A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding How Mutual Fund Trading Works

Mutual funds are an excellent investment option for those who want to diversify their portfolio and take advantage of professional fund management. As an investor, understanding how mutual fund trading works is crucial to making informed decisions and maximizing your returns. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of mutual fund trading, including the types of orders, the role of market makers, and the impact of fees and expenses. By the end of this article, you will have a deep understanding of how mutual fund trading works and be better equipped to navigate the world of mutual fund investing.

Understanding Mutual Funds

Before diving into the intricacies of mutual fund trading, it is important to have a clear understanding of what a mutual fund is. A mutual fund is a pool of money collected from multiple investors, which is then invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, or other securities. The fund is managed by professional money managers who make buy and sell decisions on behalf of the investors.

There are different types of mutual funds, including equity funds, bond funds, money market funds, and balanced funds. Each type of fund has its own investment objective and strategy, which determines the assets the fund invests in.

Types of Mutual Fund Orders

When you decide to buy or sell mutual fund shares, you can place different types of orders. These orders determine the timing and execution of your transaction. Here are the four main types of mutual fund orders:

  1. Market Order:

    A market order is the most common type of mutual fund order. When you place a market order, you are instructing the fund to buy or sell shares at the next available price. This means that you will buy or sell the shares at the prevailing market price, which can fluctuate throughout the day.

  2. Limited Order:

    A limited order allows you to specify the maximum or minimum price at which you are willing to buy or sell mutual fund shares. For example, if the current price of a mutual fund share is $10, you can place a limited order to buy shares at $9 or less. If the price reaches your specified limit, the order will be executed.

  3. Stop-Loss Order:

    A stop-loss order is designed to limit potential losses. With a stop-loss order, you specify a stop price at which the mutual fund shares will be sold to prevent further losses. For example, if you own shares of a mutual fund that is currently trading at $50, you can place a stop-loss order at $40. If the price drops to $40 or below, the order will be triggered, and your shares will be sold.

  4. Stop-Limit Order:

    A stop-limit order combines the features of a stop-loss order and a limited order. With a stop-limit order, you specify both a stop price and a limit price. If the mutual fund's price reaches the stop price, a limit order is triggered. The limit order specifies the maximum or minimum price at which you are willing to buy or sell the shares.

The Role of Market Makers

Market makers play a crucial role in the trading of mutual funds. Market makers are firms or individuals that facilitate the buying and selling of mutual fund shares. They provide liquidity to the market by quoting bid and ask prices at which they are willing to buy or sell shares.

When you place a buy or sell order for a mutual fund, the market maker matches your order with other investors' orders. If you want to buy shares, the market maker will sell you the shares from its inventory. If you want to sell shares, the market maker will buy them from you.

Market makers make money through the bid-ask spread, which is the difference between the price at which they buy shares (bid price) and the price at which they sell shares (ask price). The bid-ask spread represents the market maker's profit.

Impact of Fees and Expenses

Mutual funds charge fees and expenses to cover the costs associated with managing the fund. These fees can have a significant impact on your investment returns.

The two main types of fees charged by mutual funds are:

  1. Management Fees:

    Management fees are charged by the mutual fund company to cover the costs of managing the fund. These fees are typically expressed as a percentage of the fund's assets under management. The management fee is deducted from the fund's assets on an annual basis.

  2. Expense Ratios:

    Expense ratios represent the total operating expenses of a mutual fund as a percentage of its average net assets. These expenses include administrative costs, custodial fees, legal fees, and marketing expenses. The expense ratio is deducted from the fund's assets on a daily basis.

It is important to consider the impact of fees and expenses when choosing a mutual fund. High fees can eat into your investment returns over time, especially when compounded annually. Therefore, it is advisable to choose funds with low expense ratios and competitive management fees.

Liquidity and Trading Frequency

Mutual funds are designed to provide liquidity to investors, allowing them to buy or sell shares on any business day. This is in contrast to other investment vehicles, such as real estate or private equity, which may have limited liquidity.

The trading frequency of a mutual fund refers to how frequently the fund allows investors to buy or sell shares. Most mutual funds allow daily trading, meaning investors can buy or sell shares on any business day. However, there are some mutual funds, known as interval funds, that limit the trading frequency to specific intervals, such as quarterly or semi-annually.

When investing in mutual funds, it is important to consider the liquidity and trading frequency that align with your investment goals and objectives. If you require instant access to your funds, daily trading frequency is essential. However, if you have a long-term investment horizon and can afford to wait for specific intervals, interval funds may be suitable for you.


Understanding how mutual fund trading works is a crucial step in becoming a successful investor in mutual funds. By familiarizing yourself with the types of orders, the role of market makers, the impact of fees and expenses, and the importance of liquidity and trading frequency, you can make informed decisions and maximize your investment returns.

When investing in mutual funds, it is important to carefully consider your investment objectives, risk tolerance, and time horizon. Additionally, conducting thorough research and seeking professional advice can further enhance your understanding and increase your chances of success in the world of mutual fund trading.


  • Q: Can I trade mutual funds throughout the trading day?

    A: No, mutual fund trades are typically executed at the end of the trading day, after the market has closed.

  • Q: How do I choose the right mutual fund?

    A: When choosing a mutual fund, consider factors such as investment objective, risk tolerance, past performance, fees and expenses, and the fund manager's track record.

  • Q: Is it possible to lose money by investing in mutual funds?

    A: Yes, like any investment, mutual funds come with risks. The value of mutual funds can fluctuate, and there is no guarantee of returns.

  • Q: Are there any tax implications when trading mutual funds?

    A: Yes, buying and selling mutual funds can trigger capital gains or losses, which may have tax implications. It is advisable to consult a tax professional for guidance.

  • Q: Can I switch between mutual funds?

    A: Yes, most mutual fund companies allow investors to switch between funds within their fund family. However, some funds may have restrictions or fees associated with switching.

19 October 2023
Written by John Roche