First off, what’s a 12b-1 fee? According to Investor Words, a 12b-1 fee is:
An extra fee charged by some mutual funds to cover promotion, distributions, marketing expenses, and sometimes commissions to brokers. A genuine no-load fund does not have 12b-1 fees, although some funds calling themselves “no-load” do have 12b-1 fees (as do some load funds). 12b-1 fee information is disclosed in a fund’s prospectus, is included in the stated expense ratio, and is usually less than 1%.
So, 12b-1 fees cover promotion, distribution, marketing expenses, and sometimes commissions to brokers. None of these, aside from broker compensation, add value to the existing shareholders. That’s what is evil about 12b-1 fees.
How much are 12b-1 fees?
A 12b-1 fee is usually 25 basis points (.25%) and is charged annually. Doesn’t sound like much does it? Well, believe me, it adds up! Take a look at the following graphic. The first one is for a one-year time period. The second graphic is for a 10-year time period.
As your account value grows, the 12b-1 fee (which is a percentage of your account value) grows too. Over the long-term it can really add up.
That’s not all, the better rate of return you get, the more you pay in 12b-1 fees as this graphic shows:
To arrive at these numbers, I assumed an investment of $100,000. I then ran the numbers without a 12b-1 fee to get an end result. Then I ran the numbers again minus the 12b-1 fee and subtracted that result from the first result. Make sense? Basically, I used the same method as the first two graphics, but arranged the results differently for easy comparison.
The bottom line
In my opinion, 12b-1 fees do not add value unless they are used to compensate a broker (as long as that broker is earning it). If you are investing on your own through no-load mutual funds, then I would think twice before buying a fund with a 12b-1 fee. Of course the choice is yours. After all, it is your money.