Investment Fees Explained: Definition, Types, Costs

By Colin Dodds · August 18, 2023 · 11 minute read

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Investment Fees Explained: Definition, Types, Costs

No matter what kind of investment an individual makes–active, passive, automated– they’ll face some kind of investing fees that takes away from their returns.

When investing, individuals may get excited about an opportunity or a long-term plan, making it easy to overlook the fine print. But over time, fees can make a profound impact on the returns an investor takes out of financial markets. Here’s a closer look at the types of investment fees investors may come across.

What Are Investment Fees?

Investment fees are charges investors pay when using financial products, whether they have short vs. long-term investments. Investing fees include broker fees, trading fees, management fees, and advisory fees.

Broadly speaking, investing fees are structured in two ways: recurring or one-time transaction charges. Recurring is when the charge is a portion of the assets you’ve invested, usually expressed as an annual percentage rate. One-time transaction charges work more like a flat fee, such as a certain number of dollars per-trade.

💡 Quick Tip: Investment fees are assessed in different ways, including trading costs, account management fees, and possibly broker commissions. When you open an investment account, be sure to get the exact breakdown of your “all-in costs” so you know what you’re paying.

Why Are Investment Fees Charged?

Like any purchase you make, there are fees for investment products and services. For instance, a broker will typically charge a fee for buying and selling stocks or managing your portfolio.

While some investing fees and expenses may seem small, over time they can make an impact on your investment and can affect the value of your portfolio. As an investor, it’s important to be aware of these fees and understand exactly what you’re being charged to help make sure you’re getting a good return on investment.

Who Charges Investment Fees?

Financial professionals such as brokers, financial advisors and financial planners usually charge investing fees and expenses. Brokerage firms typically charge fees and commissions. And there are investment fund fees for various financial products, such as mutual fund management fees and fees for operating and administering a 401(k).

Learn more about the different types of investment fees and who charges them below.

6 Common Types of Investment Fees

1. Management Fees

When it comes to types of investment costs for mutual funds, every mutual fund charges a management fee. And other investment vehicles, such as hedge funds, do as well. This pays the fund’s manager and support staff to select investments and trade them according to the fund’s mandate. In addition to the manager, it also covers the administrative expenses of managing the fund.

This fee is typically assessed as a portion of an investor’s assets, whether the investments do well or not. Some investments, such as hedge funds, charge a performance fee based on the success of the fund, but these are not widely used in most mutual funds.

Management fees vary widely. Some index funds charge as little as 0.10%, while other highly specialized mutual funds may charge more than 2%.

Management fees are expressed as an annual percentage. If you invest $100 in a fund with a 1% management fee, and the fund neither goes up or down, then you will pay $1 per year in management fees.

2. Hedge-fund Fees: Two and Twenty

The classic hedge-fund fee structure is known as “two and twenty” or “2 and 20.” This means that there’s a 2% management fee, so the hedge fund takes 2% of the investor’s assets that are invested. And then there’s a 20% performance fee, so with any profits that are made, the hedge fund takes an additional 20% of those returns.

So let’s say an investor puts $1 million into a hedge fund, and the firm makes a profit of $500,000 in a year. That means the hedge fund would take a management fee of $20,000 plus a performance fee of $100,000 for a total compensation of $120,000.

Bear in mind, investors who are clients at hedge funds are typically institutional investors or accredited investors, those typically with a net worth of at least $1 million, excluding their primary residence. Hedge funds also tend to have higher minimum initial investment amounts, ranging from $100,000 to $2 million, although it varies from firm to firm.

Due to lackluster performance and competition however in recent years, the classic “two and twenty” hedge-fund fee model has become challenged in many years. Many hedge funds now offer rates like “1 and 10” or “1.5 and 15”–a trend dubbed as “fee compression” in the industry.”

3. Expense Ratio

The expense ratio is the percentage of assets subtracted for costs associated with managing the investment. So if the expense ratio is 0.035%, that means investors will pay $3.50 for every $10,000 invested.

The expense ratio includes the management fee, and tells the whole story as to how much of the fund’s assets go toward the people running and selling the fund.

In addition to management fees, a mutual fund may charge other annualized fees. Those can include the fund’s advertising and promotion expense, known as the 12b-1 fee. Those 12b-1 fees are legally capped at 1%. But when added to the management fee, it can make a fund more costly than at first glance. That’s one reason to double check the expense ratio.

Another reason is that the expense ratio may actually be lower than the management fee. That’s because some mutual funds will waive a portion of their fees. They may implement a fee waiver to compete for the dollars of fee-wary investors. Or they may do so as a way to hold onto investors after the fund has underperformed.

In the 2010s, some money market funds waived or reimbursed some of their fees after historically low bond yields wiped out any return they offered to investors. While mutual fund companies can reimburse part or all of a fund’s 12b-1 fee, it happens very rarely.

Recommended: Is There Such a Thing as a Safe Investment?

4. Sales Charges

In addition to the annual management and possibly also 12b-1 fees, mutual fund investors may pay sales charges.

Typically, these charges only apply to mutual fund purchases that an investor makes through a financial planner, or an investment advisor. This fee, also called a sales load, is how the advisor gets paid for their service. It isn’t a transaction fee however. Rather it’s a percentage of the assets being invested.

While the maximum legal sales charge for a mutual fund is 8.5%, the common range is between 3% and 6%.

These sales charges can come in different forms. Front-end sales charges come out of an investor’s assets at the time of the sale. Back-end sales charges, on the other hand, are deducted from the investment when the investor chooses to sell. Lastly, contingent deferred sales charges may not come out at all, if the investor stays in the fund for a specified period of time.

5. Advisory Fees

When an investing professional–a financial planner, advisor, or broker–offers advice, this is how they’re paid. Some advisors have a business model where they charge a percentage of invested assets per year. Other advisors, though, charge a transaction fee, in the form of a brokerage commission. Lastly, some simply charge an hourly fee.

Asset-based money management fees are usually expressed as a percentage of the assets invested through them. Typically, a hands-on professional will charge 1% or more per year for their services. That fee is most often deducted from an account on a quarterly basis. And it comes on top of the fees charged by any professionally managed vehicles, such as mutual funds.

But that fee can be much lower for automated investing platforms, also known as “robo-advisors.” Some of these robo-advisors charge annual advisory fees as low as 0.25%. But it’s worth noting that these platforms often rely heavily on mutual funds, which charge their own fees in addition to the platform fees.

Robo-advisors are famous for having rock-bottom fees. However, when investors are comparing robo-advisor fees, they’ll see that there’s a wide range. The minimum balances can also determine what sort of fees investors pay, and there may be additional fees like a potential set-up payment.

Recommended: Are Robo-Advisors Worth It?

6. Brokerage Fees and Commissions

When an investor wants to buy or sell a stock, bond or an exchange traded fund (ETF), they typically use a brokerage firm. Fees and commissions vary widely depending on the type of transaction and the type of broker. Those fees can be based on a percentage of the transaction’s value, or it can be a flat fee, or a combination of the two.

And when investing, that fee depends on whether an investor uses a full-service broker or a discount broker. While a full-service broker can offer a wide range of advice and services, their commissions per trade are far higher than a discount or online brokerage might charge.

Because discount brokers offer less in the way of advice and services, they can charge a lower flat fee per trade. In recent years, the biggest online brokerage firms have offered free trading, partly due to competition and partly because they instead get paid through a practice known as payment for order flow.

Payment for order flow, or PFOF, is the practice of retail brokerage firms sending customer orders to firms known as market makers. In exchange, the brokerage firms receive fees for that order flow.

While widespread and legal, payment for order flow has been controversial because critics say it misaligns the incentives of brokerage firms and their customers. They argue that customers may actually be “paying” for their trades by getting worse prices on their orders. Defenders argue customers get better prices than they would on public exchanges and benefit from zero commissions.

💡 Quick Tip: Are self-directed brokerage accounts cost efficient? They can be, because they offer the convenience of being able to buy stocks online without using a traditional full-service broker (and the typical broker fees).

Cost of Investment Fees

The cost of investment fees can vary depending on the type of fee, who is charging it, and the type of account an investor has. For instance, a standard management fee is about 1%.

A broker or brokerage might charge an annual fee of $50 to $75 a year. Not all brokers have an annual fee, so try to find one that doesn’t.

A broker might also charge anywhere from a few dollars to $30 for research. Again, not all brokers levy this charge, so choose a broker that doesn’t charge for research.

In addition, trading platform fees may range from $50 to $200 or more a month. You might also have to pay transfer or closing fees of $50 to $75 to have the brokerage transfer your account elsewhere or close it out.

Pros and Cons of Investment Fees

There are obvious drawbacks of investment fees. The biggest: Investment fees can diminish the returns on your investments. For instance, if your return was 8%, but you paid 1% in fees, your return is actually 7%. Over the years, that difference can be significant.

When it comes to benefits, there may be some advantages to using a fee-only financial advisor over one who charges commissions. For one thing, the costs may be more predictable. A financial advisor may charge a flat fee or charge by the hour. In contrast, a financial advisor who works on commission may suggest financial products that they earn commission from. In addition, many fee-only advisors are fiduciaries, which means they are obligated to act in the client’s best interests at all times.

Each investor should find out the specific fees involved relating to their investment. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s critical to know exactly what you’ll be paying and what those costs cover.

How Much Is Too High a Price To Invest?

The cost of investment fees varies widely, depending on the type of fee. Advisory fees of more than 1% may be considered too high a price for many investors. Sales charges typically range between 3% and 6%, so anything higher than that might be something to avoid.

Of funds that charge fees, broad-index ETFs and mutual funds often charge the lowest fees.

Investing in Your Future With SoFi

No matter how an investor gets into the market, they will pay some kind of fee. It may be the quarterly deduction made by a financial advisor, or the trading costs and account fees of an online brokerage account, or the regularly deducted management fees of a mutual fund.

Those fees and commissions add up to the “cost of investment.” That cost is deducted from assets and represents a drag on any return an investor may earn over time. As such, investing fees require close attention, regardless of an investor’s strategy or long-term goals.

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).

Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.


What are typical investment fees?

Typical investment fees include broker fees, trading fees, sales charges, management fees, and advisory fees.

Investment fees tend to be structured either as recurring fees, in which the charges are a percentage of the assets you’ve invested, or as one-time transaction charges that are similar to a flat fee, such as a certain amount of money per-trade.

Is a 1% management fee high?

A 1% management fee is a fairly typical fee. However, even though it is standard, you can try negotiating for a smaller fee than 1%. Some financial advisors may be willing to lower the percentage.

How much should you pay for investment management fees?

Generally, you can expect to pay about 1% for an investment management fee. Overall, percentage fees like this tend to be best for investors with smaller investments, while a flat fee tends to be more advantageous to investors with a very large investment (meaning more than $1 million).

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