In order to maximize your potential returns, expense ratio comparison becomes a critical factor while comparing mutual funds, index funds or exchange traded funds.
When you invest your money in mutual funds or ETF, these funds deduct some amount of money for managing the mutual fund and handling operating costs and expenses.
Although, these fees cannot be avoided completely, you can look for lowest expense ratio mutual funds which are cost effective and give higher returns to investors.
Bond funds, index funds and ETF are considered as low expense ratio mutual funds when you compare the average expense ratios of stock funds, bond funds and balanced mutual funds.
What Is A Good Expense Ratio?
What is a reasonable or good expense ratio for a mutual fund? Generally, an expense ratio in the range of 0.5% to 0.75% is considered to be a good, low expense ratio for a mutual fund that is actively managed.
Expense ratio greater than 1.5% is considered to be on the higher side. However, these numbers can be different for index funds, exchange traded funds or bond funds.
Using an expense ratio as a parameter to compare different mutual funds and ETFs and then choosing a low expense ratio mutual fund can be a great way to ensure that you are getting best returns on your investments.
If you compare the expense ratios of direct and regular mutual funds, you will notice that direct funds have lower expense ratio than regular funds as they don’t include the fees or commissions paid to intermediaries.
Passively managed mutual funds have lower expense ratio when compared to actively managed mutual funds as they don’t have any team of analysts making active investment decisions.
Mutual funds with smaller AUM (assets under management) have higher expense ratios as they have to meet all the expenses from smaller asset base. Higher the AUM, lower is the expense ratio of the fund with similar investment strategy.
Expense Ratio Meaning
By definition, expense ratio is the percentage of total assets which mutual fund companies charge to the investors every fiscal year to cover mutual fund operating expenses. These expenses include:
- asset management fees
- administrative fees
- marketing fees under SEC rule
- advertising fees
- legal fees
- registrar fees
- trading charges
- operating costs
- other fixed overhead costs
Expense Ratio Calculation
For example, if you are investing in a mutual fund which has a management expense ratio of 1%, then for every $1000 of your investment, the fund will deduct $10 each year.
This $10 deduction is not seen in your statement and you won’t get any bill for this charge. This reduction is reflected in the form of lower net asset value for the fund shares.
Expense Ratio Formula
How can you calculate expense ratio? Either you can use online expense ratio calculator or you can use this formula to calculate expense ratio of a mutual fund.
|Total Expense Ratio = Total Fund Costs / Total Fund Assets|
From the above formula we can see that there are two ways in which a mutual fund manager can reduce the expense ratio of a fund. Either he can increase the revenues or he can decrease the expenses.
Expense Ratio Example
How does a higher expense ratio impact your fund returns in next 10, 20 or 30 years? How much would you earn if you invested in a zero expense ratio mutual fund? Check out the table below to see how your initial investment of $1000 grows with an annual fund return of 12%.
|TER||10 Yrs||20 Yrs||30 Yrs|
Total Expense Ratio
Total Expense Ratio (TER) of a mutual fund or ETF indicates how much percentage of your investment you would be paying for the various expenses associated with managing a mutual fund. These expenses include:
- Fund distribution charges
- Investment advisory services
- Accounting fees
- Legal costs
- Custodial costs
- Transfer agency costs
- Shareholder reporting expenses
- Back office expenses
Gross Expense Ratio
Gross expense ratio measures the percentage of total assets required to manage the fund before any reimbursements or fee waivers. Gross expense ratios on ETFs and mutual funds do not include any brokerage charges or fund sales charges.
Net Expense Ratio
Net expense ratio indicates what the investors would be charged ultimately after any reimbursements or fee waivers. Net expense ratio of a mutual fund or ETF is also known as audited ratio.
Mutual Fund Charges
In addition to expense ratio, there are various other charges which might be deducted by mutual fund companies. Below are few of them.
- Management Fees
- Administrative Fees
- Distribution Fees
- Entry Load
- Exit Load
- Transfer Fees
Mutual funds charge management fees or investment advisory fees as a compensation to fund managers who use their fund management experience to develop best investment strategies.
Administrative expenses like customer service and support, record and book keeping, information emails, etc are covered under administrative costs.
Distribution fee is used for various advertising channels, marketing campaigns and other promotional purposes to promote the fund to investors.
Entry load is paid by an investor when he purchases mutual fund units. It is usually calculated as a percentage of total investment.
Exit load is charged when an investor redeems mutual fund units or decides for an early withdrawal before pre-defined lock-in period.
Transfer fee or switch fee is charged whenever an investor decides to transfer his investment from one mutual fund scheme to another under same mutual fund company.
Expense Ratio Comparison
A lower expense ratio means more profitability and a higher expense ratio means less profitability. Hence, expense ratio comparison becomes a critical factor. But when you are comparing expense ratios, be sure you are comparing mutual funds with same type and same investment objective.
Expense ratios are just one of the many fees that investors pay. But you should also look at other costs that can hurt your portfolio returns, such as mutual fund sales loads or employer-provided retirement plans or administrative fees in a 401(k).
- Exchange Traded Funds (ETF)
- Equity Index Funds
- Target Date Funds
- Gold Mutual Funds
- Fixed Income Mutual Funds
- Money Market Funds
- Stock Mutual Funds
- Bond Mutual Funds
- Balanced Mutual Funds
Exchange Traded Funds (ETF)
Exchange traded funds have lower expense ratios than equity index funds or traditional mutual funds. However, an investor has to pay a commission to the broker as ETF are traded like stocks on exchanges. Below are few examples of lowest expense ratio ETF.
- Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF
- Vanguard S&P 500 ETF
- Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF
- Vanguard Large Cap ETF
- iShares Core S&P 500 ETF
Equity Index Funds
Equity index funds keep their expense ratios low by investing in stocks of an underlying index, thus following passive portfolio management strategy. The main objective of index funds is to match the performance of the benchmark index. Below are few examples of lowest expense ratio index funds.
- Fidelity ZERO Total Market Index Fund
- Fidelity ZERO Large Cap Index Fund
- Schwab S&P 500 Index Fund
- Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund
- Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
Target Date Funds
Target date funds are considered as best retirement mutual funds whose asset allocation becomes more conservative as time approaches target date. Target date funds are also known as retirement funds, lifecycle funds, age based funds or dynamic risk funds. Below are few examples of low expense ratio target date funds.
- Vanguard Target Retirement Income Fund
- Schwab Target Index Fund
- Fidelity Freedom Index Income Fund
- TIAA Lifecycle Retirement Income Fund
- JPMorgan Smart Retirement Income Fund
Gold Mutual Funds
Investing in best gold funds can be a good diversification strategy. Gold can be used as a hedge against inflation, stock market crash or a falling US dollar. Below are few examples of low expense ratio gold mutual funds and gold ETFs.
- SPDR Long Dollar Gold Trust
- Perth Mint Physical Gold ETF
- SPDR Gold MiniShares
- GraniteShares Gold Trust
- iShares Gold Trust
Fixed Income Mutual Funds
Fixed income mutual funds are best for investors looking for regular fixed income. These mutual funds invest in fixed income securities like US Treasuries, municipal bonds, corporate bonds, etc. Below are few examples of low expense ratio fixed income funds.
- PIMCO Fixed Income Shares Series
- SEI Core Fixed Income Fund
- DFA Diversified Fixed Income Fund
- Mercer Core Fixed Income Fund
- iShares Edge US Fixed Income Fund
Money Market Funds
Money market funds are best place to park your cash for short term and earn potential income without taking higher risk. Below are few examples of low expense ratio money market funds.
- American Century Capital Preservation Fund
- Fidelity US Treasury Money Market Fund
- Vanguard Treasury Money Market Fund
- Fidelity Government Money Market Fund
- Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund
Stock Mutual Funds
Stock mutual funds are best for investors looking for long term wealth appreciation. These funds invest in securities of large cap, mid cap or small cap companies. Below are few examples of low expense ratio stock funds.
- Fidelity Series Large Cap Stock Fund
- Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
- iShares Total US Stock Market Index Fund
- Schwab Total Stock Market Index Fund
- Vanguard Total World Stock Index Fund
Bond Mutual Funds
Bond mutual funds invest in government bonds, money market instruments, treasury bills and other fixed income securities. These funds are best for investors looking for capital protection along with regular income. Below are few examples of low expense ratio bond funds.
- Vanguard Long-Term Corp Bond Index Fund
- Wells Fargo High Yield Corporate Bond Fund
- Fidelity Flex Core Bond Fund
- Wells Fargo US Core Bond Fund
- Fidelity Series Bond Index Fund
Balanced Mutual Funds
Balanced mutual funds invest in stocks as well as bonds in different proportion. Thus they provide wealth appreciation along with capital protection. Below are few examples of low expense ratio balanced funds.
- Vanguard Tax Managed Balanced Fund
- WisdomTree Balanced Income Fund
- T. Rowe Price Retirement Balanced Fund
- American Funds Global Balanced Fund
- BNY Mellon Sustainable Balanced Fund
Regular vs Direct Mutual Funds
Regular plans are mutual funds which you buy from an intermediary like distributor or agent or broker. These intermediaries charge commission or distribution fees for the service they provide which increases the expenditure of your initial investment.
Direct plans are mutual funds which you can buy directly from Asset Management Companies (AMC). There are no intermediaries involved and they do not charge any distribution fees or commissions.
Regular mutual funds are more convenient as they save your time spent on research and analysis. You can also get expert guidance from financially qualified agent or distributor.
Direct mutual funds will give you higher potential returns as they have lower expense ratios because investors can buy the plans directly from mutual fund companies without involving any intermediary.
Regular mutual funds will give you lower returns as they have higher expense ratios due to the fees and commissions charged by agents and distributors.
Direct mutual funds are less convenient and they are suitable for those who can do their own research and take their own decision without any financial advice or guidance.
The below table illustrates the advantages and disadvantages of investing in direct or regular plans of mutual funds.
|Research||By Expert||By Self|
Active vs Passive Mutual Funds
The goal of active portfolio management strategy is to beat the benchmark index by taking advantage of the short term price fluctuations of a stock, bond or any other underlying asset.
Active mutual funds are managed by team of expert analysts and experienced managers who make active investment decisions by using market research and in-depth analysis.
Passive mutual funds do not require any hands-on management as they follow passive portfolio management strategy by investing in stocks which are part of an underlying index like S&P 500 or NASDAQ.
Index funds are a good example of passive mutual funds. The performance of passive funds is very close to the performance of benchmark index. Vanguard is an industry leader for providing best index funds.
Pros & Cons
Active mutual funds have higher expense ratios as there is an active management team involved in making investment decisions. But there is a possibility of active funds beating the benchmark and giving higher returns to investors.
On the other hand, passive mutual funds have lower expense ratios as there is no active decision making involved. But their returns are similar to the benchmark index and they miss out the potential for out-performance.