Blog

Insights from the experts in investment fiduciary responsibility.

What's in an expense ratio?

Posted by Mike Limbacher, AIF on May 19, 2015

Permalink |     

In our previous post on fund expenses, we focused on the Prospectus Net Expense Ratio and its revenue sharing components, including the 12b-1 fee.  Now we're going to take a look at two other common ratios, the Prospectus Gross Expense Ratio and Audited Net Expense Ratio, and how they compare and contrast to the Prospectus Net Expense Ratio.

So, what’s the difference between the Prospectus Net and Audited Net?  And, what’s the difference between the Prospectus Gross and Prospectus Net? Sometimes the numbers can be exactly the same, and sometimes they could be radically different.

Prospectus Net Expense Ratio vs. Audited Net Expense Ratio
 

The difference between Prospectus Net and Audited Net can be explained by a difference in time periods. The Audited Net is the audited fee charged during the previous fiscal year for the fund.  It can be considered a “backward-looking” number. The Prospectus Net is a “forward-looking” number and is the anticipated expense the fund company plans to charge for the upcoming fiscal year.  If the numbers are different, a comparison of the two can be conducted to see if the fund company anticipates an increase or decrease in fees charged.  Both numbers include the 12b-1 fee and other management fee or administrative costs for the fund.  They do not include any sales or transaction charges.

For fund of funds, the Audited Net and Prospectus Net will be different because two different numbers are being reported. The Audited Net will only report the wrap fee at the fund of fund level.  The Prospectus Net will report the wrap fee and the weighted average of the underlying fund expense ratios. 

Both numbers are net of any conditional waivers or temporary deductions in the expense ratios and this leads us to the second comparison.

Prospectus Net Expense Ratio vs. Prospectus Gross Expense Ratio
 

The difference between the two Prospectus ratios, Net and Gross, can be explained through conditional or contractual waivers or reimbursements the fund company may impose. The Prospectus Net will include the waivers or reimbursements, while the Prospectus Gross will exclude the waivers or reimbursements. 

You will typically see a waiver or reimbursement for funds with small asset bases.  For these funds, the actual fee that they are contracted to charge could be a significant percentage of the fund assets.  Therefore, they waive a percentage of the funds expenses to bring it into alignment with a “reasonable” number.  As the asset base of the fund grows, or if the contracted waiver period expires, the fund’s expenses could change. It’s important to check the fund prospectus to see if any waivers or reimbursements are in effect, and to see if this could change the expense ratio of the fund in the future.

In conclusion, no expense ratio is right for every application.  Consider the situation and intended use.  

  Prospectus Net ER Audited Net ER Prospectus Gross ER
Data Source
fund prospectus
audited annual report
fund prospectus
Time Period
upcoming fiscal year
previous fiscal year
upcoming fiscal year
12b-1 Fees
Yes
Yes
Yes
Mgmt. Fees
Yes
Yes
Yes
Admin/Asset-based Fees
Yes
Yes
Yes
Sales/Trans. Charges
No
No
No
Waivers/Reimbursements
Yes
Yes
No

 

* * * * *

Editor's note: The original version of this blog post was first published in 2010 and is one of the most popular and positively reviewed posts we've published. This post is not only helpful to our primary audience of advisors, but to help explain plan fees to your plan sponsor clients. Another good resource for participants to better understand their 401(k) fees is the DOL website. Several report sections available in the fi360 Toolkit for Advisors feature the ratios described in this post. They include the Investment Expenses and Operational Fee Detail sections.

Previous Post Next Post Return to Blog
Let’s get to work. Connect