Mutual Funds Expenses
Introduction to Mutual Funds
Mutual funds bear expenses similar to other companies. The fee structure of a mutual fund can be divided into two or three main components: management fee, nonmanagement expense, and 12b-1/non-12b-1 fees. All expenses are expressed as a percentage of the average daily net assets of the fund.
The management fee for the fund is usually synonymous with the contractual investment advisory fee charged for the management of a fund's investments. However, as many fund companies include administrative fees in the advisory fee component, when attempting to compare the total management expenses of different funds, it is helpful to define management fee as equal to the contractual advisory fee + the contractual administrator fee. This "levels the playing field" when comparing management fee components across multiple funds.
Non-management expenses are: transfer agent expenses (this is usually the person you get on the other end of the phone line when you want to purchase/sell shares of a fund), custodian expense (the fund's assets are kept in custody by a bank which charges a custody fee), legal/audit expense, fund accounting expense, registration expense (the SEC charges a registration fee when funds file registration statements with it), board of directors/trustees expense (the disinterested members of the board who oversee the fund are usually paid a fee for their time spent at meetings), and printing and postage expense (incurred when printing and delivering shareholder reports).
12b-1 service fees/shareholder servicing fees are contractual fees which a fund may charge to cover the marketing expenses of the fund. Non-12b-1 service fees are marketing/shareholder servicing fees which do not fall under SEC rule 12b-1.
While funds do not have to charge the full contractual 12b-1 fee, they often do. When investing in a front-end load or no-load fund, the 12b-1 fees for the fund are usually .250% (or 25 basis points). The 12b-1 fees for back-end and level-load share classes are usually between 50 and 75 basis points but may be as much as 100 basis points.
While funds are often marketed as "no-load" funds, this does not mean they do not charge a distribution expense through a different mechanism. It is expected that a fund listed on an online brokerage site will be paying for the "shelf-space" in a different manner even if not directly through a 12b-1 fee.
Investor fees and expenses - vary based on the arrangement made with the investor's broker. Sales loads (or contingent deferred sales loads (CDSL) are not included in the fund's total expense ratio (TER) because they do not pass through the statement of operations for the fund.
Additionally, funds may charge early redemption fees to discourage investors from swapping money into and out of the fund quickly, which may force the fund to make bad trades to obtain the necessary liquidity. For example, Fidelity Diversified International Fund (FDIVX) charges a 1 percent fee on money removed from the fund in less than 30 days.
Brokerage commissions - are incorporated into the price of the fund and are reported usually 3 months after the fund's annual report in the statement of additional information. Brokerage commissions are directly related to portfolio turnover (portfolio turnover refers to the number of times the fund's assets are bought and sold over the course of a year).
Usually the higher the rate of the portfolio turnover, the higher the brokerage commissions. The advisors of mutual fund companies are required to achieve "best execution" through brokerage arrangements so that the commissions charged to the fund will not be excessive.
Some funds have a deferred sales charge or back-end load. In this type of fund an investor pays no sales charge when purchasing shares, but will pay a commission out of the proceeds when shares are redeemed depending on how long they are held. Another derivative structure is a level-load fund, in which no sales charge is paid when buying the fund, but a back-end load may be charged if the shares purchased are sold within a year.
It is possible to buy many mutual funds without paying a sales charge. These are called no-load funds. In addition to being available from the fund company itself, no-load funds may be sold by some discount brokers for a flat transaction fee or even no fee at all. No-load funds include both index funds and actively managed funds.
The largest mutual fund families selling no-load index funds are Vanguard and Fidelity, though there are a number of smaller mutual fund families with no-load funds as well. Expense ratios in some no-load index funds are less than 0.2% per year versus the typical actively managed fund's expense ratio of about 1.5% per year.
Load funds usually have even higher expense ratios when the load is considered. The expense ratio is the anticipated annual cost to the investor of holding shares of the fund. For example, on a $100,000 investment, an expense ratio of 0.2% means $200 of annual expense, while a 1.5% expense ratio would result in $1,500 of annual expense. These expenses are before any sales commissions paid to purchase the mutual fund.
Many fee-only financial advisors strongly suggest no-load funds such as index funds. If the advisor is not of the fee-only type but is instead compensated by commissions, the advisor may have a conflict of interest in selling high-commission load funds.
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