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Deferred Load: Understanding Fees in Mutual Funds

Last updated 03/20/2024 by

Daniel Dikio

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A deferred load, also known as a back-end load, is a fee charged by mutual funds when investors redeem their shares, rather than upon the initial investment. This fee structure allows investors to invest their full initial amount into fund shares, with fees deducted later upon redemption. Understanding deferred loads is essential for investors navigating mutual fund investments and managing associated costs effectively.

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Understanding deferred load in mutual funds

A deferred load, often referred to as a “back-end load,” is a type of sales charge or fee associated with mutual funds. Unlike front-end loads, which are deducted from the initial investment amount, deferred loads are charged when investors sell or redeem their mutual fund shares. This means that investors do not pay any upfront fees when purchasing shares, allowing the full amount invested to be used for purchasing fund shares.

Advantages of deferred loads

One of the main advantages of deferred loads is that they enable investors to invest a larger initial amount, as no fees are deducted upfront. Instead, the fee is paid later when the investor decides to redeem their shares. This can be particularly beneficial for long-term investors who want to maximize their investment returns over time.

How deferred loads are calculated

Deferred loads are typically calculated as a percentage of the redeemed proceeds or the initial investment, whichever is lower. For example, if an investor initially invests $10,000 and the investment appreciates to $12,000 at redemption, the deferred load would be calculated based on the initial $10,000 investment.
It’s important for investors to carefully review a fund’s prospectus to understand how deferred loads are calculated and any associated terms and conditions.

Example of deferred load

Consider an investor who invests $10,000 in a mutual fund with a 5% deferred sales load. The entire $10,000 would be used to purchase fund shares, and the 5% sales load would only be deducted when the investor redeems their shares.

Deferred load and 12b-1 fees

Many funds that impose deferred loads also charge 12b-1 fees, which cover distribution expenses such as marketing and selling fund shares, broker compensation, advertising, and prospectus printing. These fees are generally taken from the fund’s investment assets.
It’s worth noting that while the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) does not limit the size of 12b-1 fees, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) imposes restrictions, particularly on fees used for marketing and distribution expenses.

Pros and cons of deferred loads

Weigh the risks and benefits
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks of deferred loads:
  • Allows investors to invest a larger initial amount
  • No upfront fees, enabling full investment in fund shares
  • May be suitable for long-term investors
  • Investors may pay higher fees upon redemption
  • Redemption fees can erode investment returns
  • Deferred loads may discourage short-term trading

Types of deferred loads

Deferred loads in mutual funds can take different forms, each with its own fee structure and redemption requirements. Here are some common types:

1. Contingent deferred sales charge (CDSC)

A contingent deferred sales charge, or CDSC, is a type of deferred load that decreases over time. Typically, the longer an investor holds onto their mutual fund shares, the lower the CDSC becomes. For example, a fund might impose a 5% CDSC if shares are redeemed within the first year, but this charge might decrease by 1% each subsequent year until it reaches zero.

2. Level-load fund

Level-load funds, also known as “C shares,” do not impose an upfront sales charge like front-end loads or a deferred charge like back-end loads. Instead, investors pay a continuous fee over time, usually in the form of a higher annual expense ratio. While level-load funds do not have a specific redemption fee, investors may face higher overall costs if they hold onto their shares for an extended period.

Deferred loads in other financial products

Deferred loads are not exclusive to mutual funds; they can also be found in other financial products. Here are a few examples:

1. Annuities

Deferred annuities often come with surrender charges, which are similar to deferred loads in mutual funds. These charges are incurred if the annuity is surrendered or cashed out before a specified period, usually several years after purchase. Surrender charges typically decrease over time.

2. Hedge funds

Some hedge funds may impose redemption fees on investors who withdraw their investments within a certain timeframe. These fees are designed to discourage short-term trading and align investors’ interests with the fund’s long-term objectives.

Factors influencing deferred load amounts

Several factors can influence the amount of deferred loads charged by mutual funds. Understanding these factors can help investors make informed decisions when choosing investment products. Here are some key considerations:

1. Fund duration

The duration of a mutual fund can significantly impact the deferred load amount. Funds with longer investment horizons may impose higher deferred loads to incentivize long-term investing and discourage frequent trading. Conversely, funds with shorter durations may have lower or no deferred loads.

2. Investment amount

Deferred loads are often calculated as a percentage of the initial investment amount. Therefore, the larger the investment, the higher the absolute deferred load. However, some funds may offer breakpoints or discounts for larger investments, reducing the deferred load percentage for investors who commit substantial sums.

3. Share class

Share classes within mutual funds can also impact deferred load amounts. Different share classes may have varying fee structures, including differences in front-end loads, back-end loads, and expense ratios. Investors should carefully compare the features and costs of different share classes to determine the most suitable option for their investment goals.

Regulatory considerations

The regulation of deferred loads and other mutual fund fees is subject to oversight by regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). These organizations establish guidelines and requirements to ensure transparency and fairness in fee structures. Here are some regulatory considerations relevant to deferred loads:

1. Disclosure requirements

Mutual funds are required to provide clear and comprehensive disclosure of all fees and expenses, including deferred loads, in their prospectuses and other investor documents. This information enables investors to understand the costs associated with investing in a particular fund and make informed decisions.

2. Fee limits

While regulatory bodies do not typically impose specific limits on deferred loads, they may set guidelines for overall fee structures to prevent excessive charges that could erode investor returns. Funds must comply with these regulations to maintain transparency and fairness in fee assessment.


Deferred loads play a significant role in the fee structures of mutual funds, impacting investors’ costs and investment outcomes. Understanding the mechanics of deferred loads, including calculation methods and influencing factors, is essential for investors seeking to optimize their investment strategies and minimize unnecessary expenses. By considering factors such as fund duration, investment amount, and regulatory requirements, investors can make well-informed decisions when selecting mutual funds and other investment products.

Frequently asked questions

What are the advantages of choosing a mutual fund with a deferred load?

Investors opting for mutual funds with deferred loads can invest their entire initial amount into fund shares without any upfront fees. This allows for potential higher returns as the full investment amount can start accruing interest immediately.

Are there any disadvantages associated with deferred loads?

While deferred loads offer the benefit of full initial investment utilization, they can result in higher fees upon redemption, which may diminish overall returns. Additionally, these fees can discourage frequent trading and limit liquidity.

How are deferred loads different from front-end loads?

Deferred loads are charged when investors redeem their mutual fund shares, whereas front-end loads are deducted from the initial investment amount. This distinction affects when investors incur fees and how much of their investment is initially utilized for purchasing fund shares.

Can investors avoid paying deferred loads?

Investors can minimize or avoid paying deferred loads by holding onto their mutual fund shares for the specified period until the deferred load expires. However, this strategy may not always align with investors’ financial goals or liquidity needs.

Are deferred loads regulated by any governing bodies?

Deferred loads and other mutual fund fees are subject to regulation by entities such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). These regulatory bodies establish guidelines to ensure transparency and fairness in fee structures.

Do all mutual funds impose deferred loads?

No, not all mutual funds impose deferred loads. While they were more common in the past, many funds now offer share classes with different fee structures, including those without deferred loads. Investors should carefully review fund prospectuses to understand fee implications.

What factors should investors consider when evaluating mutual funds with deferred loads?

When evaluating mutual funds with deferred loads, investors should consider factors such as the fund’s duration, investment amount, and share class. Additionally, understanding the fund’s fee structure, including any breakpoints or discounts, can help investors make informed decisions.

Key takeaways

  • Deferred loads are mutual fund fees charged when investors redeem their shares.
  • Investors do not pay any upfront fees with deferred loads, enabling full investment in fund shares.
  • Deferred loads may discourage short-term trading and can erode investment returns upon redemption.
  • Investors should carefully review a fund’s prospectus to understand deferred load terms and conditions.

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