Close this search box.

Table of Contents

Expense Ratio


Expense ratio, in financial terms, refers to the measure of what it costs an investment company to operate a mutual fund. It is calculated by dividing the fund’s operating expenses by the average dollar value of its assets under management (AUM). It includes various expenses such as administrative costs, management fees, and other operational costs.


The phonetics of the keyword “Expense Ratio” is: ɪkˈspɛns ˈreɪʃioʊ

Key Takeaways

  • Expense Ratio is a measure primarily used in the financial industry to show the portion of an investment fund's assets that are taken as payment for administrative and other operating expenses. It is calculated by dividing the funds total expenses by its net assets.
  • A lower expense ratio is generally preferred, as it means a larger portion of the fund's assets are being invested rather than being used for fees. This can lead to significant differences in returns over time.
  • Expense ratios are an important factor to consider when comparing investment options. They are often listed in the fund's prospectus or on the fund company’s website, making comparison between funds relatively straightforward.


The Expense Ratio is a critically important term in business and finance because it represents the percentage of a fund’s assets that are used for administrative and operational costs. It’s a key indicator of the efficiency and profitability of a fund because it directly affects the returns that investors receive. A high expense ratio can significantly erode the returns, particularly in an environment of low returns, leading to a potentially less profitable investment for investors. Therefore, when comparing different investment options, investors often consider the expense ratio as a critical factor, favoring funds with lower expense ratios to maximize their potential returns.


The expense ratio serves as a critical barometer for investors in mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or other similar investment vehicles to assess how efficiently these funds are managed from a financial perspective. It shows the percentage of fund assets that are consumed by expenses related to the administration, management, advertising and all other operating costs. From an investor’s standpoint, a lower ratio is more desirable because the costs are lower, and consequently, the returns may be higher. Another key usefulness of the expense ratio is that it allows for comparability among different funds, offering a standardized measure of cost. Investors can use the expense ratio to compare the effectiveness of different fund managers and make decisions about where to invest their money. This tool can gauge what portion of an investor’s assets would be consumed by fees on an annual basis, enabling them to predict the impact of these costs over time. Therefore, in essence, the expense ratio directly impacts the net earnings an investor gains from a fund and forms an integral part of an investor’s decision-making process.


1. Mutual Funds: Mutual funds typically have an expense ratio which is calculated by dividing the fund’s operating expenses by the average dollar value of its assets under management (AUM). For example, a mutual fund with an expense ratio of 1% means that investors will have to pay $1 for every $100 in the mutual fund. This expense ratio covers manageable costs such as administration costs, advertising costs, and management fees.

2. Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs): ETFs also have an expense ratio, which is utilized to cover costs like management fees, administrative costs, and various operational expenses. An ETF with a lower expense ratio, say 0.20%, is cheaper for investors than an ETF with a higher expense ratio, like 1%. The low cost of ETFs is one of the reasons these have become popular investment instruments.

3. Retirement Plans: Retirement plans like 401(k)s also have expense ratios. These costs include investment advisory fees, administrative costs (like record keeping), and advertising costs. For example, if a 401(k) has an expense ratio of 1.5%, this means that for every $10,000 an employee invests in the fund, the plan will take $150 annually to cover expenses. Therefore, high 401(k) expense ratios can significantly cut into employees’ retirement savings.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is an Expense Ratio?

An Expense Ratio refers to the measure of what it costs an investment company to operate a mutual fund. It is the total of all its operating expenses divided by the average total assets and is expressed as a percentage.

What does an Expense Ratio Include?

The Expense Ratio typically includes administrative costs, management fees, marketing and distribution expenses, and other operational costs incurred by the fund.

How does an Expense Ratio affect the return on my investments?

The Expense Ratio cuts directly into your return. For example, if your fund has a return of 7% for the year and the Expense Ratio is 0.5%, your return effectively would be 6.5%.

Are Lower Expense Ratios always better?

Generally, lower Expense Ratios are better because they leave more of the fund’s performance in your account. However, some funds may justify a higher Expense Ratio with better performance or a unique investment strategy.

How often is the Expense Ratio charged?

The Expense Ratio is charged on an annual basis. While it is not directly billed to investors, it is deducted from the fund’s assets which effectively lowers your return.

Is the Expense Ratio the only cost associated with mutual funds?

No, it’s not the only cost. Mutual funds can also have sales charges or load fees, transaction costs, and sometimes redemption fees. However, the Expense Ratio is the most ongoing cost that eats into your returns over time.

Are Expense Ratios the same for all types of funds?

No, Expense Ratios can vary widely depending on the type of fund. For example, Index funds generally have lower Expense Ratios because they are passively managed, while actively managed funds have higher expense ratios.

Where can I find the Expense ratio for a fund?

The Expense Ratio can be found in a fund’s prospectus, which is a document that details everything you need to know about the fund. These are typically available on the fund company’s website.

Can Expense Ratios change over time?

Yes, Expense Ratios can change annually. This could be because the fund’s assets grow or shrink, the fund’s strategy changes, or the fund company decides to adjust its fees.

Related Finance Terms

  • Operating Expense
  • Management Fees
  • Administrative Costs
  • Portfolio Turnover
  • Net Asset Value (NAV)

Sources for More Information

About Our Editorial Process

At Due, we are dedicated to providing simple money and retirement advice that can make a big impact in your life. Our team closely follows market shifts and deeply understands how to build REAL wealth. All of our articles undergo thorough editing and review by financial experts, ensuring you get reliable and credible money advice.

We partner with leading publications, such as Nasdaq, The Globe and Mail, Entrepreneur, and more, to provide insights on retirement, current markets, and more.

We also host a financial glossary of over 7000 money/investing terms to help you learn more about how to take control of your finances.

View our editorial process

About Our Journalists

Our journalists are not just trusted, certified financial advisers. They are experienced and leading influencers in the financial realm, trusted by millions to provide advice about money. We handpick the best of the best, so you get advice from real experts. Our goal is to educate and inform, NOT to be a ‘stock-picker’ or ‘market-caller.’ 

Why listen to what we have to say?

While Due does not know how to predict the market in the short-term, our team of experts DOES know how you can make smart financial decisions to plan for retirement in the long-term.

View our expert review board

About Due

Due makes it easier to retire on your terms. We give you a realistic view on exactly where you’re at financially so when you retire you know how much money you’ll get each month. Get started today.

Due Fact-Checking Standards and Processes

To ensure we’re putting out the highest content standards, we sought out the help of certified financial experts and accredited individuals to verify our advice. We also rely on them for the most up to date information and data to make sure our in-depth research has the facts right, for today… Not yesterday. Our financial expert review board allows our readers to not only trust the information they are reading but to act on it as well. Most of our authors are CFP (Certified Financial Planners) or CRPC (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor) certified and all have college degrees. Learn more about annuities, retirement advice and take the correct steps towards financial freedom and knowing exactly where you stand today. Learn everything about our top-notch financial expert reviews below… Learn More