SLCG Economic Consulting's Logo


Mutual Fund Expense Analyzer: A Tool for Calculating Mutual Fund Fees and Expenses

Every mutual fund investor should know how important fees and expenses are in determining the net return of his investment. Compared with other factors affecting a mutual fund's or an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF)'s return, such as market returns, fees and expenses are more stable over time and it is therefore easier to predict their effect on a fund's future performance. However, comparing fees and expenses across funds can be tedious and confusing, as different funds can use different fee structures.

Luckily, FINRA provides a free online tool which allows investors to compare the fees and expenses charged by over 18,000 mutual funds, ETFs and Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs). For example, we could choose three of the largest mutual funds, PIMCO Total Return Fund Institutional Class with ticker PTTRX, Fidelity Cash Reserves Fund with ticker FDRXX, and SPDR S&P 500 ETF with ticker SPY to compare their cost structures. The output is shown in Table 1.

Table 1A figure showing a table demonstrating the fees, profits, and losses of the three largest mutual funds.

Several inputs are required when generating this table. Here, we assume the initial investment amount is $10,000 and the investment horizon is ten years for all three funds. Also, we assume the annual return is 3% for all three funds. This assumption of uniform returns across the funds is not realistic, but it serves the purpose of making the cost structure more transparent.

This table makes clear the advantage of ETFs in terms of fees and expenses over conventional mutual funds: the total fees and sales changes for PIMCO total return fund is about five time of that of the SPDR S&P 500 ETF. Indeed, another piece of information provided by this tool (not shown in the table) is the annual operating expenses for each fund: while the expense is 0.09% for SPDR S&P 500 ETF, it is 0.46% for PIMCO Total Return Fund Institutional Class. This tool also outputs a wide variety of other data, including Morningstar ratings, investment objectives, and average annual returns.

We are glad that FINRA is making an effort to help investors make well-informed decisions. Although fee structures are not the only factor an investor should consider when choosing a mutual fund or ETF, this tool at least provides an objective comparison of known costs.