Friday, February 27, 2009

Sales Charges vs. Operating Expenses

Sales charges and operating expenses are two different things. Sales charges are an extra fee added to the price of mutual fund shares when the investor purchases them. They go to the underwriter and the broker-dealers and agents in the distribution network. Sales charges cover the costs of printing the prospectus and other sales literature, sending it out in the mail, paying agents and broker-dealers to sell the shares, and doing all the advertising that we see in magazines and hear on the radio these days. Do all funds have sales charges? No. The ones that do not impose sales charges are called "no load" funds. But, whether there is a "load" or not is one issue. The other issue is this: all mutual funds have operating expenses. Management fees cover the investment adviser who trades the portfolio. Accounting, legal, consulting, board of director and other expenses are usually lumped under "other expenses" in the prospectus. And, even though the fund calls itself "no load" it can still tack on another operating expense called a "12b-1 fee" that covers the costs of distributing/marketing the fund shares. The 12b-1 fee can not exceed .25% of the average net assets, but as long as it doesn't, the fund can call itself "no load." So, not all funds have sales charges, but all funds impose operating expenses. Many people think they don't pay ongoing fees to hold their fund shares, but that' s because they don't get a bill. The fund just reaches into the big cash register and pulls out enough cash to cover the operating expenses mentioned above. Again, sales charges are not operating expenses. They are tacked onto the price of an A-share when the investor purchases or subtracted from the proceeds of a B-share when the investor sells. Either way, the fund takes out operating expenses along the way, including the management fee, the 12b-1 fee, and all "other expenses."

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