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Prospectus Definition

Prospectus Definition

A prospectus definition about an investment can be compared to a course outline for a class. Before enrolling in either, it’s important to know what we’re getting into. Before purchasing a security, reading the prospectus is essential to make an informed decision. The process is different for stocks and mutual funds and ETFs.  This legal disclosure document can be found on the company’s website as well as on EDGAR, thanks to the SEC. We’ll take a look at the differences and components of both as well as their importance for investors.

Prospectus Definition For Stocks

Before a stock goes public with an IPO, a prospectus is required to be filled with the SEC. This document is made public.

A preliminary prospectus, also called a red herring, and a final prospectus must be filled.

In some cases, an abridged prospectus can also be filed. There is a different prospectus definition for each stage of the IPO process.

Preliminary vs Final Prospectus Definition

The preliminary prospectus definition includes the most important details about the business and the transaction taking place. It has to be as appealing as possible to investors to gain their interest in the stock.

It doesn’t contain any price information or number of shares outstanding. Some companies are well-known in investor circles and don’t need a lot of effort to grow interest. Other smaller lesser-known companies need to put more effort into their prospectus.

The final prospectus contains much more information. This is also where we can find the offering price and the number of outstanding shares. The following information is contained in a prospectus.

Components of a Stock Prospectus

Overview of the company: Details of the business, sectors concerned, previous and future growth opportunities, strategy and unique selling proposition (USP).

Financial information: Assets, liabilities, revenues, existing financial statements, company structure, debt repayment etc.

Company executives: CEO, CFO, top executives education, experience and qualifications.

Share information: Amount and price of outstanding shares at offering, common and preferred shares. How will the proceeds of the IPO be used (merges & acquisitions, research & development etc.)?

Pubic or Private offering: Available to anyone or only accredited investors

Underwriting banks and financial institutions

A stock prospectus definition has for main goal to inform investors about the company and to be as transparent as possible. Furthermore, it outlines the risks investors are taking by putting their money in the company. Some companies are decades old and decide to go public to secure more financing to catch up to competing companies.

Other companies are less than a decade old, are ridden with debt, but have huge growth opportunities. Such examples are Uber, Lyft and many other startup tech companies. They are given unicorn valuations. There is a lot of risk and upside when investing with them. 

Misleading Prospectus Information

When filing for a prospectus, a company is protecting itself. Any misleading or intentionally left out information can lead to civil and criminal penalties as well as imprisonment.

In any case, investors have the responsibility to conduct their own due diligence on the stock before purchasing it. Knowing the prospectus definition can be helpful if and when you’re doing your research.

Prospectus Definition

Shareholder Rights

As a shareholder, you are also entitled to certain rights. If the company goes bankrupt, common shareholders are paid after creditors bondholders and preferred shareholders.

They also hold voting rights, ownership, the right to transfer ownership, dividends, inspecting corporate documents and the right to sue for wrongful doings. 

In some cases, shareholders of certain companies receive company-specific perks. When a minimum amount of shares are held, shareholders are entitled to discounts and certain perks.

Be sure to read all the information sent to you by the companies you own, you might be in for a pleasant surprise with what’s included in the prospectus definition.


Company prospectuses can be found through EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system). This link is not for mutual funds or ETFs.

It is a free online database system maintained by the SEC for domestic and foreign companies trading on US stock markets. Every public piece of corporate information can be found on EDGAR.

There is a lot of information and documents, many useless to most shareholders. And can be helpful with a prospectus definition.

Prospectus for Mutual Funds and ETFs

Now let’s move on to mutual funds and ETFs and the prospectus definition. In this case, investors aren’t investing in a single company, but in many stocks, bonds and other financial instruments. A prospectus is also called a fund fact.

It is usually updated at least annually unless there is a significant material change.  What information can we find there?

Components of a Fund Prospectus

Product summary: Many general questions are answered. What does the fund invest in? Which sectors are included? Is it passively or aggressively managed? What is the objective and strategy of this fund?

Fund facts: Which asset class and category does the fund belong to (tech, health, utilities etc.), ticker symbol, tax information.

Fees: expense ratio and management fees (the amount paid back to fund managers). A quick side note for the expense and management fees. Many ETFs charge less than 0.5% unless they have a high portfolio turnaround. On the other hand, mutual funds can easily charge over 1.5-2%. ETFs are cheaper and carry less fees than mutual funds. 

Price and performance: Cost of one unit, performance over 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years and since inception. It also includes hypothetical growth from $10,000 from 10 years ago. It can be compared to a benchmark or another popular fund in the industry. 

Risk potential: Usually on a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being lower risk & lower reward, 5 being higher risk & higher reward. This includes stock market, sector, non-diversification and investment style risk

Portfolio composition: Which sectors are included in the fund, the top 10 holdings, investment in value or growth stocks, the total number of stocks, the total assets invested in the fund, domestic holdings, foreign holdings, and the repartition between cash, stocks, bonds and other financial instruments. 

Portfolio managers: Who is working on the portfolio.


How do we find a prospectus for funds? The same way we do for stocks EDGAR has once again the solution. Follow this link only for mutual funds. Unfortunately, there isn’t an EDGAR link for ETFs.

However, ETF fund facts can be found on the websites of companies managing each fund. Popular examples are Vanguard, iShares or index funds.

Just like for public companies, funds are vulnerable to lawsuits. They release as much information as required to the public to protect themselves and stakeholders from any preventable negative consequences. Know the prospectus definition.


To conclude, it’s important to know what a prospectus definition is. A prospectus is a very useful document for investors of any level. Before the IPO is completed, it summarizes the company. For lesser-known companies, it is a useful tool to gain the attention of various investors. As for funds, they are required to update their prospectus at least annually.

However, if there is a significant material change, it should be done more frequently. In any case, it is a very useful document. Its contents can be found on the SEC’s EDGAR website for stocks and mutual funds.

If you want to learn more about how you can profit from the stock market, head on over to our free library of educational courses. We have something for everyone, including trading options for those with small accounts.


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