital outlay. On the other hand mutual fund investors can buy units of a diversified equity fund with an investment as low as र 5,000/- only (even lower for ELSS funds). Further mutual funds are managed by professional fund managers who are experts in picking the right stocks to get the best risk adjusted returns. Retail investors often lack this expertise.

2. Economies of scale in transaction costs:

Since mutual funds buy and sell securities in large volumes transaction costs on a per unit basis is much lower than buying or selling stocks directly.

3. Tax efficiency:

Mutual funds are more tax efficient than most other investment products. Long term capital gains (holding period of more than 1 year) for equity mutual funds are tax exempt. Further dividends of equity funds are also tax free. For debt funds long term capital gain (holding period of more than 3 years) is taxed at 20% with indexation. Once indexation (due to inflation) is factored in the long term capital gains tax is reduced considerably, especially for investors in the higher tax bracket.

4. High Liquidity:

Open ended mutual funds are more liquid than many other investment products like shares, debentures and variety of deposit products (excluding bank fixed deposits). Investors can redeem their units fully or partially at any time in open ended funds. Moreover, the procedure of redemption is standardized across all mutual funds.

5. Variety of products and modes of investment:

Mutual funds offer investors a variety of products to suit their risk profiles and investment objectives. Apart from equity funds, there are also income funds, balanced funds, monthly income plans and liquid funds to suit different investment requirements. Mutual funds also offer investors flexibility in terms of modes of investment and withdrawal. Investors can opt for different investment modes like lump sum (or one time), systematic investment plans, systematic transfer plans (from other mutual fund schemes) or switching from one scheme to another.

How do mutual funds work ?

The Asset Management Company (AMC), i.e. the company which manages the mutual fund raises money from the public. The AMC then deploys the money by investing in different financial securities like stocks, bonds etc. The securities are selected keeping in mind the investment objective of the fund. For example, if the investment objective of the fund is capital appreciation, the fund will invest in shares of different companies. If the investment objective of the fund is to generate income, then the fund will invest in fixed income securities that pay interest. Each investor in a mutual fund owns units of the fund, which represents a portion of the holdings of the mutual fund. On an ongoing basis, the fund managers will manage the fund to ensure that the investment objectives are met. For the services the AMCs provide they incur expenses and charge a fee to the unit holders. These expenses are charged against proportionately against the assets of the fund and are adjusted in the price of the unit. Mutual funds are bought or sold on the basis of Net Asset Value (NAV). Unlike share prices which changes constantly depending on the activity in the share market, the NAV is determined on a daily basis, computed at the end of the day based on closing price of all the securities that the mutual fund owns after making appropriate adjustments.

What are different mutual funds in India ?

Though there has been growing awareness about mutual funds in the past few years, mutual funds have been around in India since 1963. For a long period of time, mutual funds were offered only by Unit Trust of India. In the late 80s some public sector banks and insurance companies started offering mutual funds. The early 90s marked the entry of private sector mutual funds. Today there are 44 asset management companies offering mutual fund products. There are essentially two kinds of mutual funds.

  • Open Ended Schemes: Investors can buy units of open ended schemes at any time. Investors can also sell units of open ended schemes at any time, though some schemes (e.g. equity linked savings schemes) may have a lock in period during which the investor cannot sell the units.
  • Close Ended Schemes: Close ended schemes are open for subscription only for a limited period of time, during the offer period. These schemes have fixed tenure and the investors can sell or redeem only after the maturity of the scheme. Upon maturity, depending on the scheme, the units get automatically redeemed or in some cases, the investors can switch to a different scheme.

Mutual fund industry in India is highly regulated under the watch of the securities market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). If investors have any complaints they can register them with SEBI, who will ensure appropriate action is taken for redressal.

SIP works on the principle of regular investments. It is like your recurring deposit where you put in a small amount every month. It allows you to invest in a MF by making smaller periodic investments (monthly or quarterly) in place of a heavy one-time investment i.e. SIP allows you to pay 10 periodic investments of Rs 500 each in place of a one-time investment of Rs 5,000 in an MF. Thus, you can invest in an MF without altering your other financial liabilities. It is imperative to understand the concept of rupee cost averaging and the power of compounding to better appreciate the working of SIPs.

SIP has brought mutual funds within the reach of an average person as it enables even those with tight budgets to invest Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 on a regular basis in place of making a heavy, one-time investment.

While making small investments through SIP may not seem appealing at first, it enables investors to get into the habit of saving. And over the years, it can really add up and give you handsome returns. A monthly SIP of Rs 1000 at the rate of 9% would grow to Rs 6.69 lakh in 10 years, Rs 17.83 lakh in 30 years and Rs 44.20 lakh in 40 years.

Even for the cash-rich, SIPs reduces the chance of investing at the wrong time and losing their sleep over a wrong investment decision. However, the true benefit of an SIP is derived by investing at lower levels. Other benefits include:

1. Discipline

The cardinal rule of building your corpus is to stay focused, invest regularly and maintain discipline in your investing pattern. A few hundreds set aside every month will not affect your monthly disposable income. You will also find it easier to part with a few hundreds every month, rather than set aside a large sum for investing in one shot.

2. Power of compounding

Investment gurus always recommend that one must start investing early in life. One of the main reasons for doing that is the benefit of compounding. Let’s explain this with an example. Person A started investing Rs 10,000 per year at the age of 30. Person B started investing the same amount every year at the age of 35. When they attained the age of 60 respectively, A had built a corpus of Rs 12.23 lakh while person B’s corpus was only Rs 7.89 lakh. For this example, a rate of return of 8% compounded has been assumed. So the difference of Rs 50,000 in amount invested made a difference of more than Rs 4 lakh to their end-corpus. That difference is due to the effect of compounding. The longer the (compounding) period, the higher the returns.
Now, instead of investing Rs 10,000 each year, suppose A invested Rs 50,000 after every five years, starting at the age of 35. The total amount invested, thus remains the same — Rs 3 lakh. However, when he is 60, his corpus will be Rs 10.43 lakh. Again, he loses the advantage of compounding in the early years.

3. Rupee cost averaging

This is especially true for investments in equities. When you invest the same amount in a fund at regular intervals over time, you buy more units when the price is lower. Thus, you would reduce your average cost per share (or per unit) over time. This strategy is called ‘rupee cost averaging’. With a sensible and long-term investment approach, rupee cost averaging can smoothen out the market’s ups and downs and reduce the risks of investing in volatile markets.
People who invest through SIPs capture the lows as well as the highs of the market. In an SIP, your average cost of investing comes down since you will go through all phases of the market, bull or bear.

4. Convenience

This is a very convenient way of investing. You have to just submit cheques along with the filled up enrolment form. The mutual fund will deposit the cheques on the requested date and credit the units to one’s account and will send the confirmation for the same.

5. Other advantages

  • There are no entry or exit loads on SIP investments.
  • Capital gains, wherever applicable, are taxed on a first-in, first-out basis.

5. Other advantages