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Not too long ago, if you approached many large mutual fund companies with a modest sum to invest, they would fling you out of their offices and into the snow, sneering, “Begone, you groveling workshy! Your money is too small for us!”OK, they didn’t really do that. But many fund companies, particularly no-load fund companies, did have minimums that were above the average person’s reach.
Fortunately, you can often start an investment program for relatively little money using an automatic investment program, or AIP.
Broker-sold funds have long been friendly to the small investor. The American Funds’ Growth Fund of America A shares, the largest domestic stock fund, will let you start an account for $250. MFS Massachusetts Investors Trust A, the oldest stock fund, will let you start an individual retirement account for $250.
While those are admirable, you’ll have to peel off a 5.75% sales charge, or load, to invest the minimum in either fund. (You can pay lower commissions by investing more money, but that’s not an option if your main problem is not having a lot of scratch.)
But funds that sell directly to the investor and bypass brokers — and their sales charges, or loads — often had relatively high minimum investments.
The Vanguard Total Stock Market Index fund, the largest no-load fund around, requires a $3,000 minimum investment for a taxable account or a retirement account. Most Fidelity taxable accounts require $2,500 to invest.
For most people, that’s a pretty high bar. The median U.S. household income — half higher, half lower — is $52,762, according to the Census Bureau, and that’s before taxes. If you earn the median or below, you may not have $3,000 for an initial investment sitting in your bank account.
Vanguard, to its credit, will let you open an individual retirement account for $1,000 in one of its 12 target retirement funds.
Vanguard isn’t alone in offering lower minimum initial investments for retirement investors. T. Rowe Price, for example, drops the minimum on many of its funds to $1,000 from $2,500 for IRAs. Fidelity will let you start an IRA with any amount, but your money will cool its heels in cash until you reach $2,500.
Discount brokerages, however, will let you in on the cheap.
Discount brokerage TDAmeritrade, for example, has no minimum for IRAs, and neither does E-Trade. Scottrade will let you open an IRA for $500.
In many cases, you can start an account for less by using a fund’s automatic investment program, or AIP. With an AIP, you promise to let the fund tap your account every month until you reach its normal minimum investment requirement.
T. Rowe Price used to allow you to start an AIP for $50. Sadly, the company has ceased that program.
But other companies do have AIPs for $100 or so. For example, discount brokerage Charles Schwab, will let you start an AIP for $100 a month. Consider their excellent Schwab 1000 Index fund (ticker: SNXFX) if you’re comfortable with being 100(per cent) in stocks.
Other good AIP choices for stock investors:
– The Ariel Funds will let you start an AIP with $50 a month. Try the Ariel Appreciation fund (CAAPX), which looks for beaten-up stocks with the potential to rebound.
– The Buffalo funds offer a $100 minimum AIP. Buffalo Growth (BUFGX) is a darn good large-company growth fund. Buffalo Discovery (BUFTX) is an excellent technology fund.
– The Artisan funds will also let you start an AIP for $50. Consider Artisan International (ARTIX) or Artisan Value (ARTLX).
Here’s a word of warning: You’re not going to get rich investing $100 a month, even if your manager sneezes silver. Invest $100 a month for 30 years and earn 10(per cent) a year, and you’ll have $226,000.
But you have to start somewhere, particularly if you don’t have a 401(k) retirement plan at your disposal. And if you increase your investments regularly, you will, indeed, become a millionaire. You could even start your own fund company.
Just don’t forget that you, too, were once just a little guy.