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Fees Associated with Mutual Funds

Jan 13, 2008
Mutual funds are divided into three categories with regards to fees, based on how much you will have to pay in charges, and commissions - load funds, low-load funds, and no-load funds. As you might expect, load funds typically charge fees, including commissions and other fees. Low-load funds also charge fees, but typically not as much as load funds. And no-load funds are not completely free of charge, either. They do typically have fees, but they are usually very low. Bear in mind that even no-load fees will typically charge you a fee if you sell your shares within a certain time frame after purchase.

With mutual funds, the class of shares you buy will usually determine the fees you are charged. Remember, even with no-load funds, there are still certain charges involved. Mutual funds aren't usually set up for charity purposes, so the fund has to make money, too!

With Class A shares, you will typically be charged load charges up front. This is a sales commission that will usually vary between 2% and 6% of the purchase. For example, if you invest $5,000, and there is a 5% fee, then you will actually only have $4,750 available for the direct purchase of shares. You will also have fees charged annually. These annual fees are called 12b-1 fees, and are charged even by no-load funds.

Class B shares typically have higher 12b-1 fees than Class A shares. These fees will be based on a percentage of the account. The good thing about Class B shares is that the up-front commissions and fees are usually waived, and you can put 100% of your investment money into shares immediately. The same $5,000 you had before will buy you $5,000 worth of shares instead of the $4,750 you could have purchased if you were charged a 5% commission. The important thing to note is that you must hold the shares for a certain number of years to have these fees waived. If you sell before this time is up, you will be charged a fee based on how long you have had the shares. The fee typically goes down by one percentage point per year, so the longer you keep the shares, the less the fee will be.
Most funds convert Class B shares to Class A shares after the period of deferred charge ends.

There are also Class C shares, which are typically about 1% per year, and other classes that may be listed in the fund's prospectus. The prospectus will tell you the fund's specific fees and terms for the various classes.

There are typically two types of fees charged by mutual funds. The first category is transaction expenses. This category includes load charges, and the charges that you may incur when selling shares. These are paid by the investor. Operating expenses include those 12b-1 fees mentioned earlier, as well as the management fees for the fund. These amounts are subtracted from the fund's return, and come out of the total made by the fund before any money is distributed to investors. A good mutual fund typically has an expense ratio of less than 1.5%.

Something to bear in mind when choosing a fund is to look at the fees as only one part of the big picture. Many investors, especially beginners, head straight for no-load funds because they don't want to be charged so much in fees. But a fund with high fees might vastly outperform a similar fund with lower fees, thus bringing you much more money, even after the fees are considered.
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