Mutual funds may be right for you -- but they're an expensive way to invest. So, if you're inclined to take matters into your own hands -- and maybe make a lot more money -- take a few seconds to read on.
I want what's coming to me!
With the exception of local property taxes, I've encountered no system that picks our pockets more efficiently than the U.S. mutual fund industry. Yes, that includes the IRS.
Think about it. Uncle Sam wants a piece of everything we earn, and that's trifling. But mutual fund managers are worse. These guys aren't content with a cut of what we earn each year. (We'll assume for now that they make us money -- unlike last year.)
No, our fund managers want more -- much more. When I tell you how much more, you may not believe it. So I'll warm you up with a quick example we like to kick around the office.
Wahoo! My manager's a genius!
The year is 1990. The economy is stagnant, Saddam Hussein is rattling his saber, and President Bush assures us that "this will not stand." You just dumped 10 grand into the greatest mutual fund in the history of the world.
That's because your fund manager doesn't buy the gloom and doom that's swirling around him, and he doesn't buy diversification, either. He buys technology. So, he rolls the dice on just four tech stocks.
You hit pay dirt! Now it's New Year's Day 2000, and just look at what's become of your $10,000 stake ...
You're sitting on $2.3 million, right? Not so fast. Mutual funds have a price, and it may be a lot higher than you think.
Your $10,000 isn't worth $2.3 million!
Assuming your fund manager hits you up for a 2% fee (not cheap, but hardly unheard of), you would owe him about $37,000. That seems fair enough. After all, the fellow just made you $2.3 million. But here's the catch.
That $37,000 is for the last year alone. You've been paying out every year along the way. In fact, by New Year's Day 2000, you'd have paid that rascal more like $70,000 in fees, and the lost profits on those fees would have cost you a lot more -- another $340,000 or so. And that's over 10 short years!
That's a high price, but it gets worse. Imagine if you'd invested $20,000 instead of $10,000. You'd be paying twice as much. And what do you get for that extra money -- for paying twice as much? Not a darn thing, as far as I can tell.
Oh, yes, it gets worse still
Now, what if it turns out you're paying for nothing? I mean, let's face it, you're not going to stumble across a miracle fund like the one I just described. Your manager won't be a genius. More likely, he or she will be an Ivy League MBA looking to keep their job and follow the herd -- or worse.
Don't believe me? Look at any list of widely held institutional stocks. I'll spare you the trouble: You'll probably find "blue chips" like Home Depot
Worse, if your fund manager does stumble on a category-killer like Amgen
And it gets worse ...
Because here's the thing. In any given year, the IRS can tax you only on what you earn that year. When you invest in a mutual fund, your fund manager takes a cut of everything you have ... year after year after year.
Worse, your manager not only might fail to keep pace with the market in any given year (remember, most do), he or she might actually lose you money. Yet, even if you don't make a penny in year 11 of our previous example, you'll still have to hand over another few thousand dollars.
That stinks. Yet, for all that, you may have no interest whatsoever in buying your own investments -- even with the help of someone you can trust. If so, mutual funds may be the only game in town. It definitely beats staying out of stocks over the long haul, but you can agree that it's a broken model.
Something better to consider
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This article was originally published on June 13, 2006. It has been updated.
Fool writer Paul Elliott doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned. You can see all of David and Tom Gardner's Stock Advisor recommendations immediately with your free trial. Home Depot is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.