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ETF Fees: How Are They Deducted & How Much Do They Cost?

By Matthew Zeitlin · July 20, 2023 · 6 minute read

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ETF Fees: How Are They Deducted & How Much Do They Cost?

Because exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are typically passively managed and based on market index, ETFs tend to have lower overall fees as compared with many mutual funds.

In addition, the way ETFs are structured these funds typically generate fewer trades and thus the costs to run the fund (including applicable taxes) are also lower than mutual funds.

When it comes to calculating the cost of owning an exchange-traded fund (or ETF), an investor needs to factor in not just management fees and expense ratios, but also the costs associated with trading the ETFs.

Quick ETF Crash Course

An exchange-traded fund is a collection of dozens or even hundreds of securities such as stocks or bonds, that give an investor access to different companies within a single fund. ETFs can be a low-cost way to add diversification to a portfolio.


💡 Quick Tip: All investments come with some degree of risk — and some are riskier than others. Before investing online, decide on your investment goals and how much risk you want to take.

How ETFs Work

Most ETFs are passive, which means they track an index. Their aim is to provide an investor with exposure to a particular segment of the market in an attempt to return the average for that market.

If there’s a type of investment that you want broad, diversified exposure to, there’s probably an ETF for it.

Though less popular, there are also actively managed ETFs, where a portfolio manager or group of analysts make decisions about what securities to buy and sell within the fund. Generally, these active funds will charge a higher fee than index ETFs, which are simply designed to track an index or segment of the market.

Some of the largest ETFs, reflect large swaths of the market as a whole, similar to index mutual funds (though there are some differences between index mutual funds and ETFs).

ETFs typically reflect formulas investment companies come up with to select stocks or other assets with certain characteristics that make sense in a portfolio. There are also ETFs for commodities and leveraged ETFs that can magnify gains — or losses.

ETF Costs

Like any business, an ETF typically has operational expenses, including management and marketing costs. These costs are passed on to the shareholders of the ETF and are expressed as a percentage called an expense ratio. But ETFs can include other fees and costs as well. Some are easier to find than others.

How Are ETF Fees Calculated?

Investment fees are calculated in a range of ways.

ETF Management Fees

ETFs carry management fees, which tend to cover the technical and intellectual work involved in selecting and managing assets in an ETF.

When you look up the fees of a given ETF, they are shown as a percentage of the ETFs daily assets. One benefit of many ETFs that’s reflected in their low management fees is the lack of what’s known as “management risk” — i.e. the potential losses that may be incurred owing to the guidance of a live portfolio manager.

The Expense Ratio

The overall set of fees for an ETF is known as the expense ratio or the ETF expense ratio. ETFs typically have an expense ratio of 0.05%.

An investor can determine the expense ratio by dividing the annual expenses of the investment by the fund’s total value, though the expense ratio is also typically found on the fund’s website. Knowing the expense ratio will help an investor understand exactly how much money they will spend investing in an ETF fund annually.

For example, if an investor puts $1,000 into an ETF that has an expense ratio of 0.2%, they will pay $20 in fees every year.

ETF Commission Fees

One benefit of ETFs is that you can trade them like any other asset you buy or sell on an exchange, such as a stock or a bond. But as with those assets, investors may be charged a commission when buying and selling ETFs.

Some brokers no longer charge commissions or specifically offer commission-free ETFs. But the availability of these depends on both the ETFs “sponsor” and the brokerage or platform used to buy and sell the funds.

How Are ETF Fees Deducted?

ETF fees are calculated as a percent of the ETFs net asset value, averaged out over a year. These ETF fees are not paid directly — you don’t write a check to the ETF sponsor to pay the management fees. Instead they’re deducted from the Net Asset Value (NAV) of the fund itself, taken directly from returns that could otherwise go to the investor.

The SEC offers an example of just how important fees are: “If an investor invested $10,000 in a fund that produced a 5% annual return before expenses and had annual operating expenses of 1.5%, then after 20 years the investor could have roughly $19,612. But if the fund had expenses of only 0.5%, then the investor would end up with $24,002 — a 23% difference.”


💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

ETF Fees vs Mutual Fund Fees

One fee advantage ETFs have over mutual funds is that ETFs don’t have a front-end load fee. This is an expense associated with the selling of mutual funds that incentivizes brokers to sell one over the other.

Generally speaking, both ETF fees and mutual fund fees have been dropping in recent years as investors move to more passive strategies and providers of these productions compete on providing the lowest cost investment.

That said, though there are exceptions, ETFs tend to be more passive and thus have lower funds. They also don’t have some of the sales costs associated with mutual funds and their intensive marketing apparatuses.

If an ETF tracks an index, buyers can easily compare one provider’s fund to another and select the one with the lowest fee. This process can drive management fees and charges down as providers compete for business.

The Takeaway

ETF fees can be relatively low compared to mutual funds, but as with any investment fees, it’s good to know the potential costs upfront. Knowing an ETF expense ratio and other potential costs can go a long way toward helping an investor understand their total costs for investing in the fund.

For long-term investors, understanding the costs associated with different securities is important as fees can eat into returns. You may want to consider your investment costs when setting up your portfolio.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.


*If you invest in Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) through SoFi Invest (either by buying them yourself or via investing in SoFi Invest’s automated investments, formerly SoFi Wealth), these funds will have their own management fees. These fees are not paid directly by you, but rather by the fund itself. these fees do reduce the fund’s returns. Check out each fund’s prospectus for details. SoFi Invest does not receive sales commissions, 12b-1 fees, or other fees from ETFs for investing such funds on behalf of advisory clients, though if SoFi Invest creates its own funds, it could earn management fees there.

SoFi Invest may waive all, or part of any of these fees, permanently or for a period of time, at its sole discretion for any reason. Fees are subject to change at any time. The current fee schedule will always be available in your Account Documents section of SoFi Invest.

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Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs): Investors should carefully consider the information contained in the prospectus, which contains the Fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other relevant information. You may obtain a prospectus from the Fund company’s website or by email customer service at [email protected]. Please read the prospectus carefully prior to investing.
Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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