What Are Mutual Fund Costs and Expenses?

Costs and expenses are the expenses associated with running a mutual fund. Costs and expenses are among the principal criteria for judging the investment quality of a mutual fund. Funds that are passively managed tend to have lower costs and expenses compared with their actively managed counterparts. The "expense factor" is a key determinant of a fund's investment return to shareholders.

Key Takeaways:

  • Mutual fund costs and expenses are the expenses associated with running a mutual fund.
  • Costs and expenses reflect the investment quality of a mutual fund.
  • Funds that are passively managed tend to have lower costs and expenses compared to funds that are actively managed.
  • A fund with high costs must perform better than a low-cost fund to generate the same returns.

Understanding Costs and Expenses

As with any business, it costs money to run a mutual fund. There are certain costs associated with an investor’s transactions, such as buying, selling, or exchanging mutual fund shares. These costs are commonly known as "shareholder fees." There are also ongoing fund operating costs, and "investment advisory fees" are charged to cover the cost of managing the fund’s holdings, marketing, distribution, custodial, transfer agency, legal, accounting, and other administrative expenses.

How Costs and Expenses Work

Some funds may cover the costs associated with your transactions and your account by imposing fees and charges directly at the time of a transaction. In addition, funds typically pay their regular and recurring fund-wide operating expenses out of fund assets. Because these expenses are paid out of fund assets, they are paid indirectly by the fund's shareholders.

The fund's board of directors is responsible for overseeing the fund’s operations and management. The fund’s directors function as watchdogs and should protect the interests of the fund’s shareholders and keep costs and expenses to a minimum. One of the most significant responsibilities of a fund’s board of directors is negotiating and reviewing the advisory contract between the fund and the investment adviser to the fund, including fees and expense ratios. The expense ratio measures how much of a fund's assets are used for administrative and operating expenses. 

The Impact of Costs and Expenses

Costs and expenses vary from fund to fund. A fund with high costs must perform better than a low-cost fund to generate the same returns. Even small differences in fees from one fund to another can add up to substantial differences in investment returns over time.

The more you pay in fees and expenses, the less money you will have in your investment portfolio. And these fees and expenses really add up over time.

Types of Costs and Expenses

Shareholder Fees

The following fees may appear as shareholder fees:

  • Sales loads
  • A sales charge on purchases
  • Deferred sales charge
  • Redemption fee
  • Exchange fee
  • Account fee
  • Purchase fee

Annual Fund Operating Expenses

The following may appear as annual fund operating expenses:

  • Management fees
  • Distribution (and/or service) 12b-1 fees

Other Expenses

The following may appear as other expenses: