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If you're considering investing in mutual funds, it's important to find the right fund that matches your financial needs. Before you choose a mutual fund (or make investment decisions in general), make sure you understand how it fits into your overall investment strategy. At first glance picking out a mutual fund can be difficult, but the following 4 tips can help you make an informed decision.

1. Know your goals

Are you looking to fund your retirement? Or are you thinking about funding a child’s education or buying a new home? Or perhaps you want to leave money to heirs or a charity?

Once you’ve established your goals, you can create a plan for how to reach them and choose a mutual fund that matches them.

2. Consider your risk tolerance

Are you a conservative, moderate or aggressive investor? Your risk tolerance reflects how you choose to balance fund volatility with the potential for greater growth.

A higher degree of risk can potentially achieve a higher rate of return. Less-risky investments may have less potential for growth. You have to find the right balance that helps you work toward your financial goals, but still allows you to sleep at night.

3. Evaluate your time horizon

How much time do you have between when you invest and when you need the money? Time is an important factor in your investment strategy.

If you are able to hold your investments for a longer term, you may be able to tolerate more risk. That’s because your investment has more time to take advantage of potential market gains. Your investment also has more time to recover if the market goes down.

With a longer time horizon, you can choose an investment that offers tax-deferred growth until you withdraw the money. Not only does your investment have a chance to grow, but so does the money you would have paid in taxes along the way.

If your time horizon is short, you may have less risk tolerance because you have a shorter time to recover from any potential losses.

4. Investment strategy and fund costs

Some mutual funds invest in a particular market or follow a particular investment strategy. Some invest in large companies with a history of low but consistent returns. Others invest in small, fast-growing companies. Learn more about what different mutual funds offer with our types of mutual funds guide.

Before you invest, carefully read a fund's summary prospectus and/or prospectus, along with other brochures and information from the fund company’s website. Be sure to find out what fees and expenses may be charged for a fund, such as sales charges and gross expenses.

Then ask your investment professional to help you evaluate how a fund fits with your investment goals.

For more information about choosing funds or investment strategy, visit the "Retirement & Investing" section of our Learning Center.