Not surprisingly, nothing other than love is free. You pay one way or the other. Overly simply and to illustrate on point, a typical “no load” fund will charge 0% commission upon purchase. They do charge 1.5%+ in annual fees. A typical “load” fund will charge commissions based on break points with commissions for funds sold with over $1M commitment being typically load free. At the worst breakpoint – under $25,000 – funds charge 5% - but then carry relatively low fees – something like 0.75% - and yeah, there is huge variability in all of this… but you get the basics.
That’s 0.75% a year compounded savings (1.5% - 0.75%). If you hold your fund 7 or so years, you’re breaking even-ish and after then, it’s all gravy. Data can’t prove this conclusively but funds whose culture revolves solely around producing good investment results have to be better over time than those who revolve around stock/bond/fund brokerage (getting in for “free”). Historically, stockbrokers are terrible investors over the long term – they buy what is hot today and sell what’s not which is often the opposite of what good long term calls dictate.