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Ask Money

A, B, C, Shares, And So On

Chris Farrell Mar 4, 2008

Question: I have some investment and savings questions. I’m 24 with about 12,000 in CDs and no debt. I recently went to a financial planner from Primerica Financial Services. They are suggesting for me to open up a Roth IRA with one of their Mutual Funds…to be determined. Because I am going to have these funds for the long haul should I buy A or B shares? They have suggested B. Are there calculators available see what the difference will be for the different shares because of the different fees? What should I look for in a mutual fund company? There seems to be so many. Over the long haul, what % gain can I predict?…Thanks Much, Ray

Answer: It’s great that you want to open up a retirement savings plan. But I wouldn’t buy shares labeled A, B, C, D, and so on. Instead, why not open up a Roth-IRA with a no-load mutual fund company?

Here’s what I mean. The fees you pay to own mutual fund shares matter a lot. There are all kinds of fees, but essentially you can divide the mutual fund universe into two basic types: “load funds” and “no-load funds.” Load funds charge a levy when you buy or sell. They also assess a fee for ongoing expenses, the costs associated with running a fund.

The load is the commission paid to the broker who advised you to get into a particular fund. Typically, the load is paid when you buy the fund (those are so-called A shares), but some mutual fund companies impose the fee when you sell (B shares). The other letters represent combinations of the two.

A no-load fund doesn’t impose a fee on either end. It does charge a fee to meet ongoing expenses. But it’s realistic to expect to pay a fee — you’re not going to get something for nothing. The important thing to remember is to evaluate exactly what those fees are in total and how much will they cut into your return on investment.

So, if I invest $1,000 in an equity mutual fund with a 5% load, $50 goes to the mutual fund company (or broker) and $950 goes into my investment. Now, let’s say I invest the same $1,000 in a no-load fund. No one steered me toward this fund. I did my own research, spent my own time. The payoff is that the full $1,000 goes into my mutual fund investment. But in both cases — load fund and no load fund — I’ll pay an operating fee. And that fee can range significantly, from around 0.10% to well over 2%. .

The Securities and Exchange Commission offers a Mutual Fund Cost Calculator at its website. It makes it easy for investors to compare the costs of owning different mutual funds over time. The Cost Calculator takes the mystery and math out of the cost equation, revealing how costs add up over time. And to get you started on investing and personal finance, I’d recommend taking a look at Burton Malkiel’s The Random Walk Guide to Investing: Ten Rules for Financial Success. It’s short, and full of good advice.

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