What are mutual funds loads?

Posted by nick_niesen on November 8th, 2010

Copyright 2006 Michael Saville

Loads are the most talked about fees that mutual funds charge. A "load" on a mutual fund is just another way of saying that the fund charges a sales commission for purchase, sale, or both. There are funds that charge loads and there are funds that do not charge loads (known as "load funds" and "no load funds" respectively).

Front-end loads are sales commissions that are paid up front at the time of your purchase. So, if you give a fund a $10,000 investment and it charges a front-end load of 5%, then the fund will take 5% of your investment (that's $500) and pocket it right away. Only what is left over after the load has been deducted will be invested into the fund (in this example, only $9,500 is invested in the fund from your initial $10,000 investment)

Back-end loads charge their sales commissions when you sell (or "redeem") your shares. So, when you go to redeem your shares in a fund with a back-end load you will end up receiving whatever money the shares are worth minus the sales commission.

Mutual funds charge management fees in order to pay for the management services used to run the fund. In other words, these fees are used to pay the salaries of the fund's managers and analysts. Management fees usually do not amount to more than one percent of the fund's assets, and they are significantly lower for passively-managed funds, such as index funds, than for actively-managed ones. You should remember that a high management fee in no way guarantees a more skilful management team.

Front loads can be reduced if you are investing or planning to invest a certain amount of money. The load reduction schedules are called "break-points." For example, with most fund companies if you are investing over $100,000 or plan to within the next 13 months, you will get a 1% reduction on the front load. The more you invest, the greater the reduction in the load. For some fund companies the break-point reduction begins at $50,000 over 13 months, and with many funds, if you invest over $2 million there is no front load.

If you do not have $50,000 or $100,000 to invest over the next 13 months, you can still earn a reduction on the front load, through "rights of accumulation." Under accumulation rules you will receive fee reductions on the front load when your total investments with one fund family have grown past the break points. Therefore, if you only have $20,000 to invest today, that's OK, someday soon it will grow past the $50,000 or $100,000 initial break-point and you will be eligible for the load discount on your further investments.

The turnover ratio for a mutual fund can provide you with useful information about how expensive a fund is and how it is managed. Turnover ratios measure the amount of trading activity in the fund's portfolio. They are calculated by taking all of the fund's sales for a specified period of time (usually one year) and dividing by the fund's total assets. This number tells you how much the fund's portfolio has changed.

You probably will want to exercise caution when investing in a fund with a high turnover ratio. High turnover means that the fund's manager is buying and selling very often, and, since every sale and every purchase involves a commission, this means that funds with high turnover ratios often have high expenses. Some experts recommend focusing on funds whose turnover ratio is less than 50%.

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