How do you know if mutual fund fees are fair?May 23, 2012: 5:05 AM ET
How do you know if you're getting a fair shake on mutual fund costs?
-- Name withheld
It takes a little legwork, but it's not like searching for the Holy Grail.
First, if you're concerned about costs, stick with no-load funds. These are funds in which shares are sold without a commission or sales charge. That zaps a potential expense right from the get-go.
Additionally, pay close attention to a fund's expense ratio. This measures the overall cost of the fund as a percentage of the investment. It includes fund manager fees, marketing costs and other ongoing expenses that are deducted against the investment balance on an ongoing basis. A great resource for checking expense ratios is the basic mutual fund screener at Morningstar.com, which you can reach via the "Tools" tab on that site. For whatever category a particular fund falls in — say, large-cap growth, small-cap value, or intermediate-term bond — you can see how many funds have expense ratios below certain levels, such as 0.5%. You'll also find, at the bottom of the screener's results, the average expense ratio for that category — a useful benchmark. (For large-cap growth, for example, it's 1.29%; for intermediate-term bond, it's 0.93%.)
How you buy the fund can also mean additional fees, says Des Moines financial planner Laura West. Ask any sales representative about extra fees or sales charges not disclosed in a prospectus. Review the sales confirmation afterwards to make sure you were charged the appropriate expense. You can avoid or reduce these fees when buying online through a discount broker or working with low-cost index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.
-- Jeff Wuorio