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Thanks to the great bull market, more and more people are mutual fund investors now than ever before. But today's investor is a different breed than yesterday's.

Look over the mutual fund landscape and you'll find that things have changed a lot in the last ten years. With some 8000-plus stock and bond funds to choose from today, folks have choices galore. In 1990, there were less than half that amount.

Along with the multiplication of funds, have come some changing trends. Take holding periods, for instance. In the l980s, mutual fund investors were usually long-term investors. Purchasing fund shares then typically meant holding on to them for eight, 10, 15, 20 years or more. Not so any more. According to research from Berstein, an investment advisory service in New York, the average stock fund is held for less than three years. That's not the kind of news fund families like to hear. They'd prefer to have investors from cradle to grave, if at all possible. Or, are necessarily good for investors being satisfied with their fund returns.

Although Berstein's research sites no specific reasons for those shorter holding periods, maybe it's because of too many choices: Forget the fact that new stock funds hit the market almost weekly, the amount of growth funds is now double the number of growth stocks.

Or, maybe it's because there's just too much money floating around.Bernstein reports that the number of millionaires in the United States is up 3.5 times in the last ten years.

It also could be due to lack of investing experience. The average money management client today has less than 10 years of investing experience under their belt. And, during most of the previous decade, the bulls were directing traffic.

Then there's the dot.com world.

Scudder Kemper Investments recently conducted a telephone survey asking more than 1300 people about things like the New Economy, dot.com business and their own investing habits. The results? There's plenty of room for education.

"Basically people who were already uncomfortable with their knowledge of investing now find themselves even more alienated as the" New Economy" continues to alter the investing landscape," says Dianne Michael, senior vice president at Scudder Kemper Investments.

Here's a sampling of that survey's findings:

  • Of those interviewed, 82 percent of those interviewed said they've never heard or read about the "New Economy."

    Among those who say they had heard of the New Economy, only 28 percent say it has something to do with "high-tech economy" or "high-tech stocks."

  • More than half, (52 percent), report that they have "too little" information on how to make sound savings and investment decisions today.

  • Forty-two percent report that they have received a stock or fund tip from a friend or family member who is a non-professional; 39 percent admit to acting on the tip.

  • On mutual funds, 80 percent say they think mutual funds are a safer alternative to investing individual securities. Nearly three-quarters said that mutual funds are a safer way to invest in Internet and technology stocks.

  • And, the younger the investor, the higher the return expectations.On average, the return on investments considered to be "reasonable" by the group was a whopping 21.7 percent per year. The Millennial's, those between the ages of 18 and 23, expect the most, 26. 5 percent per year. Those aged 68 and older thought 16 percent per year was reasonable.

Aside from what the research and the surveys say, new and existing mutual fund investors would be wise to remember the following three points about investing going forward:

  1. Money is one thing:Making wise investment choices quite another. Just because you've got thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions to invest, doesn't insure that you're smart or will be a smart fund investor. It only means that you've got money to invest.

  2. The market rules. No matter how you slice or dice it, when the stock market is down, or the category of funds you've invested in out of favor, odds are so will your fund's performance.

  3. It takes time to make money. Earning 5 percent from your money market mutual fund? Then it will take over 14 years for that money to double. If the average return on your stock fund is 12 percent per year, expect invested money in that account to double in six years.

To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

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