SEC Investor Bulletin

February 24, 2014

The Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy recently published an informative and helpful Investor Bulletin: How Fees and Expenses Affect Your Investment Portfolio. I urge all investors to familiarize themselves with the concepts set forth in this excellent guide.  As aptly noted in the Bulletin's preamble:

As with anything you buy, there are fees and costs associated with investment products and services. These fees may seem small, but over time they can have a major impact on your investment portfolio. . . 

The Bulletin offers charts that depict the cumulative costs of fees over a 20 year period, which is a superb graphic representation of the sometimes hidden and often misunderstood nature of various investment products. A particularly useful section of the Bulletin, is found under the question: What is an example of a transaction fee? (reprinted in full-text below):

Commissions. You will likely pay a commission when you buy or sell a stock through a financial professional. The commission compensates the financial professional and his or her firm when it is acting as agent for you in your securities transaction.

Markups. When a broker-dealer sells you securities out of its inventory, the broker-dealer acts as a principal in the transaction (that is, selling to you directly the securities it holds). When acting in a principal capacity the brokerdealer generally will be compensated by selling the security to you at a price that is higher than the market price (the difference is called a markup), or by buying the security from you at a price that is lower than the market price (the difference is called a markdown).

Sales loads. Some mutual funds charge a fee called a sales load. Sales loads serve a similar purpose to commissions by compensating the financial professional for selling the mutual fund to you. Sales loads can be front-end in that they are assessed at the time you make your investment or back-end in that you are assessed the charge if you sell the mutual fund usually within a specified timeframe.

Surrender charges. Early withdrawal from a variable annuity investment (typically within six to eight years, but sometimes as long as 10 years) will usually result in a surrender charge. This charge compensates your financial professional for selling the variable annuity to you. Generally, the surrender charge is a percentage of the amount withdrawn, and declines gradually over a period of several years.

Compliments to the SEC's  Office of Investor Education and Advocacy for producing a compelling Bulletin written in easy-to-understand language.


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