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The Rules of Investing

Stock brokers can be very valuable if you find one who is expert in finding profitable individual stocks that align with your goals and priorities. However, many discount brokerage firms, such as Charles Schwab and Fidelity Investments, do offer full-service brokerage to their clients at higher fees. Full service brokers are expensive and often simply product pushers. They are employees of their firm and they have no fiduciary responsibility towards you or any other client.

Your advisor may not have any financial skills and may not be able to provide a useful financial plan. Remember, full service brokers have tremendous overhead because of their vast hierarchy and the high rent these firms usually have to pay for class A office buildings.

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Guess who pays for all those managers, vice-Presidents and fancy real estate? You and their other clients. Mutual fund families are investment companies that create and manage their own proprietary funds. These investment companies vary in size, from smaller families that offer a handful of funds, to larger families that offer hundreds of individual funds. Some of the larger mutual fund companies also offer general investment brokerage services, in addition to providing funds. Many of the larger mutual fund families manage billions of dollars. As I said, each fund family usually manages several different funds.

That might include large-cap stock funds, mid-cap stock funds, small-cap stocks, industry sectors, bond funds government and corporate , international market funds, emerging markets, commodities like energy and precious metals , or any one of the many variations of any of these individual sectors.

You pay these fees no matter where you buy your funds but this is as good a place as any to make sure you understand how these fees work.

Some funds charge sales loads and they vary considerably between fund families and individuals funds. There are also variations as to the ways that loads are charged. For example, with some funds, there is only a front-end load paid at the time of purchase. With others, there may be a back-end load, paid on sale. And with many funds, the backend load may be waived if you hold the fund for a number of years. You can purchase these funds through almost every kind of brokerage and advisor other than through a stock broker unless they are acting as an investment advisor which is explained below.

Load or no-load, many brokers charge transaction fees when you buy or sell a fund.

What You’ll get from This Guide

You can buy many funds without paying a transaction fee but that is not always to your benefit. Some of those are offered transaction free because the brokerage firm either charges higher management fees explained below or because the fund provider needs to add money to a newer fund and wants to use you as their Ginny pig. Every mutual fund and ETF charges management fees. These are fees that are used to offset the costs of running the fund and earning a profit for the provider. These can be as low as. No matter what, if you buy a fund or ETF you will pay management fees.

In addition, some funds charge 12b-1 fees. These fees are used to pay sales and marketing expenses for the fund. They can range between 0.


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Many investors ignore these fees because they are charged as a reduction in the net asset value NAV , rather than as a direct standalone charge to the investor. You can find out how much your fund is charging you by reviewing the fund prospectus or looking it up online. TIP: Portfolio turnover is also a cost factor with mutual funds and ETFs no matter where you buy them and no matter if they have a load or not. The more that a fund trades, the higher its operating fees are. Those fees also reduce your ROI, but are usually unnoticed. You can determine in advance what the portfolio turnover rate is of a fund that you are going to invest in.

It is also listed in the fund prospectus, as well as an online description of the fund. Index funds tend to have the lowest portfolio turnover, and therefore the lowest operating expenses. While owning mutual funds are a great idea for many investors, holding your investments with a mutual fund family is rarely in your favor. It might work if you have very limited resources and are just starting out because it is very convenient and inexpensive. The major problem in having a fund family hold your money is that they only offer funds they own.

Vanguard, for example, will not offer Fidelity funds. So if you use Vanguard only, you will have limited choices. One way to get around this is to open accounts with every fund family you want to invest with. But if you do that, you may end up with several accounts all over town which will be difficult to keep track of. Also, keep in mind that even though you might avoid commissions by opening your account with a fund family, you will still pay the management expenses.

If you are investing small amounts, this could be fine. Money managers invest assets.

They charge an annual fee to manage your money. They make all the decisions about your account and you may have no access to speak to this person. They do not provide investment or financial advice. They simply manage money as they sit fit. You can choose to hire them or not but they will not tailor their strategy to meet your requirements. If you have significant assets and a well-defined financial plan the identifies your objectives and risk tolerance, the right money manager may be just the thing you need.

Be sure to review their track record carefully on a year-by-year basis rather than on 3,5 and 10 year averages. The year-by-year analysis gives you a much better view as to the particular managers abilities during particularly good and bad years. Both are important to you. There are several challenges with hiring a money manager.

The advisor explained below will try to match your investments to your overall plan to help you achieve your goals with the least risk possible. Some people hire managers and forget about the overall strategy. The next issue is performance.

No money manager, no matter how good they are, can do a great job every year. There may be long stretches of time where the manager under-performs. When that happens, you might be tempted to jump ship at the worst possible time. What you ought to do is look at risk-adjusted return over long periods of time but few investors are able to do that. That often pushes them into taking undue risk with your money.


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  • The last problem is that money managers are often sold to you by brokers of large investment firms. The main concern of that broker may be to get into a program that charges annual fees rather than find the best solution for your situation. Those money managers may have a bad track record but you may not discover that unless you ask to see the numbers. Financial Planners wear many hats. They usually are able to run financial plans for you, map out your financial future and pinpoint what you can do today to improve your situation today and for your future.

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    In addition, they can usually comment on your estate planning and insurance needs. Of course they usually manage money for clients and that is how they really make their money. They charge management fees to manage portfolios and some charge additional fees to run your financial plan. Others prepare your plan as a service if you are a money management client. A good planner will run a financial plan for you which identifies what you need to do in order to have a better chance at achieving your goals.

    That includes providing direction on all things financial in your life — including money management. And if you do your due diligence , you can find an advisor who is a fiduciary with no other obligation than to put your interests above everything else. Anyone can call themselves an advisor so, as mentioned above, you have to do your homework.

    With Investor Phil Town

    Be sure you know what your over-riding financial concerns are and find a qualified advisor who can address those needs. No matter who you work with or what you buy, you are going to pay for it. And fees are important. But you have to consider fees in relation to how you invest. Let me explain this. The fees that are important to long-term investors however are ongoing fees such as mutual fund and management costs explained above.

    If you pick your own stocks, you will have no management or mutual fund costs to worry about but transaction costs are very important — more so if you plan to trade frequently. This is true if you buy your own funds, use an advisor or pick stocks. And many people do fail because they have no plan and are marching in the wrong direction. For example, they may buy low cost funds, but what good is that if they are never able to retire? This can also happen because of under-performance. As explained earlier, many investors lag the market because they hold losing investments too long or because they fail to invest in a disciplined manner.

    That is much higher than most management or fund fees. If all things were equal, fund fees and transaction costs would be the most important things to consider. But all things are never equal. You have to consider the best investment strategy for your mentality and goals.