How to Select the Best Mutual Fund Category for Beginners in India

Investing in mutual funds can be an excellent way for beginners to grow their wealth. However, with thousands of mutual funds to choose from, selecting the right category can be overwhelming. This article provides a step-by-step guide on how beginners can identify and select the best mutual fund category to invest in, along with examples and case studies.

Step 1: Define Your Investment Goals

The first step is to clearly define your investment goals. This will help determine the appropriate mutual fund category. Ask yourself:

– What is your investment horizon – short, medium or long term?

– What are your objectives – capital appreciation, regular income or both?

– What is your risk tolerance – low, medium or high?

For example, Rahul, 25, wants to accumulate Rs 10 lakhs in 7 years to make a down payment for a house. He has a moderate risk appetite. His goal is capital appreciation. Hence, his investment horizon is medium term.

Step 2: Understand the Different Mutual Fund Categories


Broadly, mutual funds are categorized based on asset class – equity, debt and hybrid. Within these, there are various sub-categories based on market capitalization, sector, investment style etc. Beginners should understand the key features of each category:

– Equity funds invest primarily in stocks. They are high risk but can give inflation-beating returns over the long term. Categories include large cap, mid cap, small cap, sector, thematic etc.

– Debt funds invest in fixed income instruments like bonds, government securities. They are less volatile and provide steady returns. Categories include short term, medium term, long term, gilt etc.

– Hybrid funds invest in both equities and debt. This balances risk and return. Categories include balanced, equity oriented and debt oriented hybrid funds.

For instance, equity funds align with Rahul’s goals of capital appreciation over the medium term despite high risk. Debt funds may not give him inflation beating returns given his 7 year horizon. Hence, equity funds suit his requirements better.

Step 3: Assess Your Risk Appetite


Risk tolerance should guide the level of risk you take within each asset class. For instance, large cap equity funds are safer than mid or small caps but give lower returns. Likewise, long term debt funds are more volatile than short term ones. Define your risk appetite as conservative, moderate or aggressive.

For example, Prateek, 30, has a low risk tolerance. He should opt for large cap equity funds or short term debt funds despite the lower returns. On the other hand, Samantha, 25, has an aggressive risk appetite. She can invest in mid cap equity or long term debt funds to target higher returns.

Step 4: Consider Tax Implications


Some mutual funds offer tax benefits. Equity Linked Savings Schemes (ELSS) and debt funds offer deductions under Sections 80C and 80CCD respectively. Understand the funds eligible for these deductions.

For instance, if Rahul invests Rs 1.5 lakhs in ELSS, he can claim a deduction under Section 80C and reduce his taxable income. He should opt for an ELSS fund given the tax benefit.

Step 5: Analyze Past Performance


Evaluate the historical returns of the shortlisted category over 3, 5 and 10 year periods. Opt for funds that have consistently performed well compared to their benchmark and peers.

Rahul shortlists 2 ELSS funds – A and B. Over the past 5 years, Fund A has delivered 18% annualized returns while Fund B delivered 16% annualized returns. Since A has performed better, Rahul should invest in Fund A.

Step 6: Check Fees and Charges

Compare the expense ratio of funds within the chosen category. The expense ratio is the annual fee charged by the fund to manage your investments. Opt for funds with lower expense ratios.

Also, check if the fund has exit loads – fees charged when you redeem units before a specific period. Avoid funds with high exit loads if liquidity is a concern.

Step 7: Understand Suitability

Within the selected category, every mutual fund has a different investment mandate and strategy. Assess if the fund investment approach aligns with your goals and risk appetite.

For instance, Rahul has moderate risk appetite. Within ELSS funds, he should opt for a fund with a balanced approach instead of an aggressive growth focused fund.

Step 8: Diversify Across Funds

Do not invest in just one mutual fund. Diversify across 4-5 funds within the identified category to reduce risk. For example, Rahul should split his Rs 1.5 lakh ELSS investment across 3 different ELSS funds instead of 1 fund.

Case Study 1: Retirement Planning

Rohit, 40, wants to build a retirement corpus in 15 years. His goals are capital appreciation and regular income. He has a moderate risk tolerance and an investment horizon of over 10 years.

His goals are aligned to a hybrid mutual fund which provides both growth and income. Specifically, he should opt for a balanced hybrid fund which invests 60-70% in equity and the rest in debt. The equity component helps his corpus grow while the debt portion generates income.

Within balanced funds, he should analyze historical returns and shortlist funds with consistent performance. He should also diversify across 2-3 funds instead of investing in just one.

Case Study 2: Children’s Education

Sheela, 35, wants to accumulate Rs 50 lakhs in 10 years to fund her children’s higher education. She has a moderate risk appetite and needs inflation beating returns to achieve her goal.

Her requirements are best met by multi cap equity funds which invest across market caps and sectors. The flexibility helps tap growth opportunities. Among multi cap funds, she should analyze past 10 year returns and shortlist funds that have performed well.

Instead of investing the entire amount in one fund, she should spread it across 3 funds. This limits risk. She should also remain invested for the long term to benefit from equity fund growth.

In conclusion, identifying the right mutual fund category is vital for beginners. By outlining your investment goals, risk appetite and investment horizon, you can determine the appropriate category and fund. Analyzing historical returns, fees, suitability and diversifying investments are also key. This well-planned approach will set you up for long term mutual fund investing success.

Here are some questions for you to test your understanding:

Q1. What are the main mutual fund categories based on asset class?

  1. a) Equity, debt and hybrid
  2. b) Large cap, multi cap and ELSS
  3. c) Stocks, bonds and commodities
  4. d) Balanced, sectoral and thematic

Answer: a) Equity, debt and hybrid

Explanation: The three main mutual fund categories based on asset class are equity funds, debt funds and hybrid funds. Equity funds invest in stocks, debt funds invest in bonds and fixed income instruments while hybrid funds invest in both equities and debt.

Q2. How does your investment horizon impact the choice of mutual fund category?

  1. a) Long term goals are suited for debt funds, short term for equity
  2. b) Equity funds are ideal for the short term, debt for the long term
  3. c) Investment horizon does not impact mutual fund selection
  4. d) Long term goals require equity funds, short term suit debt funds

Answer: d) Long term goals require equity funds, short term suit debt funds

Explanation: Your investment horizon significantly impacts the choice of mutual fund category. Long term goals are aligned with equity funds as they deliver inflation beating returns over 5-10 years. Short term goals are better suited for debt funds which provide steady returns and are less volatile.

Q3. How does diversification help in mutual fund investing?

  1. a) It eliminates the need to analyze fund performance
  2. b) It reduces risk and volatility in your portfolio
  3. c) It helps earn compound interest
  4. d) It aligns with aggressive risk appetite

Answer: b) It reduces risk and volatility in your portfolio

Explanation: Diversifying across 4-5 mutual funds within a category reduces risk. Instead of investing in one fund, divide the investment across multiple funds. This balances gains and contains losses thereby reducing volatility in the portfolio.

So in summary:

– Define your investment goals and identify the appropriate mutual fund category

– Analyze historical returns and shortlist funds with consistent performance

– Diversify investments across 4-5 funds within the chosen category

– Review portfolio periodically and rebalance if needed

Following this approach will help beginners select the best mutual funds tailored to their needs and investment style.

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