(BPT) – Many people don’t take enough ownership over what they pay when it comes to investing. A recent study by Charles Schwab in May 2013 of investors who are highly engaged in their everyday lives shows that most Americans do research before making a major purchase. Yet just 51 percent say they know how much they pay for their investments and only 16 percent who work with an investment professional have asked how fees and commissions impact their portfolio’s returns.
It can really pay to pay attention, says Mark Riepe, head of Schwab Center for Financial Research, who adds, “One way to reduce your investment return is to ignore fees.”
A seemingly small difference in fees can make a potentially big difference in your return. Here’s a hypothetical example: let’s assume you make a $10,000 investment that earns six percent each year for the next 20 years. If you were to pay one-half of one percent in fees each year on that investment, after 20 years your after-fee balance – or net return – would be about $29,000. But if your annual fee was closer to 1.5 percent, after 20 years that $29,000 would shrink to about $24,000 – or about 20 percent less.
So how can you make sure to take ownership over the money you’ve invested and your financial future? Knowledge is the first step – here are some of the most common fees to be aware of:
Commissions are the fees you are charged when you place a trade with a brokerage firm. If you trade frequently, commissions can add up fast. There are many brokerage firms that offer commission-free products, such as certain exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and no-load mutual funds.
Portfolio management fees
If you use a professional to help you with portfolio management, there are two primary fees to keep in mind. The first is an annual fee, which is usually a set percentage and can vary depending on the advisor and the amount of assets in your portfolio. For example, you might pay one percent of $250,000 you have invested, or $2,500 per year. But there can also be fees for the underlying investments in your portfolio, including commissions and operating expenses that you pay on top of the annual fee.
Mutual fund fees
Mutual fund investors are charged a percentage of the fund’s average net assets. This is called the operating expense ratio, or OER, and it covers the fund’s management expenses. These fees can vary, so investors should always compare OERs before purchasing a mutual fund, especially when deciding between two similar funds. OERs are listed in the fund’s prospectus and most can be found online. Typically, the more complex the fund, the more management it requires and the more it costs. It’s important to know that OERs are charged on top of any transaction fees or commissions you might pay to invest in the fund.
In most cases with bonds, when you buy or sell you either pay a percentage or flat fee, however the yield on a bond is impacted by what you pay for it, so finding the lowest cost is to your advantage. It is a good idea to compare prices from multiple bond dealers before settling.
Exchange traded fund fees (ETF)
An ETF is a fund that can be traded like a stock. Depending on how frequently you buy and sell ETFs you may be more or less concerned with some of their fees. For example, if you trade ETFs more frequently, the commission you are charged for each transaction can add up quickly. You also want to pay attention to the bid/ask spread – the prices at which people are willing to buy and sell the fund. If you’re planning to hold an ETF over a longer period of time, the commission and spread become less important, since they are one-time costs. But “buy and hold” ETF investors should pay close attention to the fund’s expense ratio, which is a recurring fee.
Of course lower expenses do not necessarily translate into higher returns, but they are important to understand. One way to be more aware of the fees you’re paying is to regularly review your statement. Being an informed and engaged investor today can have a real impact on your ability to achieve your investing goals tomorrow, whether that’s retirement, saving for your child’s education or purchasing a home.
Scenario is hypothetical in nature and not intended to predict or project the performance of any specific investment product.
Investors should carefully consider information contained in the prospectus, including investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. Please read the prospectus carefully before investing.
Investment returns will fluctuate and are subject to market volatility, so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed or sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Unlike mutual funds, shares of ETFs are not individually redeemable directly with the ETF. Shares are bought and sold at market price, which may be higher or lower than the net asset value (NAV).
Bond, investments are subject to various risks, including changes in interest rates, credit quality, market valuations, liquidity, prepayments, corporate events, tax ramifications, and other factors