Mutual fund fees drive me nuts.

I don't begrudge the fund companies their profits. Some of my best friends work for mutual fund firms, and I want them to continue to get paid on time. Heck, I worked for one myself for eight years and still have fond feelings for the place. And for the money they paid me, much of which came from mutual fund management fees.

But, sometimes, things just get out of hand.

The fee menu
Fund fees fall into three categories: fees that pay the manager, fees that pay the fund's expenses, and fees that pay the people who sold you the fund. The expenses and management fees work pretty much as you'd expect. Fees on index funds are low. Fees on funds that buy mostly large-cap blue chips, such as ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), are higher, and fees on funds that unearth obscure small-cap or foreign gems are higher still. These fees go toward running the fund.

It's that last category -- paying the people who sold you the fund -- that drives me nuts. When you buy shares of some mutual funds, your broker or investment professional gets paid by the fund. In turn, the fund docks you to cover those costs.

These fees come in several flavors. You may pay an upfront commission, called a load. You might also pay an ongoing "trailer" that the broker gets as long as you keep your assets in the fund, paid through a 12b-1 fee. I've ranted before about loads and 12b-1 fees, but here's my beef in a nutshell: These fees are a significant damper on your returns, often outweigh the value of the advice you get, and usually are not justified by the fund's performance. In other words, with a tiny bit of effort on your part, you can usually do better elsewhere.

To be fair, it's not always true that broker-sold funds are a terrible deal. Every time I write about those fees, I get emails from folks who have invested in products from companies like BlackRock (NYSE: BLK) or American Funds and are happy with their returns. I also hear from investment professionals who feel they deserve the money they make from fund fees.

Fair enough: If you (or your clients) are beating the leading index funds net of those fees, then I'm willing to concede that you (or they) might be getting value for that money. But it can be an awful lot of money -- often 5% or more of your initial investment, plus that ongoing extra charge -- and the best broker-sold funds have to work extra hard to generate the outsized returns needed to justify those fees year in and year out.

Fees aside, earning those outsized returns sounds great, doesn't it? What if you could get one of those funds without having to pay the fat fees?

Finding the discounts
The team at the Motley Fool Champion Funds newsletter generally avoids reviewing funds with loads, as they just aren't competitive with the great no-load funds identified by the team every month. But in this month's issue, available online at 4 p.m. today, lead advisor Amanda Kish takes a close look at four terrific, well-run load funds that are worth serious consideration -- if you can get them without having to pay the loads.

One of Amanda's choices is the stalwart American Funds Fundamental Investors Fund (ANCFX). This old-school, bottom-up stock picker, with big holdings in blue chips like Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Merck (NYSE: MRK), and AT&T (NYSE: T), has returned a very sweet average of 16.46% over the last five years, even after taking into account its hefty 5.75% upfront sales charge.

If you could skip all or part of that load, whether by investing a larger amount (the more you invest, the lower the load) or by investing in the fund through a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, you would boost your long-term performance significantly.

Intrigued? If you'd like to see Amanda's other three choices (two of which are great global funds, for those of you looking to boost your international exposure), help yourself to a free, 30-day trial of the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service. Your free trial gives you full access to everything the service has to offer, including this month's issue, in-depth commentary and analysis, fund recommendations, and much more. There's no obligation to subscribe.

Fool contributor John Rosevear does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned, and he definitely doesn't own any funds with 12b-1 fees. Microsoft is an Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is high class and free of charge.