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What is a '12B-1 Fee'

A 12b-1 fee is an annual marketing or distribution fee on a mutual fund. The 12b-1 fee is considered to be an operational expense and, as such, is included in a fund's expense ratio. It is generally between 0.25 and 1% (the maximum allowed) of a fund's net assets. The fee gets its name from a section of the Investment Company Act of 1940.

BREAKING DOWN '12B-1 Fee'

Back in the early days of the mutual fund business, the 12b-1 fee was thought to help investors. It was believed that by marketing a mutual fund, its assets would increase and management could lower expenses because of economies of scale. This has yet to be proven. With mutual fund assets passing the $10 trillion mark and growing steadily, critics of this fee are seriously questioning the justification for using it. Today, the 12b-1 fee is mainly used to reward intermediaries for selling a fund's shares. As a commission paid to salespersons, it is currently believed to do nothing to enhance the performance of a fund.

In 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began examining the use of 12b-1 fees to determine if the rules for charging these fees are being adhered to and the presence of such fees is being properly disclosed.

Breakdown of 12b-1 Fees

The 12b-1 fee can be broken down into two distinct charges: the distribution and marketing fee and the service fee. Total 12b-1 fees charged by a fund are limited to 1% annually. The distribution and marketing piece of the fee is capped at 0.75% annually, while the service fee portion of the fee can be up to 0.25%.

Use of 12b-1 in Broker-sold Shares

Class B and class C shares of broker-sold funds typically have 12b-1 fees, but they may also be charged on no-load mutual fund shares and class A broker-sold shares.

Class A shares, which usually charge a front-end load but no back-end load, may come with a reduced 12b-1 expense but normally don't come with the maximum 1% fee. Class B shares, which typically carry no front-end but charge a back-end load that decreases as time passes, often come with a 12b-1 fee. Class C shares usually have the greatest likelihood of carrying the maximum 1% 12b-1 fee. The presence of a 12b-1 fee frequently pushes the overall expense ratio on a fund to above 2%.

The Calamos Growth Fund is an example of a fund that carries a smaller 0.25% 12b-1 fee on its class A shares, and charges the maximum 1% 12b-1 fee on its class C shares.

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