Investment Advice You Need to Know

Investments can be helpful in achieving financial stability. They should be explored by people who are planning ahead. Good advice in this area can assist in choosing the best investment tool to use. There are a number of investment instruments available for people to take advantage of; however, prudence must be exercised when choosing. This article will act as a guide in assisting individuals to make the right choice, and also, to provide information you need to know.

An investment can be defined as the commitment of money or capital to purchase financial instruments or other assets to gain profitable returns in the form of interest, income or increase of the value of the instrument. Investments includes, using the good produced or its money equivalent, to create a durable consumer or producer good or the investor may choose to lend the original good to another in exchange for either interest or a share of the profit.

How can we be successful at investing? Well, we must first have the desire to invest. After acquiring the desire, we need to be motivated to save, no matter how small the amount. The fact is that emphasis should not be placed on the amount being saved, but rather; how often it is being done. After we have mastered the art of saving, the next step is investing. It is incumbent on persons to educate themselves on the subject so that they will be able to make an informed decision.

Financial investments can be extremely beneficial to individuals who seek good advice on identifying a good investment product. With this in mind investors can apply certain principles in order to benefit from their work. First of all, investors need to invest with a margin of safety. This principle is particularly useful when seeking to identify safe investments, and involves the purchase of securities at significant discount to its intrinsic or true value. Applying this principle can benefit the investor in two ways, for one, it may provide high return investment opportunities; it may also minimize the downside risk of an investment.

High return investment products are usually sought after by investors, however, individuals need to be aware that there are certain strategies that when applied, can increase the rate of return on their investment, these includes; increasing savings; investing in a manner that will result in a reduction in the amount of tax paid; invest in a variety of safe investment products; getting involved in international investments, and doing a revision of your portfolio’s performance each year.

Investment options will always be available for investors to take advantage of. These options, when carefully selected, can provide a steady source of income. It is the responsibility of each investor to do the necessary research and seek the necessary professional advice to land a good investment.

A Simple Way to Manage Investments

One investment criterion important to many people, and perhaps to you, is: How easy are my investments to supervise? For example, does the investment require constant care, supervision, or expense, such as the complete or partial ownership of real estate property with its rental, repair, maintenance, taxation, and other management problems?

Or does the investment require none of your time, such as your contributions to a pension fund? Some people feel confident and enjoy the time and effort that may go into managing their investments. Others have neither the skill, time, nor patience to bother with their investments. There are investments that satisfy both groups, depending on personal objectives.

The best method to manage all investments is the Investment Portfolio Evaluation Grid. It is a great chart to help organize your present portfolio, even if your investments right now are some money in a savings account, or an IRA or pension plan.

Start by creating 7 columns and input the following: Date, Cost, Present Market Value, % Total Portfolio Market, Annual Return, Yield, and % Return on Market.

Next, input all your investments on the left in rows: Savings Accounts, U.S. Savings Bonds, Treasury Securities, Certificate of Deposit, Bonds-Tax-Free, Common Shares-Dividends, Preferred Shares, Blue-Chip Shares, Real Estate, Second Mortgages & Trust Deeds, IRA & Keogh Accounts, Pension Plans, Insurance Annuities, Growth Stocks, Undeveloped Real Estate, Precious Metals, Stock Options, Commodity Contracts, Commercial Paper, Other, and Total Portfolio.

Determine the percentage of the market value of your portfolio as a whole. Divide the present market value of the individual investment by the total present market value of your portfolio. Determine the percentage of what it costs you to make an investment. This is easy to figure with interest bearing investments. A $1,000 10% bond you paid $1,000 for has a 10% yield. On stocks or real estate, estimate yield by dividing the amount of increase in value and/or dividend by the amount you paid. For example, if you paid $100 for a stock and received a $5 cash dividend, the yield would be 5%. Determine the percentage of the return on your portfolio as a whole. Divide the annual dollar return on all investments by the total present market value of your portfolio.

For each investment you now have, fill in all the information you can in the columns to the right. The last three columns (Annual Return, Yield, and % Return on Market), tell how your investments have performed for you, as well as their relative value within your portfolio. If you do not have exact numbers for everything, do not worry. At this point you are just seeking an overview of what you have. A big picture will start to form that indicates how your money is allocated. You can also see what types of investment vehicles serve your objectives.

If you are like many people who are just starting to invest, your grid is heavily weighted toward protection of principle. You may not even be aware of some of the listed investments. Before you get into the characteristics of different investments, you will benefit greatly from having a reference point with which to evaluate the various investment opportunities. Consider all the personal factors in your financial picture, including the other people affected by the decisions you will make.

Forecast as much as possible, where your current and potential income sources will take you 5-20 years from now. What standard of living is important to you now and in the future? Will you need to provide for children? Do you wish to retire early? Where do you want to allocate investment and other disposable income? To a house in the hills? In world travel? To building a business?

These and dozens of other personal questions should get some serious thought at this point. Do not be rigid. Expect your priorities and goals to change. But better a mutable plan for the future than none at all. Allow yourself to dream and get excited about the possibilities. Though it is difficult, even dangerous, to generalize about what investment objectives are most important to different groups, the following information will give you broad guidelines to consider, if you are:

a) Single, with low to average working income, with a savings-oriented temperament, seek investments that produce income but that also provides some long-term capital growth.

b) Single, with an average to high working income, and/or an aggressive temperament, seek investments with strong total return (the sum of the current yield and the capital-gain yield), concentrating on long-term, and high-growth vehicles.

c) Married, with no dependents earning an average to high income growth-oriented but aggressive, look at safe income-producing investments, such as bonds and money-market mutual funds.

d) Married, with dependents, a low to average income and a conservative temperament, seek secure investments with long-term growth in both capital and income, perhaps blue-chip stocks.

e) An older person, with income from Social Security and some savings, and a goal of more income while preserving current capital, seek a conservative income fund that pays dividends and has appreciation value, or a money-market fund with a satisfactory yield.

Take a look at your new chart and you will see Percentage of Portfolio typically allocated to investments goals. You can use this as a guideline when considering how to allocate your investment money. However, at a younger age, safety and capital gain has greater weight. In later years the need for income and safety of principle tends to increase.

The Cost of Active Fund Investing

There are many options for buying a group of securities in one product. The most popular ones are mutual funds, segregated funds and exchange traded funds. What they have in common is that these products are an easy way to buy a group of securities at once instead of buying each security individually. The fund can also proportion the securities so that you the individual investor does not have to. There are two main classifications for what type of fund you can purchase in terms of costs. It is important to know how these costs work so you can avoid paying too much for this convenience. These products differ in terms of how they are administered, access to the products and their costs.

Active Versus Passive Investing

Before getting into which of the products are suitable for you, there are some aspects that need to be considered so that you understand what the variations are among the products.

Active investing is when someone (a portfolio manager) picks the stocks that are in the fund and decides how much of each one to hold (the weighting). This portfolio manager would also monitor the portfolio and decide when a security should be sold off, added to or have its weighting decreased. Since there is ongoing research, meetings and analysis that must be done to build and monitor this portfolio, this fund manager would have research analysts and administrative personnel to help run the fund.

Passive investing has the same setup as active investing, but rather than someone deciding what securities to buy or how much of each one to buy, the portfolio manager would copy a benchmark. A benchmark is a collection of securities which the fund is compared against to see how well it is doing. Since everything in investing is about how much money you can make and how much risk it takes to make that money, every fund out there is trying to compare to all of the other funds of the same type to see who can make the most money. The basis for the comparisons is the benchmark, which can also become comparing between peers or funds managed the same way. Comparisons are general in done only for returns. The risk aspect of the equation is handled by looking at what type of securities the fund holds or how specialized the fund is.

How Do I Know By the Fund Name If it is Active or Passive?

The short answer is that you have to get to know how the fund manager operates the fund. Some clues to know more quickly if the fund is active or passive are given next. If they are intentionally trying to pick securities according to some beliefs that they have about the market, this is active management. If the fund description talks about “beating the benchmark” or “manager skill” then it is actively managed. Looking at the return history, if the returns vary versus the index by different amounts each year, then the fund is actively managed. Lastly, the fees may be expensive and have sales loads.

If the name of the fund says “Index” or “Index fund” there is a good chance that the fund is passively managed. If the name of the fund says “ETF” or “Exchange Traded Fund” this could be a passive fund, but you need to make sure of this because some ETFs are actually active funds, but they are managed in a certain way. Most of the passively managed ETFs are provided by BMO, iShares, Claymore, Vanguard and Horizons in Canada and Powershares, Vanguard and SPDR (or Standard and Poors) and others if the holdings are from the U.S. Most of the other companies would have actively managed funds only. If the fund description states that the fund is trying to “imitate” the performance of an index or benchmark, then this implies that it is copying the index and this is passively managed. From the return perspective, passively managed funds will be very close to the index that they claim to imitate, but slightly less due to fees each year. The amount that the returns are under the index will be close to identical each year unless there are currency conversions or variances in cost which may come from currency fluctuations or hedging that the fund may do. Passive funds typically do not have sales loads as they are geared toward people who invest for themselves.

There are some funds that try to mix active and passive management. These products can be assumed to be actively managed, although their results will be closer to the benchmark than most of the other funds, so this is something to consider if the variation from the index is a factor.

Types of Costs

Whatever product you buy, there will be a cost associated with buying it, keeping it and selling it. This will be true whether you have an advisor versus doing it yourself, and whichever institution you go to. Even buying your own individual stocks will have trading fees which you must account for. How much you are paying for each product as well as the advice will make a large difference in what return you will receive at the end of the day.

There are many types of costs to be aware of when you are deciding which products to invest in. This article will focus on the active funds that make up most of the selection for retail investors.

The Management Expense Ratio (MER)

This is the largest cost for most funds and represents the cost of managing the fund. “Managing the fund” means running the investment company, researching the investments, advertising, overhead and the cost for the advisor or sales person when it applies. Administrative costs like GST within the fund and accounting for trades and record keeping are also part of the expense. The MER covers all of these costs in an actively managed fund. The MER is given as a percentage, which is the percentage of the assets that the fund manages or invests over a year of time. If you have $100,000 invest in a fund, and the MER is 2% per year, you are paying $2000 per year to keep this fund. The cost is subtracted from the return and what you see in your investment statement is your return net of fees, or after fees. There are exceptions to this rule if you have a high net worth account or a special arrangement with the fund company, but for the typical investor, this would be true. The Management Expense Ratio is the management fee plus the administrative costs. The administrative costs are usually between 0.05% and 0.1% of the assets of the fund. If the information you obtain states a “Management Fee” instead of a “Management Expense Ratio” you would have to add on the administrative costs to get the true fee. Seek out the prospectus and look up fund operating costs to find exactly how much the number is. In some cases, an advisory fee is also added to the management fee and administrative fee which can be substantial. If your advisor does not disclose this, the prospectus is the next best place to find out what the costs are.

For American funds, the MER would be called the “Expense Ratio” or “ER” which is the same thing as the Canadian MER, but advisory fees are not included in the ER and would be included in Canada for the MER if the product is actively managed. If the product is passively managed in Canada or the U.S., the same names apply, but no advice would be part of the cost since these products are used by people who invest for themselves and would pay for advice separately if they retain it.

MER Will Depend on Class

There are products that have various classes of the same product, the same way there are different models of the same car or the same cell phone. For investment products, the classes indicate how you came across the product, or what restrictions you have on access to the product. For example, Class A is usually a retail class where anyone can buy the product with any amount of money. There is Class I, which can be obtained through an employer or another institution. An example might be buying this product through your company pension plan. There is a Class O which typically has no fees embedded in the return and is reserved for non-profit institutions of high net worth clients that buy direct from the company. There are also classes that are part of different portfolios that are set up by the issuer, like Class F which would be available depending on who your investment dealer is. There are also classes that vary depending on what type of advisor you have and what relationship they have with the fund company. The best thing to do here is ask what class you are being offered and get material form the issuer on how much it would cost. In some cases, you can get the same product in a different class and pay less for it. Some companies may have “Series” instead of classes or some variation thereof. The key thing to note is that different versions of the same fund would different fees, and the differences can be substantial.

Sales Loads

Whenever you see the word “load” on a fund it refers to a sales load. This fee is paid to a sales person for advising you and recommending the product to you for the company. There are “front end loads” which are paid as a percentage of the amount you initially invest. If a front end load is 4% and you invest $100,000, you will pay $4,000 up front just to buy this fund. These funds may have the code “FE” in the fund name on your statement. Note that sales loads are not related to MER fees – they are separate fees. There is also a “back end load” or “Rear end load” which is a percentage charged to you when you sell the fund. These are marked with the code “DSC” or “Deferred Sales Charge”. If a back end load is 5%, and you sell $120,000 worth of this fund, you would pay $6,000 in fees to exit the fund. These funds tend to have a DSC redemption schedule which means the sales load will decrease the longer you stay in the fund. Most companies stop charging the rear end sales load after 6 years of holding the product. Since each company varies, you should obtain the details of this schedule up front and understand how the numbers apply to your holdings. There are also “no load” funds which do not charge sales loads at any time. You may also come across “Low Load Funds” and “Level Load Funds”. Low load is similar to the fees discussed above, but they are discounted or lower than average. The level load idea means that the same percentage of sales load is charged over time.

Some companies charge an early redemption fee if you sell their fund within a short period of time. How short the period is will depend on the institution. In some cases, it is 30 days, but it can be 90 days, 6 months, 1 year or some other time period. This fee is designed to discourage quick redemptions or short term trading of the product.

The best thing to do to clarify which load you have is to ask up front and have it explained to you. If the information is not forthcoming, it may be time to find another place to invest your money or do the research on your own. Note that sales loads only apply to a fund that is sold through a sales person. You may be able to get the same fund without the sales person in some cases. Passive investing generally does not have sales loads – but the exception would be if an advisor recommends these funds and charges you some type of referral fee. This would be another question to ask if you are being advised to buy a passive fund and are not seeing any direct cost to buying the product.

Currency Hedging Costs

This type of fee will occur in funds that trade in non-Canadian currencies and hedge them so that the price you receive would be in Canadian dollars. The cost of transacting the hedge itself is the fee being described here, and it can range from 0.5% to 1% per year. If the fee is not disclosed, assuming 0.5% is the cheapest that it will likely be. If you are investing in emerging market currencies or non-developed market currencies, the hedges are much more expensive to put in place and go higher than 1% per year. This is a cost embedded in the return of the fund, but should be examined to flesh out exactly what you are paying to have this hedged. Both active and passive funds pay the same fee for this type of activity.

The alternative would be to keep the securities in their home currencies and whatever changes happen to the foreign exchange rates would be reflected in the price of the product. The fact that currency exchange rates can change is a risk of your investment, but it is not considered a fee like the other fees discussed in this article. This fee does not apply if the fund price is in your home currency. You may have a U.S. dollar account, buy a fund that trades in U.S. dollars and then redeem this fund for U.S. dollars. Until you convert the money on your own to Canadian dollars, there is no currency charge. You would only have a conversion charge to change the final dollar amount to Canadian dollars.

Referral Fees or Trailer Charges

These can sometimes be called Service Fees. This type of charge is paid to a third party who sells the product to you on their behalf. It can be thought of as a referral fee or trailer fee. This fee tends to be captured by the MER, but this should be investigated with the company you are dealing with as this may vary. This type of fee tends to arise with active management as passive management products usually do not have any referrals attached to them.

Performance Fee

This fee is based on whether a fund achieves a return over a required benchmark – a reward for good performance. This type of fee is common with hedge funds or exotic types of products, but it is sometimes embedded in funds sold to retail investors. Like with most of the fees, ask questions and do your research because this type of fee will be different for every institution and product. This fee is optional in that it usually will not apply if the return on the fund is negative or positive but not that high, but the question should still be asked to minimize surprises.

Fees of Holding One Fund Inside of Another one

If a fund that you are investing in has other funds within it as part of its holding list, then you will pay the MER fee for the fund you are buying as well as the fund that the fund holds. The best way to check if this is happening is to look at the holdings list. If a fund holds another fund, it will be a large holding so a fact sheet with a top 10 holdings summary should provide good information. The actual numbers for each of these items will differ depending on specifically what the fund is and how it is managed. Some of the other fees like Sales Loads and Referral Fees would not apply to a fund held inside of another fund. If the fee is necessary to operate the fund, like currency hedging, then this would be included. Whether a fund holds stocks or another fund can also impact withholding taxes if the fund is investing outside of Canada – particularly for U.S. products. This topic can get complex, so it will not be discussed here. Some funds will have other funds to get access to illiquid markets, or parts of the world that have hundreds of securities. Buying a fund in these cases would actually save on time and trading costs, so it can be justified depending on the market being invested in.

Intangible Costs

The key takeway is that you need to do a cradle to grave analysis of what you have and see the costs from beginning to end of your investment period to get an idea of what is really happening. Ideally, the costs should factor in time spent, effort spent on research, and costs of discipline and assurance which would be available when dealing with an advisor that may not be there when you are doing it yourself.

Where to Find These Costs?

The most comprehensive place that will contain the most detail regarding fund costs is the prospectus. This can be found be searching for the product name and the word “prospectus”. If you do not know the exact product name, you can search the internet by the company name only, find their web site and then search for the product name there. The fund companies will have these documents with the regulator as well as their own web sites and they will be typically in PDF format which can be read and downloaded from your computer. A simplified prospectus would also have the same data that you would be looking for regarding fees.

The Costs of Passive Fund Investing

There are many options for buying a group of securities in one product. The most popular ones are mutual funds, segregated funds and exchange traded funds. What they have in common is that these products are an easy way to buy a group of securities at once instead of buying each security individually. The fund can also proportion the securities so you the individual investor does not have to. There are two main classifications for what type of fund you can purchase in terms of costs. It is important to know how these costs work so you can avoid paying too much for this convenience. These products differ in terms of how they are administered, access to the products and their costs.

Active Versus Passive Investing

Before getting into which of the products are suitable for you, there are some aspects that need to be considered so that you understand what the variations are among the products.

Active investing is when someone (a portfolio manager) picks the stocks that are in the fund and decides how much of each one to hold (the weighting). This portfolio manager would also monitor the portfolio and decide when a security should be sold off, added to or have its weighting decreased. Since there is ongoing research, meetings and analysis that must be done to build and monitor this portfolio, this fund manager would have research analysts and administrative personnel to help run the fund.

Passive investing has the same setup as active investing, but rather than someone deciding what securities to buy or how much of each one to buy, the portfolio manager would copy a benchmark. A benchmark is a collection of securities which the fund is compared against to see how well it is doing. Since everything in investing is about how much money you can make and how much risk it takes to make that money, every fund out there is trying to compare to all of the other funds of the same type to see who can make the most money. The basis for the comparisons is the benchmark, and then it becomes comparing between peers or funds managed the same way. Comparisons in general are done only for returns. The risk aspect of the equation is handled by looking at what type of securities the fund holds or how specialized the fund is.

How Do I Know By the Fund Name If it is Active or Passive?

The short answer is that you have to get to know how the fund manager operates the fund. Some clues to know more quickly if the fund is active or passive are given next. If they are intentionally trying to pick securities according to some beliefs that they have about the market, this is active management. If the fund description talks about “beating the benchmark” or “manager skill” then it is actively managed. Another clue is to look at the return history. If returns vary versus the index by different amounts each year, then the fund is actively managed. Lastly, the fees may be expensive and have sales loads.

If the name of the fund says “Index” or “Index fund” there is a good chance that the fund is passively managed. If the name of the fund says “ETF” this could be a passive fund, but you need to make sure of this because some ETFs are actually active funds, but they are managed in a certain way. Most of the passively managed ETFs are provided by BMO, iShares, Claymore, Vanguard and Horizons in Canada and Powershares, Vanguard and SPDR (or Standard and Poors) and others if the holdings are from the U.S. Most of the other companies would have actively managed funds only. If the fund description states that the fund is trying to “imitate” the performance of an index or benchmark, then this implies that it is copying the index and this is passively managed. From the return perspective, passively managed funds will be very close to the index that they claim to imitate, but slightly less due to fees each year. The amount that the returns are under the index will be close to identical each year unless there are currency conversions or variances in cost which may come from currency fluctuations or hedging that the fund may do. Passive funds typically do not have sales loads as they are geared toward people who invest for themselves.

There are some funds that try to mix active and passive management. These funds can be assumed to be actively managed, although their results will be closer to the benchmark than most of the other funds, so this is something to consider if the variation from the index is a factor.

Types of Costs

Whatever product you buy, there will be a cost associated with buying it, keeping it and selling it. This will be true whether you have an advisor versus doing it yourself, and whichever institution you go to. Even buying your own individual stocks will have trading fees which you must account for. How much you are paying for each product however as well as the advice will make a large difference in what return you will get after everything is done.

There are many types of costs to be aware of when you are deciding which products to invest in. This article will focus on the passive funds that make up a growing selection of products for retail investors.

The Management Expense Ratio (MER)

This is the largest cost for most funds and represents the cost of managing the fund. “Managing the fund” means running the investment company, advertising, overhead and the cost for the advisor or sales person when it applies. Administrative costs like GST within the fund and accounting for trades and record keeping are also part of this cost. The MER is given as a percentage, which is the percentage of the assets that the fund manages or invests over a year of time. If you have $100,000 invested in a fund, and the MER is 0.5% per year, you are paying $500 per year to keep this fund. The cost is subtracted from the return and what you see in your investment statement is your return net of fees, or after fees. The Management Expense Ratio is the management fee plus the administrative costs. The administrative costs are usually between 0.05% and 0.1% of the assets of the fund. If the information you obtain states a “Management Fee” instead of a “Management Expense Ratio” you would have to add on the administrative costs to get the true fee. Seek out the prospectus and look up fund operating costs to find exactly how much the number is.

For American funds, this would be called the “Expense Ratio” which is the same thing as the Canadian MER, but advisory fees are not included in the ER. They would be included in Canada for the MER if the product is actively managed. If the product is passively managed in Canada or the U.S., the same names apply, but no advice would be part of the cost since these products are used by people who invest for themselves and would pay for advice separately if they retain it.

What Is Tracking Error?

In many cases, when you are buying a passive investment, you want to imitate an underlying benchmark or index. Another way of saying this is that you want to achieve the average rate of return in a given market all the time. Since every fund has costs to operate it, you will not get the benchmark 100% of the time because this means that you would be investing for free. The tracking error is the difference between the measured return that the benchmark provides and the actual return that the passive fund or imitating portfolio provides. As an example, if the S&P/TSX index had a return of 5% for a 1 year time period and 10% for a 2 year time period, and your fund had a return of 4.5% for 1 year and 9.5% for 2 years, then the tracking error would be 0.5% each year. Tracking error tends to be pretty consistent over all time periods but not perfectly consistent because the costs of running a fund will vary, and sometimes the act of trying to follow an index can get tricky if that index is very volatile or illiquid. The tracking error is not a fee per se but it is a way of measuring the costs of owning the real fund versus the index that it is being compared to. Tracking Error is also useful in determining how consistently the fund is being managed from a cost perspective.

Early Redemption Fee

Some companies charge an early redemption fee if you sell their fund within a short period of time. How short the period is will depend on the institution. In some cases, it is 30 days, but it can be 90 days, 6 months, 1 year or some other time period. This fee is designed to discourage quick redemptions or short term trading of the product.

Sales Loads

Sales loads for passive funds would only apply to a fund that is sold through a sales person. You may be able to get the same fund without the sales person in most cases. Passive investing generally does not have sales loads – but the exception would be if an advisor recommends these funds and charges you some type of fee for the selection. This would be another question to ask if you are being advised to buy a passive fund and are not seeing any direct cost to buying the product.

Currency Hedging Costs

This type of fee will occur in funds that trade in non-Canadian currencies and hedge them back so that the price you receive would be in Canadian dollars. The cost of transacting the hedge itself is the fee being described here, and it can range from 0.5% to 1% per year. If the fee is not disclosed, assuming a 0.5% fee is the cheapest that it will likely be. If you are investing in emerging market currencies or non-developed market currencies, the hedges are much more expensive to put in place and can go higher than 1% per year. This is a cost embedded in the return of the fund, but should be examined to flesh out exactly what you are paying to have the return hedged.

The alternative would be to keep the securities in their home currencies and whatever changes happen to the foreign exchange rates would be reflected in the price of the product. The fact that currency exchange rates can change is a risk of your investment, but it is not considered a fee like the other fees discussed in this article. This fee does not apply if the fund price is in your home currency. You may have a U.S. dollar account, buy a fund that trades in U.S. dollars and then redeem this fund for U.S. dollars. Until you convert the money on your own to Canadian dollars, there is no currency charge. You would have a conversion charge when you change the final dollar amount to Canadian dollars.

Other Passive Costs

Passive investing has some unique fees such as account administrative fees, trading fees, foreign exchange conversion fees, spreads on trading, opportunity costs and separate advice fees which are not seen in the active investing world because the account will capture all of these fees.

Account Administrative Fees

The account administrative fees are charged by an institution for opening your account, transferring securities in or out of your account, or an annual administrative fee to keep your account open. These fees may depend on how much money you have with the institution, and can be reduced or waived as your account balance increases. These fees tend to be a flat amount as opposed to a percentage, which means they are comparatively small versus the assets that the account may have.

Trading Fees

Trading fees are fees charged for trading stocks or exchange traded funds. These fees will typically be a flat fee per trade and will depend on how often you trade and what type of investments you trade. Generally, the more frequently you trade and the more exotic the product that you trade, the more the expense. The further you are from home in terms of what you trade, the more expensive the trades are is a rule that applies most of the time. The longer you hold onto an investment, the less trading you will do, and the cheaper the trading fees become over time since this cost would be spread out over the life of the investment.

Foreign Exchange Fees

Foreign exchange conversion fees will occur each time you exchange currency. This could be for withdrawing, exchanging securities, rebalancing among the holdings you have, or getting into securities or funds that are denominated in other currencies. Most of the time, the currency exchange rate has to do with the U.S. dollar, but it can be any currency if you have foreign accounts and do the investing passively.

Bid Ask Spreads and Opportunity Costs

Spreads on trading refers to the bid and ask price for a given security. When you buy something, you always pay the “ask” price or the higher price that the seller wants to receive, and when you sell something you would receive the “bid” price or the lower price that the buyer wants to receive. The difference between them is called the spread. To know how much this would be, examine a price quote for the fund you want to buy when the market is open and you will see the bid-ask spread when you look at any quotation for the fund. The difference between the bid price and the ask price would be the amount you are paying in dollars. This difference divided by the price of the purchase price of the fund would be the costs in terms of a percentage. As an example, if a fund has a bid price of $8.00 and an ask price of $8.10, you would be paying 10 cents per unit or share as a spread. If you bought the fund at $8.10, the cost would be $0.10/$8.10 or 1.2%. This percentage is a “one-time” fee for every buy and sell pair of trades. The longer you hold your investment and assuming the price rises, the cheaper this spread will get in terms of percentages since the value of the investment tends to rise higher over time. The reverse would be true if the value goes down for a given investment. The spread can vary over time and depending on how much volume is trading at a certain time of day.

If you decide to fix the price for buying or selling a security instead of going in at the prevailing price in the moment or “the market”, you run the risk of not getting the security or having to pay much more for it at a later date. This is called the opportunity cost and it will vary a lot with each trade but it does exist and would be considered if you are trying to time your trades and if you are doing it frequently.

Advisory Fees

Separate advice fees refer to a scenario where you would pay separately for advice and the products you are buying. This would be relevant if you hire a fee for service financial planner, advice only financial planner, money coach, or consultant who charges a flat fee for advice separately from whatever products you invest in. If you do it yourself, there are costs for research, courses or software that you would purchase to help you do the passive investing. Once again, if you have a traditional advisor, you are not seeing these costs itemized anywhere because they are part of the MER of the funds you hold in their account, but these costs would be standing on their own if you invest for yourself and buying your own securities.

Fees of Holding One Fund Inside of Another One

If a fund that you want to invest in has other funds in it as part of its holdings list, then you will pay the MER fee for the fund you are buying as well as the fund(s) that the fund holds. The best way to check if this is happening is to look at the holdings list. If a fund holds another fund, it tends to be a large holding so a fact sheet with a top 10 holdings summary should provide good information. If you want to be really thorough about this, you would have to get an entire holdings list with each and every holding in it so you can see if there are minor holdings that may be funds. This is typically not necessary as the further down the holdings list a security is, the smaller its weighting is and the less impact the fees will have on your total cost.

The actual numbers for each of these items will differ depending on specifically what the fund is and how it is managed. If the fee is necessary to operate the fund, like currency hedging, then this would be included. Whether a fund holds stocks or another fund can also impact withholding taxes if the fund is investing outside of Canada – particularly for U.S. products. This topic can get complex, so it will not be discussed here. Some funds will contain other funds to get access to illiquid markets, or to trade in parts of the world that have hundreds of securities. Buying a fund in these cases would actually save on time and trading costs, so it can be justified depending on the market being invested in.

Intangible Costs

The key takeway is that you need to do a cradle to grave analysis of what you have and see the costs from beginning to end to get an idea of what is really happening. Ideally, the costs should factor in time spent, effort spent on research, tools used for investing and costs of discipline and assurance which would be available when dealing with an advisor that may not be there when you are doing it yourself. When comparisons are done to the market index or benchmark, this is really an ideal (free) comparison which is not realistic. You cannot buy a free version of the index – the ETFs come closest to this and are represented as the passive way to invest.

Where to Find These Costs?

The most comprehensive place that will contain the most detail regarding fund costs is the prospectus. This can be found be searching for the product name and the word “prospectus”. If you do not know the exact product name, you can search the fund management company only and then search for the product name on their web site. The fund companies will have these documents with the regulator as well as their own web sites and they will be typically in PDF format which can be read and downloaded from your computer. A simplified prospectus would also have the same data that you would be looking for regarding fees.