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# How to Figure Out Your ETF Costs

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Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are world renowned for their rock-bottom fees. But an ETF’s annual expense ratio is not the only cost. Nor does everyone, even those who own the same exact fund, pay identical costs.

Before we examine one way for estimating ETF costs, let’s analyze the three inputs used in the calculation.

Operating Expense Ratio (OER)

This is the ongoing cost that an ETF charges to shareholders for managing the portfolio. Most ETF OERs are reported in percentage terms, and funds that charge less than 0.25% are easy to find. The OER is the most important cost factor for long-term investors or those holding the fund for longer than a year. For newly launched ETFs, beware of temporary fee waivers, which affect the OER for a specified period of time. Fund managers use this as a selling tool to attract new money. Here’s the problem: After the fee waiver expires, ETF expenses can shoot higher.

Brokerage Commissions

Unless your ETF qualifies for commission free online trading, you will pay a transaction fee or commission for each trade placed. Granted, online trading costs have dropped dramatically, and executing trades for less than \$10 is readily available. But tor investment accounts that actively buy and sell ETFs, brokerage commissions can quickly devour your money. Commissions can also hurt ETF investors who dollar cost average in or out of their investments.

After you’ve determined which ETFs you want to own, the next step is to estimate their costs. Michael Iachini, CFA, CFP and Managing Director of ETF Research at Charles Schwab Investment Advisory, suggests knowing how long you plan to own the ETF and how you will use it inside your portfolio.

Here's a general formula for calculating the annual total cost of ETF ownership:

Operating Expense Ratio (OER)
+ 2 × dollar commission ÷ \$ amount of investment ÷ years ETF will be held

Approximate Cost of Ownership per Year

For an ETF with an OER of 0.10%, a bid/ask spread of 0.15%, a six-month holding period, an \$8.95 trading commission, and a \$10,000 investment, the annual total cost of ownership is 0.76% per year.

Here’s the calculation:

0.10%
0.15% ÷ 0.5
+ (2 × 8.95 ÷ 10,000) ÷ 0.5
0.76% per year

Editor's note: This story by Ron DeLegge originally appeared on ETFguide.com.

To read more from ETFguide, see:

Are Technical Indicators Signaling a Storm Ahead?

Two Ways to Solve the Income Shortage Puzzle

Don't Get Duped by Gamed Corporate Earnings
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