Asset allocation funds can make investing less frightening, but it's important to understand the specifics before investing in this or any type of fund.
Anyone can invest in an asset allocation fund, which may be part of your retirement portfolio, or among the 401(k) retirement options at your workplace [Source: Whelehan]. These funds often make the most difference during a bear market. When the market takes a significant, prolonged downturn, certain categories of stocks will plummet. If all of your investments happen to be in that grouping of stocks, you may suffer devastating losses [Source: Jenkins]. The variety of asset allocation funds can help balance out such losses through diversifying, or varying, investments.
When you invest in an asset allocation fund, you have automatically diversified your investments into some combination of investment classes. Fund managers will usually further diversify investments within each investment class. For example, rather than buying only energy stocks, fund managers typically buy stocks in many fields, such as energy, technology, precious metals and pharmaceuticals. Likewise, an asset allocation fund will likely include different kinds of bonds and short-term reserves. Some funds might also include real estate or commodities.
But what type of fund is right for you? Before you invest in an allocation fund, you should consider what type of investor you are. Think about your comfort level with risk: Do you get so nervous when the market goes down that you sell all your stocks? Or are you willing to ride out the market's ups and downs? Also know what your investment window is. For example, if the goal of your fund is to pay for little Janie's college tuition and she's currently in second grade, your window is about ten years.
Questions like these can help you choose the type of asset allocation fund that's right for you. If you discover that you have a low tolerance for risk and a long window of time, you might want to choose a conservative or moderate fund. These funds typically contain fewer stocks and are therefore less risky, but sometimes less profitable, than more aggressive growth funds. Another point to consider is that some funds maintain a specific balance of funds over time, while others shift assets as conditions change.
Of course no investment, no matter how diversified or conservative, is guaranteed. Those seeking to invest should always consider their options carefully before investing.
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