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How Fund Expense Ratios Can Impact Your Returns

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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One of the trickier lessons for investors to learn is how to judge an investment fund by its price. Part of the reason is that funds don’t refer to their fees as having a “price.” Instead, funds have something called an “expense ratio.”

“The expense ratio is the only certain reduction of your return,” said Mark Hebner, wealth advisor, president of Index Fund Advisors in Irvine, Calif., and author of “Index Funds: The 12-Step Recovery Program for Active Investors.” That’s why understanding expense ratios and knowing what to look for can help you maximize the returns on your investments.

What is an expense ratio?

The expense ratio is the ongoing fee you pay to invest in a mutual fund, index fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF). It’s expressed as an annual fixed percentage of your invested assets — for example, 1% or 0.70%.

Included in the expense ratio are the costs of running the fund, from operations to administration, with small charges for accounting, legal, custodial or other service costs. If the fund is actively managed, the bulk of the expense ratio will go toward the investment advisory fee. There’s also something called a 12b-1 fee, or distribution fee, which some funds charge to pay for marketing to new investors.

How expense ratios work

Investors are not presented with a bill each year that states how much is due. Instead, expense ratios are taken directly from the fund. The expense ratio accrues daily as a percentage of your average invested assets, which can make it easy to miss.

But the expense ratio does impact your investment performance. To get a sense of how much, consider the number in real dollars. Invest $1,000 in a fund with a 1.5% expense ratio, and you’ll pay about $15 each year. Invest $100,000, and you’ll pay $1,500.

You also may think of it as a haircut of sorts in your annual performance. If your fund with a 1% expense ratio is up 10%, you will have returns of 9% after paying for the cost of the fund. That may not sound so terrible in good times, but it can be harder to bear in volatile markets — for example, when the fund is down by 10% for the year and you are down by 11% after fees.

Like price tags, expense ratios may not be the only factor in your purchasing decision, but they can help you evaluate and compare investments. Say you have $10,000 to invest and are considering an actively managed mutual fund with a 2% expense ratio to an index fund with a 0.5% expense ratio.

InvestmentExpense ratioAnnual cost on $10,000
Active mutual fund2%$200
Passive index fund0.5%$50

Perhaps the more costly investment adds value — enhanced performance returns, steady dividends, risk management — in a way that justifies its higher annual expenses. On the other hand, the mutual fund will have to outperform its benchmark by 1.5% just to keep up with the index fund.

How to find a fund’s expense ratio

If you are looking for a fund’s expense ratio, a good place to start is the prospectus, which is a detailed investment overview funds must file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). You can get a printed copy of a prospectus by contacting the fund company directly, and most fund websites include links to digital copies. Or you can find a prospectus on SEC.gov by searching for the name of the fund or fund company. Listed under the heading “Annual Operating Expenses” in the document will be a breakdown of all of the costs. Reading a prospectus isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be illuminating to see all the little line items that go into running a fund.

There are also some great websites — including Morningstar, MAXfunds and Kiplinger — that can give you a peek at a fund’s fees and help you compare low-cost options. When purchasing a fund from a broker, advisor or fund company, you can ask for a detailed explanation of the fees you will have to pay.

If you are so are inclined, you can calculate a fund’s expense ratio on your own by dividing total operating expenses by the average dollar amount of assets under management (often referred to as AUM).

What’s a good expense ratio?

Knowing how to calculate an expense ratio is one thing. But how do you know whether the expense ratio is good or bad?

“For the average person, you want the expense ratio to be as small as possible,” said Hebner.

The good news is average annual expense ratios have been on the long-term decline, falling by 40% over the past two decades. The average equity mutual fund expense ratio is currently 0.59%, according to the Investment Company Institute (ICI). The average bond mutual fund expense ratio is 0.48%.

Part of the reason expense ratios are declining is to keep up with index funds and ETFs, which tend to have below-average expense ratios, primarily because of lower operating costs and no active management fees. The average index equity mutual fund expense ratio is 0.09%, and the average index bond mutual fund expense ratio is 0.07%, according to the ICI.

Investors seem to be receiving the low-fee message. As of year-end 2017, the equity mutual funds with the lowest expense ratios hold more than three-quarters of total equity invested assets, according the ICI. Funds with the highest expense ratios hold only about 23% of the equity fund market. In August 2018, Fidelity began offering two no-cost index funds with a 0% expense ratio and then added two more the following month.

What’s not included in the expense ratio

There are additional fees not listed in the expense ratio that you may be charged when investing in a fund. Some can be avoided. Here is a rundown of what to look out for.

Shareholder fees

Under the general category of “Shareholder Fees” in the prospectus are several potential charges:

  • Sales loads. Some funds are sold through brokers who are compensated by fees paid by investors. These fees are known as loads or sales loads. They might be taken off the top of your investment when you purchase shares in the fund (front-end loads), or you may pay a deferred cost when you take your money out (deferred loads). That amount typically is a percentage of the assets invested and decreases as you invest greater amounts. According to Morningstar, the typical front-end load might be 4% on an investment of $50,000 or less; a typical deferred load might be around 5% but might decrease if you stay invested over time. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority limits the sales load on a mutual fund to 8.5%. With so many desirable no-load funds for investors to choose from, there is little reason to pay a load fee.
  • Redemption fee. This is a transaction cost some funds charge when you redeem your fund shares. It is different from a deferred sales load because the fee does not go toward a broker’s compensation but pays the fund to defray the costs shared by all fund investors when you redeem shares in the fund. The SEC limits redemption fees to a maximum of 2%.
  • Exchange fee. If you exchange one fund’s shares for another, you may be charged this fee.
  • Account fee. If there is an account minimum to meet, you may be charged a fee for falling below the minimum.
  • Purchase fee. This is a transaction cost some funds charge when you purchase shares. Similar to the redemption fee, this differs from a sales load because it pays the fund to defray the shared costs associated with your purchase.

Trading costs

If there is trading going on in the fund, there will be associated broker and transaction costs. In actively managed mutual funds, where a lot of trading can occur, these fees can take a toll. A 2013 academic study called “Shedding Light on ‘Invisible’ Costs: Trading Costs and Mutual Fund Performance” found that investors paid an average of 1.44% in trading costs per year — often more than they paid in management and operational fees.

If you are buying an ETF, you also should pay attention to the trading costs you pay when buying and selling shares.

Taxes

As the fund buys and sells investments, capital gains and losses are incurred. All fund investors share the tax burden, which is paid for with fund assets. Taxes are a hidden fund cost that can take a toll on your investments.

Bottom line

You should never select an investment simply because it’s cheap, and you may have your own good reasons to favor a fund with an expense ratio that is slightly higher than average. Being aware of the expense ratio is like knowing the price of something; it helps you make a decision based on your priorities. Just keep in mind that the higher the expense ratio, the harder it is to beat or even meet the investment’s benchmark.

With average expense ratios on the decline, finding a low-cost fund that fits you is easier than ever — and it can help boost your overall returns.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Phipps
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Melissa Phipps is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa here

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Investing

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios Review 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is a robo-advisor option from a trusted online-only financial institution.

It can make managing your money simple: Just answer a few basic questions about your goals and risk tolerance and your funds are invested for you. However, while fees are competitive, they aren’t the lowest among other robo-advisors’ offerings.

If you don’t mind the lack of bonus for opening the account, and you want to take a hands-off approach to building wealth, Ally Invest may be a good option.

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios
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The Bottom Line: Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is a decent robo-advisor that’s competitive with other managed portfolios online. But its lack of tax-loss harvesting, and fees that slightly exceed competitors may prompt you to look elsewhere if you’re not already an Ally customer.

  • The minimum deposit to invest in Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is $100
  • The management fee is 0.30%, no matter how high your account balance
  • Customer service is available 24/7, but there are no local branches to visit

Who should consider Ally Invest Managed Portfolios?

If you’re looking for a robo-advisor that allows you to build a diversified portfolio without a lot of advanced knowledge about investing, Ally Invest Managed Portfolios has you covered.

You’ll answer a few questions about your age; timeline for investing and risk tolerance; and whether you’re investing for retirement, wealth-building or a big purchase. Then, Ally Invest comes back with a recommended portfolio you can accept or tweak.

You can open a joint, custodial or Individual taxable account with Ally Invest Managed Portfolios, or can opt for a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA or Rollover IRA. Unfortunately, unlike with Ally Invest’s self-directed accounts, there’s no promotion or bonus for transferring funds into a managed portfolio. And, you’ll need quite a bit of money to get started — more than many competitors in the robo-advisor industry require.

Still, if you don’t mind the lack of brick-and-mortar locations and marginally higher fees, Ally Invest is a worthy competitor to consider when looking for help managing your money.

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $100
Management fees
  • 0.30%
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $50 full account transfer fee
  • $50 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Current promotions

Ally Invest offers a $50 cash bonus plus free trades if you deposit or transfer at least $10,000. Bonuses go up from there and increase up to a cash bonus of as much as $3,500 if you deposit or transfer at least $2 million in assets. 

Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
Portfolio
  • Ally managed portfolios cover 3 asset classes and 9 major market segments
Automatic rebalancing
Tax loss harvesting
Offers fractional shares
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android, Windows Phone
Customer supportPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email

Strengths of Ally Invest Managed Portfolios

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios has some significant advantages worth considering:

  • Investing in a diversified portfolio is easy. You’ll answer basic questions about your investment goals and Ally Invest will suggest a portfolio with an appropriate mix of U.S. and foreign bonds, international and U.S. stocks, and cash. You can also tweak the suggestions Ally Invest Managed Portfolios makes, so you take on more or less risk based on your comfort level.
  • Ally requires a low minimum deposit of just $100 to open a managed portfolio account. While some of Ally’s competitors (such as Betterment) don’t have a minimum deposit requirement at all, $100 still falls on the very low side of the scale and makes this account extremely accessible to new investors.
  • Ally Invest Managed Portfolios offers automatic portfolio rebalancing. This helps to ensure you remain invested in the right mix of assets if certain investments under- or over-perform.
  • Customer service. Ally Invest offers phone, Email, and chat support. Customer service agents are available 24/7 with little or no wait. Agents will do their best to provide answers, although it may take a little time if your questions are technical since you may need to be transferred to an investment advisor.

Drawbacks of Ally Invest Managed Portfolios

You’ll also want to consider the potential downsides of choosing Ally Invest Managed Portfolios.

  • Ally Invest Managed Portfolios charges fees that are slightly higher than several competitors. You’ll pay .30% for Ally’s robo-advisor service, compared with .25% for Betterment’s digital account or for Wealthfront.
  • Ally Invest Managed Portfolios currently does not offer tax loss harvesting, which involves selling investments at a loss to offset taxable gains (although they do offer tax advantaged portfolios which add municipal bonds to Ally’s core portfolios). Competitors such as Betterment do offer this feature. However, Ally representatives indicate tax loss harvesting is expected to be rolled out in 2019 and investors with managed portfolios will be able to transition their accounts into a portfolio with tax loss harvesting.
  • No physical branches. If you’d prefer to go into a branch for local customer support, you’ll need to look elsewhere, such as E-Trade, which has more than 30 branches across the country.
  • Mobile apps aren’t very advanced. While Ally Invest allows you to use mobile apps on iPhone and Android phones to access basic account information, the offered apps aren’t as feature-rich as competitors such as Betterment.

Is Ally Invest Managed Portfolios safe?

Whenever you invest your money, there’s a risk you may lose some or all of it. This is no different with Ally Invest Managed Portfolios. The assets your robo-advisor invests you in could decline in value and your portfolio could lose money.

But Ally Invest is as safe as any trusted online brokerage, and there’s little risk of losing assets if the investment firm goes bankrupt. Ally Invest is in compliance with regulatory requirements according to FINRA’s Broker Check tool. Ally Invest is also a member of the FDIC and SIPC, both of which ensure cash in bank and brokerage accounts respectively.

Final thoughts

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is a viable choice for investors looking for an easy, hands-off way to invest — especially with its low $100 minimum deposit requirement. Ally also promises to offer a broad range of socially-responsible portfolios, which should interest investors who want to consider more than just financial returns. But the lack of a promotional offer, higher management fees, and the fact tax loss harvesting isn’t currently offered makes Ally a less-than-ideal option for investors looking for the most affordable way to build a diversified portfolio. If you want a lower-cost option that does offer tax-loss harvesting, consider robo-advisors such as Betterment or Wealthfront.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Christy Rakoczy
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Christy Rakoczy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Christy here

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SogoTrade Review 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

SogoTrade is a relatively new face in the world of discount brokers, having joined the fray in 2010. While less well-known than some of its larger peers, SogoTrade quickly set itself up as a low-cost player that could offer high-volume traders prices that undercut those larger competitors. And even low-volume investors have a way to get those low commissions without significant amounts of trading. SogoTrade is a solid choice for frequent or high-volume traders, such as penny stock traders.

SogoTrade
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The bottom line: SogoTrade offers a low-frills experience at a competitive price.

  • Volume-based pricing that can lower trading costs substantially
  • Discounts on commissions for prepaid trades
  • Limited education and research offerings

Who should consider SogoTrade

SogoTrade really pitches itself to high-volume traders who need a low-cost way to get in and out of the market. If you’re in this demographic, SogoTrade may be for you. The ability to trade up to 100,000 shares for one low flat rate (not including stocks below $1 a share, which have an additional per-share fee) also may lure penny stock traders. Investors who aren’t in these two categories will find SogoTrade a harder sell.

SogoTrade is not especially well-suited to beginners, with limited education and research components, though it does have some of each. Those investors who don’t need those features may still find the broker an apt choice, however, especially if they’re willing to take advantage of SogoTrade’s discounts for prepaid trades.

SogoTrade fees and features

Current promotions

100 free trades in the first 30 days

Stock trading fees
  • $4.88 per trade (fewer than 150 trades per quarter)
  • $2.88 per trade (150 or more trades per quarter)
Option trading fees
  • $4.88 / trade + $0.50 / contract (fewer than 150 trades per quarter)
  • $2.88 / trade + $0.50 / contract (150 or more trades per quarter)
Amount minimum to open account
  • $0
Margin rate range6.25% - 11.00%
Tradable securities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Options
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $75 full account transfer fee
  • $75 partial account transfer fee
  • $50 annual inactivity fee if account drops below $100 and has not made at least one trade
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • SEP IRA
  • Trust
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, Chat, Email
Research resources
  • SEC filings
  • Mutual fund reports
  • Earnings press releases

Strengths of SogoTrade

  • Volume-based pricing: SogoTrade has a multitiered system for charging commissions — one that’s highly advantageous for frequent traders and even penny stock traders who transact thousands (or even tens of thousands of shares) at a time. SogoTrade’s basic commission is $4.88 per trade — and with Charles Schwab and Fidelity both at $4.95, that’s not substantially different. But if you’re making more than 150 trades per quarter, SogoTrade slashes the fee to just $2.88 per trade (150 or more trades per quarter) . That’s great for high-volume traders. And for penny stock traders? SogoTrade’s commission allows you to trade up to 100,000 shares for the same flat rate, though you’ll have to pay a supplement for stocks trading below $1 per share. That supplemental fee comes to $0.0003 per share (10% of principal max) or 0.25% of principal.
  • Discounts for prepaid trades: Even if you’re not a frequent trader, you can reduce your commission to $3.88 or $2.88 per trade by buying prepaid packs of trades at that rate. SogoTrade allows you to buy 20 trades for $3.88 per trade or 50 trades for $2.88 per trade, and they cover stock trades and the base commission for options. So that could be an attractive (albeit unconventional) option for realizing low-cost trades without trading a lot. However, the prepaid trades are valid for only a year after purchase, so it’s a “use ‘em or lose ‘em” scenario.
  • Low options commissions: Given its rabid focus on low costs, it’s not surprising that SogoTrade also has low commissions on options. Pricing ranges from $2.88 to $4.88, depending on volume or whether you buy prepaid trades. Then options trades tack on a $0.50 per-contract fee, which is toward the lower end of the range. For example, Fidelity and Schwab charge their base rate plus $0.65 per contract. Even the low-cost Interactive Brokers typically charges $0.70 per contract, though with no base commission and volume pricing for very large orders. Always nice for traders executing more complicated options orders, SogoTrade charges only one base rate for multilegged options orders. So those complex three- and four-leg trades won’t ring up any extra base fees.

Drawbacks of SogoTrade

  • Limited education and research: For beginners, the lack of substantial educational support at SogoTrade may be a deal breaker. While there are some resources on the site, the entire education section feels more like an afterthought than a valuable addition to the SogoTrade experience. For example, the site’s educational links refer to articles on a third-party site. Similarly, while the broker offers a research center on its site, it feels too basic — even if it does offer some key functionality, such as identifying stocks at 52-week highs and lows and linking to a company’s press releases and SEC filings. The broker does point you in the direction of a free third-party monthly newsletter and stock reports. These resources may be a place to begin for newer investors, but more experienced traders will already have their own preferred resources lined up, so this likely won’t be much of a drawback for them.
  • Cheap but maybe not cheap enough: There’s no question that SogoTrade is targeting customers who are looking to minimize commissions. But the broker looks somewhat caught in the middle here. For the same base commission, rivals like Schwab provide a better educational and research component. Meanwhile, at the other end, cut-rate brokers can offer lower commissions, with Just2Trade providing $2.50 trades without customers having to pony up for prepaid trades (and no expiration dates on trades either).

Is SogoTrade safe?

SogoTrade is a relatively new player in the discount brokerage space, having debuted in 2010, but that doesn’t mean it’s not covered by the same protections as larger and more well-established brokers. Investors’ accounts are covered by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which protects their value up to $500,000, including a cash limit of $250,000 in the event that the brokerage ceases to operate.

In addition, the broker’s clearing firm, Apex, has coverage up to an aggregate $150 million, with a maximum of $37.5 million for any single account, including a cash-only maximum of $900,000. Of course, these coverages do not protect against declines in the value of the securities in the portfolio.

Final thoughts

Cheap trades really are the priority at SogoTrade, and it shows throughout the website. If you’re a high-volume trader and can meet SogoTrade’s quarterly trade threshold, you may find a home here with the broker’s $2.88 fees. Even lower-volume traders who don’t mind the clunkiness of prepaying for trades may find SogoTrade interesting.

Still, SogoTrade seems caught in the middle of the market, especially for newer investors and many low-volume traders. Its service doesn’t offer enough education and research, relative to Schwab and Fidelity, for its base commission, and it’s not as cheap as other discount rivals such as Just2Trade and eOption (especially for options trades), brokers that are just as cutthroat about costs.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James F. Royal, Ph.D.
James F. Royal, Ph.D. |

James F. Royal, Ph.D. is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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