A reasonable fund fee

Question: Could you discuss what is reasonable in terms of fees and sales charges for mutual funds? My current Roth IRA provider charges a $10 annual fee and a 5% sales charge when I put money in the account. Is that reasonable? In re-reading the welcome materials it talks about sales charges but doesn't supply information on what the actual charge is. In the current market, I'm starting to feel like I'm paying more in fees than I'm earning! Sheri, Rochester, NY

Answer: Yes, you can do much better. I don't blame you for being upset at the high fee. The 5% toll--technically called a load--on the money you put into your Roth sets you back right away. I would look for another option.

So, on a $1000 investment your down $50 right away. It's definitely a financial penalty. I also like an annual fund expense ratio running in the 0.10% to 0.60% range, depending on the kind of investment. At least that's the benchmark I use. Of course, I favor low-fee index funds since minimizing costs over the long run is key to building wealth.

There are many high-quality no-load low-annual-fee mutual funds you can invest with in your Roth. You can search for them at Morningstar.com, the investing data site. A number of magazines and major newspapers also run special issues on mutual funds, such as Money, Smart Money, Kiplinger's, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Once you have honed in on a couple of mutual funds I would turn to the Fund Analyzer offered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)--the major regulator of securities. It will calculate the impact of fees and expenses on an investment in over 18,000 mutual funds. .

There is no good reason to pay a 5% load on a retirement plan in today's market.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.
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I think Vanguard waives the annual fee if you opt for online statements.

The $10 annual fee seems to be industry standard for IRAs, to cover the administrative requirements for IRAs. I haven't found a stock or bond mutual fund without a maintenance fee yet. But several companies waive the fee if your total balance is high enough. If you're stuck with a maintenance fee, make sure to pay it separate from your contributions. Don't let them deduct it from your account balance if possible.

I do agree that you should run, don't walk, away from any fund with a load of any kind. There are plenty of good no-load index funds available. I'm a fan of Vanguard, but there are other good choices too.

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