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Mutual Funds

What does the 'expense ratio' of an investment fund mean?

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December 28, 2013 6:41PM

Expense Ratios, expressed as a percentage, represents the amount of money a fund spends on management, administrative costs, operating costs, 12b-1 fees and any other costs tied to the assets in the fund. It does not include costs for trades made in the fund. These costs are passed on to the shareholders in the fund and are calculated against the total assets under management.

Investors use this percentage to determine their return on the investment by subtracting the cost from the performance of the securities in the portfolio. It is however only one of the costs associated with fund ownership. All fees should be calculated against the return of the fund to get a clear picture of how well the fund performed.

Index funds and most exchange traded funds (ETFs) have low expense ratios due to the passive management of the portfolio. These types of funds use a published benchmark (index) and invest based on how the index is constructed. Trading is infrequent and the management's activities are limited, which keep all costs low. These funds are expected to come as close to matching the benchmark without exceeding its performance after the fees are subtracted. Many of these types of funds have expense ratios of less than 0.20%.

Actively managed mutual funds have higher expense ratios by comparison due to the active management of the underlying securities in the portfolio. According to the Investment Company Institute (ICI), the average expense ratio for actively managed mutual funds is 0.90%. To perform better than a comparable benchmark, this type of fund must beat the benchmark after these costs are subtracted.