Common Charges You’ll Want To Know Before You Invest

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Are you familiar with the charges imposed by the mutual funds you own? Since fund expenses affect your investment return, understanding the costs is an important step in making sound investment decisions.

Here are some common charges you’ll want to know about before you invest.

  • Load- A load is a sales charge imposed by the fund. You might think of it as similar to the fee you pay a broker to purchase a stock. Mutual funds fit in two broad categories: load and no-load.

Load funds include front-end, back-end, and level-load. A front-end load, as the name implies, is charged when you make your initial investment. A back-end load is charged when you sell your investment before a specified period of time has passed. A level-load charges you an ongoing fee (for instance, 1% per year) as long as you own the shares. A no-load fund has no sales charge. Keep in mind that no-load is not the same as no-fee. No-load funds can still charge purchase fees, redemption fees, exchange fees, and account fees. Look for information on fees and charges in a fee table located near the front of a fund’s prospectus under the heading “Shareholder Fees.”

  • Expense ratio- The expense ratio tells you the cost of operating and managing the fund. These costs include marketing fees (sometimes called 12b-1 fees), management fees, administrative fees, operating costs, and other asset-based costs incurred by the mutual fund. A high expense ratio can hurt your overall return.
  • Turnover and taxes- A fund’s turnover ratio indicates how often the fund buys and sells stocks. A high turnover ratio reflects active trading. Because funds pass capital gains through to shareholders, active trading could result in taxable income for you. A low turnover ratio indicates a “buy and hold” strategy that can postpone the tax bite.

If you have questions about mutual fund terminology, give us a call.

The 4 main attractions of DRIPs

Appropriately enough, investors may notice a slow trickle in earnings from “dividend reinvestment plans” (DRIPs). But these investments may end up providing a steady stream of income over the long run.

search-engine-464188__180The concept is relatively simple. More than 1,000 companies and closed-end mutual funds around the country offer DRIPs to their shareholders. These programs enable shareholders to purchase stock directly from the company by automatically reinvesting dividends in additional shares. Many DRIPs also allow you to voluntarily make cash payments directly into the plan to buy even more shares.

Here are some of the main attractions of DRIPs.

  • Most DRIPs don’t charge any fee, or only a nominal fee, for purchasing shares.
  • Participants may be able to purchase stock at a discounted price. The discount usually ranges from 3% to 5% and could be as high as 10%.
  • The DRIP may allow you to send optional cash payments (OCPs), often for as little as $10, directly to the company to buy additional shares. OCPs are often used to purchase fractional shares, thereby enabling investors to acquire blue chip stocks they might not otherwise be able to afford.
  • It’s easy to join in. Once you’ve chosen a particular stock, check to see if it has a DRIP. The company will furnish the specifics, including a prospectus and the appropriate application forms.

But that’s not to say that investing in DRIPs is without drawbacks. There is a growing trend within the industry to charge a small fee for acquiring shares. Minimum amounts for purchases may be required. Also, the dividends that are reinvested are treated as taxable income, even though you don’t currently receive any cash.

Consider all of the implications of investments in DRIPs before including DRIPs in your portfolio.

Investing in Mutual Funds? Watch for year-end tax issues

untitledMutual funds offer an efficient means of combining investment diversification with professional management. Their income tax effects can be complex, however, and poorly timed purchases or sales can create unpleasant year-end surprises.

Mutual fund investors (excluding qualifying retirement plans) are taxed based on activities within each fund. If a fund investment generates taxable income or the fund sells one of its investments, the income or gain must be passed through to the shareholders. The taxable event occurs on the date the proceeds are distributed to the shareholders, who then owe tax on their individual allocations.

If you buy mutual fund shares toward the end of the year, your cost may include the value of undistributed earnings that have previously accrued within the fund. If the fund then distributes those earnings at year-end, you’ll pay tax on your share even though you paid for the built-up earnings when you bought the shares and thus realized no profit. Additionally, if the fund sold investments during the year at a profit, you’ll be taxed on your share of its year-end distribution of the gain, even if you didn’t own the fund at the time the investments were sold.

Therefore, if you’re considering buying a mutual fund late in the year, ask if it’s going to make a large year-end distribution, and if so, buy after the distribution is completed. Conversely, if you’re selling appreciated shares that you’ve held for over a year, do so before a scheduled distribution, to ensure that your entire profit will be treated as long-term capital gain.

Most mutual fund earnings are taxable (unless earned within a retirement account) even if you automatically reinvest them. Funds must report their annual distributions on Forms 1099, which also indicate the nature of the distributions (interest, capital gains, etc.) so you can determine the proper tax treatment.

Outside the funds, shareholders generate capital gains or losses whenever they sell their shares. The gains or losses are computed by subtracting selling expenses and the “basis” of the shares (generally purchase costs) from the selling price. Determining the basis requires keeping records of each purchase of fund shares, including purchases made by reinvestments of fund earnings. Although mutual funds are now required to track and report shareholders’ cost basis, that requirement only applies to funds acquired after 2011.

When mutual funds are held within IRAs, 401(k) plans, and other qualified retirement plans, their earnings are tax-deferred. However, distributions from such plans are taxed as ordinary income, regardless of how the original earnings would have been taxed if the mutual funds had been held outside the plan. (Roth IRAs are an exception to this treatment.)

If you’re considering buying or selling mutual funds and would like to learn more about them, give us a call.