What Is Expense Ratio? Overview, Components, Example

Article Summary

An expense ratio is a measure of the cost of owning a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF). It represents the percentage of a fund’s assets that are used to cover the costs of managing and operating the fund. This includes expenses such as administrative fees, legal fees, accounting fees, and other costs associated with running the fund.

What is an expense ratio?

Expense ratio is an important metric to consider when investing in mutual funds or ETFs. It helps investors understand the cost of investing in a fund over a period of time. The expense ratio is expressed as a percentage and is calculated by dividing a fund’s total expenses by its total assets.

What it tells you

The expense ratio can provide investors with valuable information about the costs associated with investing in a particular fund. A higher expense ratio can indicate that a fund is more expensive to operate and manage, which can eat into returns over time. Conversely, a lower expense ratio can indicate that a fund is more cost-efficient, which can help maximize returns.


The components of an expense ratio can vary from fund to fund. However, most expense ratios include the following components:

  • Management fees: This is the fee paid to the fund’s investment manager for managing the fund’s assets.
  • Administrative fees: This includes the cost of legal and accounting services, as well as other operational costs associated with running the fund.
  • Other expenses: This can include any other expenses incurred by the fund, such as marketing or distribution expenses.

Passive vs. actively managed funds

Expense ratios can differ between passive and actively managed funds. Passive funds, such as index funds or ETFs, are designed to track a specific market index and are managed using a set of predetermined rules. As a result, they generally have lower expense ratios compared to actively managed funds, which are managed by professional fund managers who attempt to beat the market.

PRO TIP: Always look for funds with low expense ratios as they tend to have a better chance of outperforming funds with higher expense ratios over the long term.


Let’s say you invest $10,000 in a mutual fund with an expense ratio of 1%. This means that the fund will charge you $100 per year to cover its expenses. If the fund earns a 7% return, your actual return would be 6% after accounting for the expense ratio.

Expense ratio vs. management fees

It’s important to note that expense ratios are different from management fees. Management fees are the fees paid to the fund’s investment manager for managing the fund’s assets, while the expense ratio includes all of the costs associated with operating and managing the fund.

Expense ratio FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about expense ratios:

What is a good expense ratio for a mutual fund?

A good expense ratio for a mutual fund depends on several factors, such as the type of fund, the level of risk, and the overall performance of the fund. Generally, lower expense ratios are considered better, but investors should also consider other factors such as historical performance and risk-adjusted returns.

How often are expense ratios calculated?

Expense ratios are calculated annually and are based on a fund’s operating expenses for the previous year.

How do I find the expense ratio of a mutual fund?

You can find the expense ratio of a mutual fund in its prospectus or on the fund company’s website.

Key takeaways

  • An expense ratio is a measure of how much an investment fund charges its investors for managing their money.
  • The expense ratio includes all costs associated with managing the fund, such as management fees, administrative expenses, and other operating costs.
  • Lower expense ratios can lead to higher investment returns over time, as investors can keep more of their earnings.
  • Passive funds tend to have lower expense ratios than actively managed funds, but they may not always be the best choice depending on an investor’s goals and risk tolerance.
  • It’s important to compare expense ratios when selecting investment funds, and to consider other factors like fund performance, diversification, and management style.
  • While expense ratios can vary widely between funds, they typically range from less than 0.10% to more than 2%.
  • Understanding the components of an expense ratio can help investors make more informed decisions about their investments.
View Article Sources
  1. Financial Ratios: Part 18 of 21, Operating Expense Ratio – Michigan State University
  2. Financial Statement Analysis – University of Oregon
  3. Financial Ratio Analysis – Webster University