What You Need To Know About Mutual Fund Sales Fees And Expenses

If you’ve read about mutual fund investing, or perhaps discussed it with someone knowledgeable on the subject, the topic of fees and expenses most likely came up in the conversation. For someone who isn’t a financial advisor or broker, mutual fund fees and expenses can be quite a confusing subject. How do you know when you’re paying them and how can you (or should you) avoid them?

Obviously, the more you can minimize fees and expenses when investing in mutual funds, the more you can maximize your returns. That seems like a good thing, right? So, let’s explore what these fees and expense are and how they can sneak up on you if you don’t have some knowledge of the subject.

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Mutual Fund Operating Costs

These expenses are required to operate or manage the mutual fund. The management of a mutual fund requires certain costs such as brokerage fees, marketing, legal, accounting, etc. They are typically paid out of fund assets, so investors indirectly pay them.

Within the operating expenses you may find 12b-1 fees. These fees are used for advertising and selling the funds. According to the Sound Mind Investing handbook, more than two-thirds of all stock funds charge some marketing related expenses to shareholders.

Sales Charges or Loads

There are funds with loads and without loads. No-load funds don’t charge you any fees when you buy or sell the fund. You typically buy the funds yourself versus working with someone who sells them to you. A load fund includes a sales charge when you work with a financial planner, insurance agent or with a stock broker. The load is a sales commission for their services to help you find a fund.

There are different types of loads, so you have to be knowledgeable to understand what you may be charged.

Class A Funds

Class A funds are the easiest to understand. The front-end sales commissions are charged up front when you purchase the fund.  They tend to have lower 12b-1 and operating expenses.

Class B Funds

A back end load, or class B fund is handled differently and can be the trickiest to understand. Back-end commissions are charged on your earnings when you sell a fund within the first years of owning it. It’s usually 5% the first year and decreases a 1% per year for 4 or 5 years. Brokers are paid through 12-b1 marketing fees included as a line item in the operating expenses of the fund. These expenses are usually the highest, so keep in mind you’re still paying even thought there isn’t any front-end sales charge.

Class C Funds

Finally, a class C fund doesn’t charge any front end or back end sales load. The fund charges the 12-b1 marketing fees for every year you own the fund. Brokers are usually paid on a quarterly basis from these fees.

Don’t Think You’re Not Paying

I started working with a financial advisor a few years ago who was referred to me by my employer. It was one of those situations were the financial institution was asked to help employees with retirement planning. I decided to roll – over a previous 401(k) into an IRA and also asked for some retirement planning advice.

I was foolish to think the services were free. I said I wanted to avoid funds with sales loads, but I really didn’t know what I was talking about. The mutual funds which I was advised to purchase were Class C funds. I suppose this is fine given I didn’t want to take the time to pick funds myself, but I do know now I’m paying for the services I requested.

As I become more informed, I’ll transfer my IRA to a discount brokerage account to manage myself, or consider fee based financial planning where I pay the broker a fee for his services versus by the commissions or 12-b1 marketing fees from my investments.

I suppose loads or the marketing fees are fine if you want someone else to make the investing for you. But, studies say these funds don’t produce any better results than no load funds.

Final Thoughts

To wrap up, I’d like to remind you (and me) that we are financial stewards. Not only is it our responsibility to plan a budget each month and spend responsibly; we are to manage investments wisely and know the conditions of our flocks.

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations (Proverbs 27:23-24).

I don’t think I knew the conditions of my flocks very well by not considering the costs associated with my investments. To increase your knowledge I recommend The Sound Mind Investing Handbook by Austin Pryor. The book is a step-by-step guide to managing money and investments from a Biblical perspective. It has helped me get a better understanding of investing in general and the expenses and fees associated with some mutual funds.

Another good resource to consider using is a handy mutual fund cost calculator from the US Securities and Exchange Commission website. The SEC Cost Calculator estimates the cost of investing in any mutual fund. You just need to have the mutual fund prospectus and your investment information to get the inputs.

What about you? I’m interested in getting your thoughts on paying mutual fund loads. Good or bad? Or, is it okay for someone to own load funds and rely on someone else to help pick your investments for you as long as you know the condition of your flocks?

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Last Edited: 27th June 2010

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  1. says

    mutual funds are generally for those who are not genetically suited for active stock investing; they are used for passive income. I think that if one really doesn’t have the ability to pick their own individual investments, then they should to totally the other way and chose the option where the least intellect in investing is involved- let a suitable reputable do it for you albeit on a short leash. But on the other hand one must exercise independence of thought and be sensible when channeling hard earned cash. So the answer for your question is a resounding yeah!

    • says

      kt, you make a great point. For those who don’t know anything about investing and don’t ever desire to do it themselves, it seems that finding a trustworthy advisor to do it for you is a good approach. The worst thing you could do is just guess at the types of investments and allocations.

  2. says

    Great post! Many investors don’t understand how much mutual fund fees and poor performance are hurting their investment returns. Using ETF’s and individual stocks makes more sense in today’s low commission environment. Investors who need help with research and asset allocation can subscribe to a do it yourself investment management service such as the Arbor Investment Planner (www.AAAMP.com). The AIP makes investing easy by providing subscribers with an asset allocated model portfolio of ETFs and individual stocks.

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