In the past, most of the fund shares were sold with front-end sales loads of 5% or more. These days many shareholders avoid up-front costs by investing through retirement or brokerage accounts in which shares come with no loads.

Which funds should you consider? A top choice is American Funds AMCAP, which has returned 2.9% annually during the past 10 years, outdoing 91% of large growth competitors. The portfolio holds reliable growth names, including software giant Oracle ( ORCL) , agriculture powerhouse Monsanto ( MON) and medical device maker Medtronic ( MDT). True to the fund company's preference for bargain shopping, the portfolio has a price-to-earnings ratio of 14, compared to 17.5 for the average large growth fund. Despite their relatively low prices, the portfolio holdings have earnings growth rates that are about the same as the category average.

Investors seeking a tame choice should consider American Funds Investment Company of America, which has returned 3% annually during the past 10 years, outdoing 81% of large blend competitors. The portfolio focuses on solid dividend-paying stocks, including AT&T ( T), PepsiCo ( PEP) and pharmaceutical giant Merck ( MRK). The dividend stocks enabled the fund to excel in the downturn of 2008. The fund has also shined in better times, outdoing the S&P 500 in eight of the past 10 years. Despite the strong record, investors have withdrawn $5.4 billion from the fund in the past year.

To own international stocks, consider American Funds EuroPacific Growth, which has returned 6.4% annually during the past 10 years, outdoing 93% of foreign large blend funds. The portfolio holds a broad collection of growth and value blue chips. Big holdings include beer giant Anheuser Busch InBev ( BUD) and Mexican mobile powerhouse America Movil ( AMX).Searching for bargains, the portfolio managers are willing to go against the crowd. In the past year, the fund has lowered its stake in the emerging markets as stocks have soared in Latin America and Asia.

A the same time, the fund has favored unloved Japanese markets, buying such stocks as Nintendo and Nissan.

Avoiding a Winner

During the past year, investors have been withdrawing funds from money manager American Funds despite strong long-term records.

Stan Luxenberg is a freelance writer specializing in mutual funds and investing. He was executive editor of Individual Investor magazine.

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