Want a no-brainer approach to investing as you try to survive this stressful stock market? It generally has been simple to get the job done with a single fund — a good, old-fashioned balanced fund.

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Want a no-brainer approach to investing as you try to survive this stressful stock market? It generally has been simple to get the job done with a single fund — a good, old-fashioned balanced fund.

These funds have been a solution for the person who wants one-stop mutual fund shopping — who doesn’t want to choose between stocks and bonds. The idea is to stay put in the stock market, even during times of stress, by choosing a fund that invests about 60 percent of your money in stocks and 40 percent in bonds.

That heavy bond allocation tends to take the sting out of an awful bear market, a period when stocks fall 20 percent or more. You still have losses when the market is down, but they tend to be relatively mild and allow you to recover faster and start making money again.

During the last bear market between 2000 and 2002, balanced funds worked well. If you had $10,000 in a balanced fund with that allocation just before the market downturn, you would have had about $8,000 remaining at the low point, according to Ibbotson Associates, a Morningstar subsidiary.

By the beginning of 2004, you would have recovered and had your original $10,000 back, according to the Ibbotson data. And by the end of August this year you would have had roughly $12,500 — simply from leaving your $8,000 in the market during the worst of the bear market. That’s definitely not making a killing in the market, but it beats stocks alone.

With $10,000 invested in only the stock market at the beginning of 2000, your investment would have eroded in the bear market to about $5,700, according to Ibbotson. And you would not have recovered all you lost until October 2006 — almost two years longer than in a balanced fund.

In fact, now, after taking another thrashing in the most recent bear market, the $10,000 investment you made in the stock market in 2000 would only be worth about $10,000 now. Despite all the ups and downs in the market over eight years, you ended up right back where you started.

Clearly, that makes a balanced fund seem like a simple solution as a black cloud hangs over the stock market.

But now nothing in investing is easy, and investments that seemed fairly tame are not acting that way in this round of the stock market.

In particular, some balanced funds are treating investors harshly rather than softening the blows of the stock market. Some balanced funds, such as BlackRock Core Principal and Alliance Bernstein Balanced, have lost as much as, or even more than, the stock market.

Generally, in the past, a person who didn’t want to put a lot of work into choosing a mutual fund could hunt for a word like “balanced” or “equity and income” on a fund in a 401(k) and choose it with the assurance they’d have a moderately conservative fund of stocks and bonds.

The 60 percent stock allocation and 40 percent bonds has been a classic in many of the funds — a portfolio widely regarded as moderately conservative, but with some growth potential. But investors can no longer hunt through a 401(k) and figure the fund they see marked “balanced” will deliver that classic portfolio or buffer them against the risks in stocks.

During the four years before housing problems started pulling the stock market down, many balanced-fund managers started taking greater chances by buying more stocks than usual, selecting riskier stocks than balanced funds had in the past and selecting riskier bonds.

That gave their funds extra return then, but has worked against them recently. In addition, even the balanced-fund managers who have continued to operate as they have in the past have been caught in snares because of their investments in financial stocks.

The sharp difference between balanced funds in this treacherous environment underlines the fact that an investor can’t simply choose blindly by merely seeking “balanced” or “equity and income” in a fund name.

It’s important to analyze what’s in the fund, a mission that can be accomplished by going to www.finance.yahoo.com. In the upper left of the page, find a white rectangle and type in the five-letter ticker for your fund.

For example, Fidelity Balanced is FBALX. After hitting enter, click on “Holdings” at the left, and look at the stocks and bonds, plus the percentage in stocks and bonds. A conservative fund would hold 60 percent or less in stocks.

Gail MarksJarvis is a columnist

for the Chicago Tribune.