Best-Performing Mutual Funds: Fall 2021

These are the best U.S. equity funds based on 3-year returns.
Best Mutual Funds of May 2019

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.


The investing information provided on this page is for educational purposes only. NerdWallet does not offer advisory or brokerage services, nor does it recommend or advise investors to buy or sell particular stocks or securities.

When shopping for mutual funds, we naturally are curious: Which ones are performing the best today?

While that’s a common place to begin your search, remember you’re shopping for tomorrow when looking for the best mutual funds. Top performers in the short term don’t always become long-term winners. The best mutual funds for your portfolio won’t necessarily be the best for your parents, your siblings or your neighbors.

» Looking to fund an IRA before tax day? See our picks for best IRA accounts.

Best-performing U.S. equity mutual funds

To determine the best mutual funds measured by year-to-date returns, we looked at U.S. equity funds open to new investors with low costs (no sales commissions, and expense ratios of 1% or less) and minimum investments of $2,500 or less using data from Morningstar (Morningstar is a NerdWallet advertising partner).

For more on how to choose a mutual fund, skip ahead to this section.

Fund

Symbol

3-year return

Expense ratio

Fidelity Advisor Series Growth Opportunities Fund

FAOFX

35.02%

0.01%

Fidelity Advisor Growth Opps Z

FZAHX

34.67%

0.69%

Fidelity Advisor Growth Opps I

FAGCX

34.51%

0.81%

Fidelity Series Growth Company

FCGSX

31.19%

0.00%

Fidelity Series Blue Chip Growth

FSBDX

30.45%

0.00%

American Century Focused Dynamic Gr Inv

ACFOX

30.08%

0.85%

Fidelity Growth Company K

FGCKX

29.95%

0.75%

Fidelity Growth Company

FDGRX

29.84%

0.83%

Touchstone Sands Capital Select Growth Y

CFSIX

29.71%

0.94%

Fidelity Blue Chip Growth K

FBGKX

29.24%

0.71%

Fidelity Blue Chip Growth

FBGRX

29.13%

0.79%

T. Rowe Price New Horizons

PRNHX

28.71%

0.75%

Columbia Small Cap Growth Inst2

CSCRX

28.50%

0.94%

Lord Abbett Growth Leaders R6

LGLVX

27.93%

0.59%

Lord Abbett Growth Leaders F

LGLFX

27.85%

0.65%

Data current as of October 6, 2021.

How to choose the best mutual funds for you

NerdWallet’s recommendation is to invest primarily through mutual funds, especially index funds, which passively track a market index such as the S&P 500. The mutual funds above are actively managed, which means they try to beat stock market performance — a strategy that often fails.

When you're ready to invest in funds, here's what to consider:

  • Decide whether to invest in active or passive funds, knowing that both performance and costs often favor passive investing.

  • Understand and scrutinize fees. A broker that offers no-transaction-fee mutual funds can help cut costs.

  • Build and manage your portfolio, checking in on and rebalancing your mix of assets once a year.

Advertisement
Fidelity
TD Ameritrade
E*TRADE
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Fees

$0

per trade for online U.S. stocks and ETFs

Fees

$0

per trade

Fees

$0

per trade

Account Minimum

$0

Account Minimum

$0

Account Minimum

$0

Promotion

None

no promotion available at this time

Promotion

None

no promotion available at this time

Promotion

Get $600 or more

when you open and fund an E*TRADE account with code: BONUS21

Average mutual fund return

Managing your portfolio also means managing your expectations, and different types of mutual funds should bring different expectations for returns.

Stock mutual funds = higher potential returns (or losses)

Stock mutual funds, also known as equity mutual funds, carry the highest potential rewards, but also higher inherent risks — and different categories of stock mutual funds carry different risks.

For example, the performance of large-cap high-growth funds is typically more volatile than, say, stock index funds that seek only to match the returns of a benchmark index like the S&P 500. (Learn more about stock mutual funds versus index funds.)

Bond mutual funds = lower returns (but lower risk)

Bond mutual funds, as the name suggests, invests in a range of bonds and provide a more stable rate of return than stock funds. As a result, potential average returns are lower.

Bond investors buy government and corporate debt for a set repayment period and interest rate. While no one can predict future stock market returns, bonds are considered a safer investment as governments and companies typically pay back their debt (unless either goes bust).

Money market mutual funds = lowest returns, lowest risk

These are fixed-income mutual funds that invest in top-quality, short-term debt. They are considered one of the safest investments you can make. Money market funds are used by investors who want to protect their retirement savings but still earn some interest — often between 1% and 3% a year. (Learn more about money market funds.)

Focus on what matters

Chasing past performance may be a natural instinct, but it often isn't the right one when placing bets on your financial future. Mutual funds are the cornerstone of buy-and-hold and other retirement investment strategies. Hopping from stock to stock based on performance is a rear-view-mirror tactic that rarely leads to big profits. That's especially true with mutual funds, where each transaction may bring costs that erode any long-term gains.

What's important to consider is the role any mutual fund you buy will play in your total portfolio. Mutual funds are inherently diversified, as they invest in a collection of companies (rather than buying stock in just one). That diversity helps spread your risk.

You can create a smart, diversified portfolio with just a few well-chosen mutual funds or exchange-traded funds, plus annual check-ins to fine-tune your investment mix.

Disclosure: The author held no positions in the aforementioned securities at the original time of publication.

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.