What Is a Breakpoint Sale?
A breakpoint sale is the sale of a mutual fund at a set dollar amount that allows the fundholder to move into a lower sales charge bracket.
If an investor is unable to provide the funds needed to qualify for the lower fee at the time of investment, they can sign a letter of intent promising to reach the total amount, or breakpoint, in a set time period.
Misusing breakpoint sales is the prohibited practice of selling mutual funds in dollar amounts that are just below the point where there would be sales charge reduction.
- A breakpoint sale is the sale of a mutual fund at a set dollar amount that allows the fundholder to move into a lower sales charge bracket.
- Breakpoint sales provide fee discounts to investors based on investment breakpoint levels determined by the fund company.
- Accumulation privileges allow an investor’s sales charge from a breakpoint schedule to be based on their total investment in the fund.
- Breakpoint discounts often begin at $25,000, with discounts increasing incrementally to a maximum level.
- Breakpoint sales just bellow dollar amounts that would provide a discount or not crediting customers with the breakpoint discount are prohibited practices.
How a Breakpoint Sale Works
Breakpoint sales provide fee discounts to investors based on investment breakpoint levels determined by the fund company. Fund companies are responsible for structuring sales loads and breakpoint schedules. These fees and breakpoints are detailed in a fund’s prospectus and agreed upon by intermediaries.
Breakpoint sales can, in some cases, constitute a violation. FINRA has observed that in some instances customers have not received breakpoint discounts, and has addressed this issue through investigations and enforcement actions. Multiple enforcement actions have resulted in millions of dollars in fines and restitution to customers. These actions underscore the need for firms to establish and maintain systems and controls to ensure that customers receive the breakpoint discounts they are due.
According to FINRA Rule 2342: Breakpoint Sales, "No member shall sell investment company shares in dollar amounts just below the point at which the sales charge is reduced on quantity transactions so as to share in the higher sales charges applicable on sales below the breakpoint.."
Most mutual funds will include accumulation privileges in their sales load and breakpoint schedules. Accumulation privileges allow an investor’s sales charge from a breakpoint schedule to be based on their total investment in the fund. For example, if the investor from above invests another $15,000 six months later, she would qualify for the same sales charge of 3.75% on the $15,000 transaction.
Letters of Intent
Mutual fund companies with sales loads and breakpoint schedules typically also include provisions for a letter of intent. This documentation allows the investor to pledge a specified investment in the fund and receive the sales load fee for their comprehensive investment.
Breakpoint Sale vs. Breakpoint Schedule
Open-end mutual funds transacted through a full-service broker are required to pay sales loads to intermediaries for the service of identifying, recommending, and transacting the fund. Sales loads on mutual funds can be front-end, back-end, or level.
Breakpoint schedules are levels set by the mutual fund that allows an investor to receive a sales load discount. Discounts from breakpoints are typically applied to funds with a front-end sales load, but they could be applicable to all shares of a fund.
Breakpoint discounts often begin at $25,000, with discounts increasing incrementally to a maximum level. Beyond the mutual fund’s maximum breakpoint level, investors will no longer incur sales load charges. Financial advisors are required to provide full disclosure of breakpoint schedules and ensure that investors are aware when a minimal additional investment could qualify them for a higher discount.
Below is a sample breakpoint schedule provided by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA):
Investment and Sales Charge:
- Less than $25,000: 5.00%
- At least $25,000, but less than $50,000: 4.25%
- At least $50,000, but less than $100,000: 3.75%
- At least $100,000, but less than $250,000: 3.25%
- At least $250,000, but less than $500,000: 2.75%
- At least $500,000, but less than $1 million: 2.00%
- $1 million or more: No sales charge
Following the above breakpoint schedule, an investor planning to invest an initial $40,000 in a front-end load fund would receive a discount and face a charge of 4.25%, or $1,700. If the investor is properly advised she will be told that adding $10,000 for a total investment of $50,000 would qualify the sale for a lower sales charge of 3.75%.
What Are Breakpoints?
Breakpoints for load mutual funds are the dollar amounts for the purchase of the fund's shares that would qualify he investor for a reduced sales charge.
What Are Rights of Accumulation?
Rights of accumulation (ROA) grant holders of mutual fund shares the potential for reduced loads (commissions) when purchasing additional fund shares over time. while common, not all funds offer ROAs, so check before purchasing if you plan to accumulate a sizable position.
Are Breakpoint Sales Illegal?
Selling mutual fund shares utilizing breakpoint discounts is not illegal. However, failing to credit customers the discount is. Moreover, strategically selling shares in dollar amounts that just miss the breakpoints in order to generate higher fees or commissions is a banned practice.