How to Understand Your Investment Fees

By Marc Katz | Updated: August 15, 2019

Do you truly understand how much you're paying in investment fees and how that impacts your investment return? The average investor might be touting high returns at their kid's next soccer game but when you subtract the investment fees and costs the returns will be quite different. It is important that you know how to professionally evaluate the hidden fees in mutual funds so you can keep more of what you make in the markets.

Understand how to determine the actual ROI on your investments after fees and commissions have been paid, even the hidden ones.

Investment Fees and the Average Investor

Most average investors we talk to have no idea how their portfolio is invested or what their investments are costing them. According to Demos, a public policy organization, the average household will pay nearly $155,000 in investment costs over their lifetime.

What are Investment Fees?

When money is invested, brokers and financial advisors charge fees for processing transactions and managing the assets. These fees come in many forms, some of them appear on your statements and others are hidden fees that many don’t even know they are paying. Depending on the type of fee being charged, they can be a percentage of the total assets being managed or a per transaction fee.

Types of Investment Fees

There are a number of different types of fees you can be charged in your mutual funds and you should be familiar with all of them. These fees include:

  • Sales charges
  • Expense ratios
  • Marketing fees
  • Trading costs
  • Financial advisor fees

Now, the average investor might visit the website of their investment fund; Morningstar, Fidelity, etc., and go to the historical performance section of the fund. For the fund we mentioned earlier (symbol: CPOAX) these sites display a 2015 performance of 7.88%. That's a nice return considering the stock market was basically even in 2015. This is about as far as the average investor will go to understand their investment returns. They'll walk away feeling good and at their next kid's soccer game, they will tell their friends that they had 7.88% in gains in 2015.

But wait! Let's take a look at how much they actually made from a professional view.

How to Look at Investment Fees and Overall Investment Performance

A professional will not only look at the gross return of 7.88%, but also factor in the cost of owning that fund to determine a net return. In order to determine the net return you need to take out the financial institutions cut. Tweet: A professional will not only look at the gross return of of their investment, but also factor in the cost of owning that fund to determine a net return.

Below is a screenshot of the Morningstar website for CPOAX fund. You'll notice all the expenses and fees circled. Here, you'll see the following investment fees: front end sales fees, expense ratio, management fee, 12b-1 fee (or the marketing fee) and administrative fee. Before you can determine your true return on investment, you have to factor out all of these fees.

Before you can determine your true return on investment you have to factor out all of the investment fees.

Let's assume on the first of January 2015 our investor purchased $10,000 of the Morgan Stanley fund. At the end of 2015 they had a gain of $788 or a 7.88% gross return. Now, let's take out the fees and expenses to determine what this investor truly made in 2015. The fees for the fund include:

  • - 5.25% Sales charge = ($525)
  • - 1.25% Expense ratio = ($125)
  • - 0.67% Management fee = ($67)
  • - 0.25% 12b-1 or marketing fee = ($25)
  • - 0.08% Administrative fee = ($8)
  • - $15 Trading commission = ($15)
  • - 1.0% Advisor fee = ($100)

The fees for this fund equal, $865.

How to factor your true return on investment after investment fees and commissions have been paid.

In this example, the fund made $788 in gains, but you ended up with negative overall performance after fees. Think about that for a minute. It is your money, however, in this real life scenario you don't keep any of your profits.

Do you know where your money is invested and how much you are really paying in fees? If you don't, you should gain an understanding of your true investment costs. Put on your professional cap and review your statements. The more you know about how the financial system truly works, the more money you can keep. That is our goal at Online Trading Academy, helping you invest wisely so you can keep more of what you earn.

About the Author
Marc Katz

Marc Katz is a former managing director of Lehman Brothers’ and Bank of America’s debt capital markets risk solutions groups. He has extensive daily experience in the management of complex financing arrangements as well as fixed income trading. Marc also has an inside knowledge of the debt transactions for some of America’s leading companies; including taxable and tax exempt investment, leasing, private placements and hybrid securities.

This content is intended to provide educational information only. This information should not be construed as individual or customized legal, tax, financial or investment services. As each individual's situation is unique, a qualified professional should be consulted before making legal, tax, financial and investment decisions.

The educational information provided in this article does not comprise any course or a part of any course that may be used as an educational credit for any certification purpose and will not prepare any User to be accredited for any licenses in any industry and will not prepare any User to get a job. Past results are not a guaranty of future performance.

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