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"No Load" Mutual Funds

Who doesn't love free stuff?

At the same time, we all know that there's really no such thing as a free lunch. Lots of the stuff we think is free is paid for someway and somehow. That free music festival is sponsored by companies so you "pay" by watching a bunch of ads at the show (and by spending $5 for a bottle of water). And your "free" public high school? That was paid by taxes.

There's really nothing free in the world of investment, either. Even though people might promise you no commissions on a so-called "no load mutual fund" and seem to charge you 0% commission when you buy, you can be sure that you're paying for that fund.

These no-load funds charge 1.5% or more in annual fees. A regular fund (not no load) will usually charge commissions based on what you invest. A cool million might get you a load-free fund while under $25,000 might put you back 5% with relatively low fees of 0.75%. There's huge variability there, depending on the broker, the funds, and everything else…but you get the basics. The more you invest, the more likely you are to get a deal. And even if you're not paying a load or commission, you are paying fees (and usually higher fees than someone paying commissions).

So can you really save money with a no-load fund?

It depends.

If you get a no-load fund that charges 1.5% in annual fees but saves you 0.75% in commissions, you're coming out 0.75% ahead (1.5% – 0.75%). If your fund makes good returns and you keep it for seven years, you might break even and then start making money.

But what happens if you need to sell earlier for some reason?

The problem is that funds need to produce good investments over time, and stockbrokers don't always choose the best investments for long periods. Like your little sister, they might get caught up with what's trendy and shiny now and forget about long-term things that will last. Unfortunately, stockbrokers and money guys also want a lot more money from you than little Suzie does.

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