


Glossary of Terms Used in the Mutual Fund Cost Calculator 
What Is the Amount Invested?Or the amount you are thinking of investing. Or just stick with our $10,000 default  it makes the numbers easy to read and compare.
What Type of Account Is Your Money In?Your money is either in a regular, taxable account or else some kind of taxsheltered retirement account  an IRA, Roth IRA or a Keogh Plan or a 401(k) or 403(b) at work. Tell us which. We need to know, because some mutual funds are far more "tax efficient" than others. By trading infrequently, and/or favoring lowdividend stocks, they expose you to less tax. This doesn't matter in a taxsheltered account, so our Calculator ignores it. But in a regular, taxable account, it matters a lot.
What Is Your Marginal Income Tax Rate?In a taxsheltered retirement account, this doesn't matter. Enter any number you want or leave ours. We ignore it. But if you are investing with regular, taxable money, then we need a sensible estimate here. Of course, tax rates and your situation may change in the future, so don't stress out trying to get the exact right figure. Just enter something that seems like the right ballpark. (And if you're in a low bracket today, because you're just starting out, consider entering a higher number. Over the life of this investment, your income and tax bracket might well increase.) Basically, the question is: "If you got an extra $1,000 in income, how much of it would you have to pay in federal and state income taxes?" If you'd owe $350, then you're in the 35% marginal tax bracket. If you're in the 27% federal bracket and live in a state with no income tax, you'd enter 27%. If you earn tons of money and are in the top 38.6% bracket plus you live in a state with a 10% top tax bracket (but it's deductible, so it works out to more like 6% after the value of the deduction), you might enter 45%. If you don't know your federal tax bracket, see the table below for a little help. It's based on your taxable income  after reducing it for IRA contributions, the standard or itemized deductions, personal exemptions and the like. (Revised for 2003 to include the tax law changes signed into law on May 28, 2003)
The federal ordinary income tax rates apply to income from bonds and most bond funds, and to mutual fund shortterm capital gain distributions. Dividends from stocks and most stock funds are taxed at the same federal rate as longterm capital gains. This page has general information about state tax rates. For more specific information on your own state's tax rates and tax treatment of dividends and capital gains, check with your state's tax agency, a list of which may be found here. Your Tax Rate for Dividends and LongTerm Gains?Again, ignore this if your money's in a taxsheltered account. Otherwise, you'd typically enter around 20%  the 15% federal rate plus something for your state tax, if you live in a state that taxes capital gains. If you presently qualify for the 5% capitalgains rate that applies to those in the 1015% federal tax brackets, you might consider entering the 20% rate anyway. Why? Because over the years, your income may increase. Then again, if you expect Congress to cut the capital gains tax, you might enter a somewhat lower rate. (Then again again, if you're subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax and your income falls within the band in which the exemption phases out, you might enter a somewhat higher rate.) But don't worry about being precise! Just enter something that seems sensible to you, or accept our default.
How Long Do You Expect to Hold the Fund?Enter any number of years. We use a 30year default because it shows very dramatically how costs cut into your longterm success. Note, too, that once you buy shares in a fund, you may find yourself keeping them a very long time. There's inertia, for one thing. There's the odd fondness some folks develop for their fund, as if it were a friend. There's the initial load, in some cases, that, having once paid it, you can never get back. And  mainly (and the only one of these that is actually logical and compelling)  there is the large tax bite you would suffer if you took your heretofore unrealized profits off the table.
Expected Annual Return?Who knows. Feel free to change the estimate we've chosen for this fund. It is very rough, based on the longterm historical data for funds of this general type. Note that it is our estimate of the future annual gross return on the underlying assets in the fund before taking into account any investment expenses. Here are the estimates we've made for different kinds of funds:
Our 12% assumption for Stock Funds is quite aggressive. If you believe much of the gain we can hope for in stock prices over the next 10 or 20 or 30 years was already realized in the huge 19821999 bull market  that in the next decade or two the market will just catch its breath  then maybe 7% or 8% might be a better number. But if you believe the phenomenal explosion of technology, global capitalism and free trade will lead to even greater stock market gains, maybe 12% isn't aggressive enough. Indeed, try it several ways. What you'll find out is that, no matter what assumptions you make, high costs drag down performance. And that within a given class of fund  no matter how that class ultimately fares  the funds with high costs are at a tremendous disadvantage. Like horses with fat jockeys  or fast planes flying into stiff headwinds.
Least Expensive Comparable FundsThese are noload funds with the same "investment objective" as the fund you've chosen to analyze. The classification into investment objectives is determined by Lipper, our data provider, and should be used only as a rough guide in comparing funds. (Note that with most stock funds, we combine multiple Lipper categories into a single "supercategory") We search the database for noload funds with the lowest lastyear's cost of ownership, given the tax rate you specified. (If you said this was taxsheltered money, then tax considerations are ignored.) We do not guarantee that these are unfailingly the lowest cost funds. But among funds with at least one year of history in the database, they generally are. Also, we exclude most funds that are designated "Advisor" or "Institutional" class and are not normally available to retail customers. We do not specifically recommend any of these funds, nor does the exclusion of any fund from this list imply in any way that we recommend against the fund. We list these funds only to illustrate that a variety of low cost funds are available in the marketplace. IMPORTANT NOTE: Some funds appear to have very low expenses and get chosen for our comparison here because they "waive" all or a portion of their fees temporarily. That makes them look good in the shortterm, but obviously doesn't help much in the longterm. Also, some will charge tiny service fees on very small accounts – but on a very small account, even tiny fees can have an impact. So please use the funds we show only as a starting point for further research. And remember that the goal of this site is not to find you the right fund, but to show you the importance of costs in making a good decision – or perhaps even, one day, in deciding to build your own "personal fund". Last Year's Cost of OwnershipThis is the total of all the fund's ongoing annual costs, both those we know for sure and those we estimate. (Scroll down to the next table to see what comprises this total.) We show it both in actual dollars  cash that came out of your investment pocket  and as a percent of your investment. The formula is: Management Fee + Distribution Fee + Transaction Costs + Taxes (See below for the formulas we use to calculate each of these cost components) Our calculations are based on the latest 12month Lipper data. You know the standard line  "past performance does not guarantee future results." Well, that's very true of performance. A fund that was up 30% one year could be down 30% next year. But costs are somewhat more predictable. A highcost fund this year is not at all likely to be a lowcost fund next year. (High as they may seem in some cases, these numbers do not include any initial "load" you may have paid when you bought the fund, nor any surrender fee you might have to pay to sell it early. If the fund does have a load or surrender fee, we note it in our discussion above the table and explain its additional impact.) Projected Value of FundThis shows how much your fund will be worth after subtracting from performance our estimated costs. Namely, the management fee and any 12b1 fee, the transaction costs and taxes. The formula is: A((1 + R  i)*E)^{n} where: A = initial
investment amount This projection, like any attempt to project into the future, may be very far off the mark. The fund might do much better or worse than you expected. Management fees could be raised or lowered. The tax law may change. (When has it ever not?) But in terms of comparing the difference that costs make within a class of similar mutual funds, and as a way to illustrate the dramatic impact costs have on your future net worth, this projection remains a powerful tool. The area with the greatest uncertainty, is taxes. (This is not a concern if the fund is held in a taxsheltered account) We base the future tax bite on this past year's tax bite. Often, that provides sensible results. But not always. For example, if this is a fund that had a terrible year and made no capital gains distribution, we would consider it highly "tax efficient"  when in fact it was just highly unprofitable. So we would grossly underproject the tax bite if it paid out big gains in the future. Before plunging into a fund with significant turnover that appears to be tax efficient, check the fund's stated policy on taxable distributions and check to see what sort of tax liabilities it generated for its shareholders during good years. Note: The purchasing power of your investment is likely to be even lower than the "projected value" that we show, because of inflation, and because  except for funds held in a Roth IRA  there will be taxes to pay as you liquidate your investment. In the case of a retirement account, you'll pay ordinary income tax on the withdrawals. In the case of a taxable account, you'll have capital gains tax to pay on the undistributed appreciation of your shares.
Last Year's Actual ReturnsIn the lefthand column is the fund's PreTax return for the past four quarters for which we have data. This is how fund results are reported, and typically how fund results are compared. But what's important to you, if you own shares in a regular, taxable account, is the return you'd have enjoyed after paying tax on the distributed dividends and capital gains. So it's the righthand, AfterTax column to really look at. If you've told us you are in the zero tax bracket, or that you hold this fund in a taxsheltered account  or if the fund made no taxable distributions  the two numbers will be the same. With municipal bond funds, we assume no tax is due on the dividend distributions  only on the capital gains distributions. (In fact, you may owe some state income tax unless the fund buys only bonds issued in your state.) With regard to the capital gains distributions, funds don't generally publicly report the breakdown between short and longterm gains. We make the simplifying assumption, based on industry averages, that for the typical fund, 30% of the capital gains are shortterm and 70% longterm. However, funds with high turnover may be more likely to distribute a larger proportion of their gains as shortterm.
Your Share of the Fund's Transaction CostsThis is our estimate of your share of the fund's trading costs. Brokerage commissions, yes  but that's only part of it. The formula is: TurnoverCost * Turnover * Amounted Invested Say you went to an art gallery and asked the value of a famous lithograph. The gallery would give you one price if you were looking to buy it, another if you already owned it and were looking to sell. With art, the spread between "bid and ask" can be enormous. With 10,000 shares of a stock, it will be much smaller  but meaningful nonetheless. And there's another aspect to this. If you or I want to buy or sell 500 shares of a stock, it rarely "moves the market." What we add to the supply (if we're selling) or demand (if we're buying) is so slight, the price barely moves, if at all. But what if, like a mutual fund, we were trying to buy or sell 200,000 shares  let alone in a hurry? We might sell the first 5,000 shares at 50, but have to accept as little as 49 or 48, on average, to move them all. Buying, we might find that our demand for these shares had bid their price up to 51 or 52 by the time we had gotten them all. Mutual fund managers are generally sensitive to this, of course, and attempt to trade cheaply and wisely. But Mark Carhart, now cohead of Goldman Sachs' quantitative research group, analyzed this issue in great detail as a finance professor at the University of Southern California. He found that, on average, a fund with 100% annual turnover gives up nearly 1% in transaction costs  0.95% to be precise. A fund with 25% turnover would give up only a quarter as much. A fund with 300% turnover  three times as much. And so on. We have also reviewed other studies that ascribe different transaction costs to different types of securities (and performed some research on our own). We found, for example, that the transaction cost for 100% of turnover is about 1.24% for largercap U.S. stock funds, and 0.43% for municipal bond funds. So that's the formula we use in our calculation.
Amount You Paid for Fund ManagementThis is the management fee that reduced the value of your fund shares. It covers the fund's costs of portfolio management, administration and shareholder service. In some cases, marketing and distribution expenses are also included in this number. To compute this number, we first calculate: Management Fee = Expense Ratio  12b1 Fee Since the Expense Ratio as reported by the fund is based on average value, not on initial value, we also estimate average value for the last 12 months as follows: Average Asset Factor = 1 + Pre_Tax_Return / 2 So the number we report for the dollar amount for fund management is : Amount Invested * Management Fee * Average Asset Factor and the percentage amount is: Management Fee * Average Asset Factor
Amount You Paid for Fund DistributionThis is the 12b1 fee that reduced the value of your fund shares. As above, we take the reported 12b1 fee and multiply it by the Average Asset Factor to estimate the actual amount you would have paid for distribution. Note that many fund families compensate their distribution partners with money that comes out of their management fee. This is not explicitly reported as a 12b1 fee. Why should you care? Only because you might have hoped that money was used to support a team of brilliant research analysts and portfolio managers  not going to pay to sell you the fund. Taxes You Paid for Holding the FundThis is our estimate of the tax you'd have incurred by holding shares of the fund. (Zero, if you hold it in a taxsheltered account.) Even if you have your distributions automatically reinvested, the tax must be paid. We apply your ordinary income tax rate to dividend distributions and the shortterm portion of any capital gains distributions that were made. We apply your longterm capital gains tax rate to the longterm portion. Because most funds do not publicly report the long/short breakdown of their capital gains distributions, we make the simplifying assumption that 70% of all such distributions are longterm. Note that we do not calculate taxes on the dividends paid by municipal bond funds, however we do calculate taxes on their capital gains distributions. Projected Potential ValueIf there were absolutely no costs  like a world without friction  this is what your investment would be worth if the fund's underlying investments compounded at the rate we're assuming for the number of years you entered. The formula is: Initial_Investment*(1 + Expected_Annual_Return)^{Holding_Period} Of course, no real investment can achieve this projected potential value, as any investment will incur some costs. Potential Value Lost to CostsThis is our estimate of the potential wealth lost to costs and taxes over the time period you specified. We assume that all dividends and capital gains are reinvested, net of taxes. In a nutshell, it's the difference between the "Projected Potential Value" and the "Projected Actual Value"
Percentage of Potential Appreciation Lost to CostsHow much of your partner are costs and taxes? The formula is: Someone who buys and holds 100 shares of stock that appreciate at, say, 12% a year, gives up zero percent of the potential appreciation until he eventually sells it. Someone who buys a mutual fund whose underlying investments grow at the same 12%, on average, but that racks up fees and transaction costs and taxes by actively trading stocks, may find that over the long run he may be only a 50/50 partner in his own success. How much of the gain on your money are you willing to give up?
Lipper Fund CategoryThis describes the type of assets that the fund owns. The categories are determined by Lipper, our data provider. A complete list of the various Lipper categories is here.
FrontEnd LoadThis is a sales commission you would pay in order to purchase shares of the fund. Studies repeatedly confirm that load funds, on average, perform no better than noload funds. A higher profit to the dealer does nothing to improve the product. In some cases, the load decreases, depending on how much you invest in the fund. The reported number is the maximum load for this fund.
BackEnd LoadThis is a sales commission you would pay when selling your shares of the fund. In many cases, the backend load decreases depending on how long you've owned the fund. The reported number is the maximum backend load for this fund. Be sure to read the fund's prospectus carefully to understand its policies on backend loads (which are sometimes called surrender charges or contingentdeferred sales charges).
Total Expense RatioThis is the number most people think of when they think of mutual fund expenses, but it is only part of the story. It includes both the Management Fee paid to the company that manages the portfolio, as well as any "12b1 fee" for marketing the fund. The average shareholder in a U.S. domestic stock fund gives up about 1% a year to these expenses. That may sound low, but over a lifetime every 1 percent makes a huge difference. For example, if you put away $2,000 a year for 50 years at 8%, you'd have nearly $1.25 million at the end. Not bad. But if you could do just 1% better, you'd have better than half a million dollars more. The "Total Expense Ratio" is the actual ratio of deducted expenses to portfolio value from the recent past. As of April 2007, funds are now also required to report additional expense information, see the next section. Gross Prospectus Expense
Ratio

Type of Fund  Cost 
LargerCap U.S. Equity, including largecap,
multicap, equityincome and most sector funds 
1.24% 
S&P 500 Index  1.19% 
SmallerCap U.S. Equity, including smallcap and midcap funds  2.55% 
International Equity  1.54% 
U.S. Government Bond  0.09% 
Municipal Bond  0.43% 
Corporate and General Bond  0.26% 
Shortterm Bond  0.15% 
For other types of funds not listed above, we make reasonable assumptions to estimate their costs based on their similarity to, or combination of, closely related major asset classes listed above.
This is the last day of the 12month period the fund uses to report its performance, and for which the Total Expense Ratio, 12b1 Fee and Turnover apply. By the time the fund reports these results and they reach the public  typically a 120day cycle  the fund may have raised its fees or increased turnover. Thus, the public doesn't have the most timely information on which to make decisions.
Funds do make unaudited semiannual reports to the SEC, but the Lipper database does not incorporate that information. For the most timely information you can download fund reports directly from the SEC website at http://www.sec.gov/cgibin/srchedgar
At the SEC site, the funds's Annual and SemiAnnual reports are in forms labeled N30D. The prospectus, which contains more detail than the prospectus that the fund company normally distributes to the public, is in form 485BPOS
If a fund owns $20 million in securities and is divided into 1 million shares, the Net Asset Value of each share is $20. We show here the NAV as of the end of the most recent calendar quarter for which we have data  as well as the year prior's NAV. To see today's price, you can use any of dozens of free online services, such as quicken.com. But in terms of getting a sense of, and comparing, a fund's costs of ownership, it's not important that prices be up to the minute.
Note: When a fund makes a dividend or capital gains distribution to its shareholders, its NAV instantly drops by the same amount. (It had $20 million in assets, distributes $2 million, and so now has $18 million. You get your $2ashare distribution  and see the NAV of your shares drop from $20 to $18. You had $20 before and still have $20. Nothing has happened, except that you may now owe some taxes.) A fund whose NAV seems stuck at $10 forever may not be a dog after all  if it's been making large distributions.
This is the amount of dividends and interest that the fund earned on its investments and then passed on to its shareholders  per share  during the most recent four quarters for which we have data. Even if you choose to have these distributions automatically reinvested in the fund, you will owe tax on them if you hold the fund in a taxable account.
When a fund makes more profits than losses from its trades in a given year, it must pay out the excess  the net profit  in the form of a "capital gains distribution." (Sometimes it will make distributions more than once a year.) Even if you choose to have these distributions automatically reinvested in the fund, you will owe tax on them if you hold the fund in a taxable account. Shortterm gains are taxed as ordinary income. Longterm capital gains are taxed at a lower rate. The statement you get from the fund will tell you how the distribution breaks down between each.
The number we show here is the total in capital gains distributions the fund paid out, per share, over the last four quarters for which we have data.
This is the date when the fund began managing money.
This is the total amount of assets invested in the fund, and is the best measure of how big the fund is. The size is relevant to costs, since the transaction costs for larger funds are likely to be higher than for smaller funds. Why? Because the larger the fund, the larger the blocks of stocks or bonds it must buy or sell at any given time. When a large bidder needs to buy or sell it can have a greater impact on the market price, then when a small player places a trade.
A fund's growth in assets typically comes from two places: appreciation of the securities it owns, and the inflow of new money from new and existing shareholders. If the number we show here is negative, it may be the combination of negative fund performance, and redemptions by shareholders.
This is significant to costs because if the fund is generating net inflows (growing by taking in new money), it is paying extra transaction costs to buy more securities. These transaction costs are not reported in the "total expense ratio" and not reflected in our other calculations, so be aware that a fast growing fund may be more expensive to own than a relatively stable fund.
Similarly, if a fund is shrinking because other shareholders are redeeming their shares, the fund incurs additional transaction costs to sell its securities, and the remaining shareholders end up paying for these costs. These transaction costs are not reported in the "total expense ratio" and not reflected in our other calculations, so be aware that a shrinking fund may be more expensive to own than a relatively stable fund.
How can you tell if your fund is growing or shrinking? Compare this number (Growth in Total Net Assets) with the fund's PreTax Total Return. If total assets have grown 4%, say, when the fund's pretax return was 8%, that tells you the fund has experienced net redemptions  more old money being withdrawn than new money flowing in. (Otherwise, the fund's assets would have grown at least 8%.) If the fund's investment return was 8% but its total assets grew at 16%, it is experiencing net inflows.
This is the fund's performance over the most recent four quarters for which we have data  net of all investment costs but before any taxes you might have had to pay. It is the sum of the cash it paid out to shareholders, plus appreciation in the value of the fund's shares.
The formula is: (NAV_{end}  NAV_{start} + Cap.Gains + Dividends) / NAV_{start}
So if the fund's Net Asset Value was $10 per share at the start of the period and $11 at the end  and it paid out $1.50 in cash along the way  then we would show its PreTax Total Return as 25%. Namely, 15% from the $1.50 in cash that it paid you, plus 10% from the gain in the Net Asset Value of your shares.
This is the percentage of fund assets paid out as dividends.
The formula is: Dividends / NAV_{start}
If the Net Asset Value of the fund's shares was $10 at the start of the most recent four quarters for which we have data, and the fund paid out $1 a share in dividend distributions during those four quarters, then the number we show here would be 10%.
This is the percentage of fund assets paid out as capital gains.
The formula is: Cap.Gains / NAV_{start}
If the Net Asset Value of the fund's shares was $10 at the start of the most recent four quarters for which we have data, and the fund paid out $1 a share in capitalgains distributions during those four quarters, then the number we show here would be 10%.
This shows how much the fund's shares have appreciated over the most recent four quarters for which we have data.
The formula is: (NAV_{end}  NAV_{start}) / NAV_{start}
If the share price was $10 at the start of the period and $10.50 at the end, we would show capital appreciation of 5%. The funds total return is the sum of Capital Appreciation and Returns from Dividends and Realized Capital Gains.
Last updated on 10/27/2009
