What is An Expense Ratio and How does it Work?

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An expense ratio refers to the fee that an investment company charges an investor who wants to buy a particular fund. This fee can be charged annually or quarterly depending on the type of fund the investor purchased.

In simpler terms, the expense ratio represents the fee charged by an investment company to manage an investor’s funds or investment. For instance, index funds generally charge a small fee when the investor buys the fund, and this fee is used to manage the investment and other expenses.

Also, note that the expense ratio is not simply charged from the investor’s funds, but the fee is used for different purposes, including:

  • Advertising
  • Management
  • Legal
  • Administrative, etc.

When an investment company charges an expense ratio from an investor’s funds, it reduces the impact of their return on investment. Simply put, the higher the expense ratio, the lower the profit that the investor is likely to make.

In your best interest, it is always advisable to aim for a lower expense ratio, as this can have a significant impact on your overall returns. By selecting funds with lower expense ratios, you can minimize the fees that you pay to the investment company, and potentially earn higher returns on your investments. Ultimately, keeping the expense ratio as low as possible can help you achieve your financial goals more efficiently.

Overall, understanding expense ratios is crucial for investors as it helps to make informed decisions about which funds to invest in, based on their risk tolerance and investment goals.


Why is Expense Ratio Important?

Expense ratio is an important factor for investors, as it enables them to understand the returns they can expect from their investments and the costs associated with buying funds. In general, lower expense ratios lead to higher investment returns, which ultimately means more money for you.

However, it’s important to note that the type of fund you chooses can also impact your returns. For example, passive index funds and actively managed funds have different expense ratios, and the choice between the two should be based on your specific investment goals.

How is Expense Ratio Calculated?

Expense ratio is calculated by dividing total fund costs by total fund assets. Source: Investopedia.

What is a good Expense Ratio for Index Funds?

For index funds that invest in large companies, a reasonable expense ratio should not exceed 0.5%. Meanwhile, funds that invest in smaller companies should not have expense ratios higher than 1.5%. Although there are expense ratios that surpass these benchmarks. While they may seem costly, such funds may provide unique features that justify their higher costs.

Types of Expense Ratios

There are several types of expense ratios that you should be aware of. Some of the most common expenses incurred by investment companies include:

1. Management Fee

A management fee is a fee you’ll pay to the company for managing your portfolio and funds. The purpose of this fee is to compensate the company for the time and effort they invest in selecting high-return securities for investors and managing their portfolio.

The management fee is a significant component of the overall expense ratio, as it covers the maintenance of the investor’s portfolio. It typically ranges from 0.5% to 2% of the investor’s assets under management.

It is always advisable to aim for a lower management fee when investing in funds. However, never base your investment decisions solely on the management fee. You should also consider the fund’s historical performance, risk profile, and other expenses associated with the fund.

2. Legal Fee

Shareholders are charged a legal fee from their portfolio to cover the cost of legal services. The fee is intended to cover the expenses of hiring lawyers to handle the paperwork associated with securities, such as licensing, SEC filings, and other compliance documents necessary for managing the fund.

The fee is also paid to lawyers who represent the company in defending legal disputes that may arise. However, it is typically lower than the fee charged for managing the fund. The legal fee is a necessary expense to ensure that the fund operates in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

3. Advertising Fee

The advertising fee is charged by the companies from investors when they pay to advertise their products and services to attract more investors and raise more money for investment. While this expense may not directly relate to shareholders, it indirectly benefits them by increasing the popularity of the securities.

For instance, index funds become more popular among investors as more and more people buy into the index market, making it a sustainable investment option. As the investment fund attracts more money, the company can invest in more securities, allowing fund managers to earn more money through management fees.

Although marketing expenses only constitute a small part of the overall expense ratio, they are a critical factor in attracting investors and growing the fund.


Knowing about the different types of expense ratios is important when investing. While there may be other types, the ones above are the most common.

Passive index funds have some of the lowest expense ratios in the market. As seen in the image below, these funds have consistently maintained a low expense ratio from 2000 till today.

Index funds expense ratio
Source: Bankrate

This makes index funds an attractive investment option for investors looking to minimize their expenses and maximize their potential returns. If you haven’t started investing in an index fund yet, it is never too late to begin.

How to find a Fund with Low Expense Ratio?

There are several methods to find a fund with a low expense ratio, examples are:

  • Consider passive index funds, which generally have lower expenses compared to actively managed funds because they aim to track the performance of a market index rather than trying to beat it through active management.
  • Compare index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to identify a low expense ratio fund. In some cases, index mutual funds may be less expensive than ETFs, even though they track the same index. This difference can be due to variations in trading volumes and other factors.
  • The S&P 500 index fund is an example of a low expense ratio fund. It is often considered a benchmark for the United States stock market and has a reputation for having some of the lowest fees among index funds. It may be a suitable option if you are looking for a low-cost way to invest in a diversified portfolio of companies.

That’s A Wrap!

I hope that you now understand the definition, importance, and different types of expense ratios, as well as how to select the one that aligns with your investment goals. If you are interested in starting an index fund investment in Nigeria, you can refer to my previous guide. If you enjoyed this post, please share your thoughts in the comments section.”

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