While investing is an essential part of being financially responsible, it’s important to know that it isn’t something you can do for free. There are costs associated with acquiring and owning stocks and bonds to save for your future, so you might as well learn about them now instead of being startled by them on a monthly statement years down the line. Let’s get going.
First off, anyone who buys or sells shares of stock has to pay a commission to the brokerage house facilitating the transaction. Usually that’s between $5-$10—if you do business with Questrade or one of the big banks—but Wealthsimple recently became the first financial institution in Canada to let you trade stocks for free.
If you own shares of a mutual fund or ETF that owns numerous stocks, bonds, or both, you’re going to pay something called a Management Expense Ratio (MER). The MER includes the salaries of investment professionals in charge of overseeing the fund, as well as any associated legal and administrative costs. What you’re charged is a percentage of the money you have invested on a yearly basis. Ex: suppose your fund’s MER is 0.5% per year. That means 0.5% of your investment will be taken by the fund to keep the lights on, usually calculated daily and withdrawn monthly from your balance.
Funds will also charge you a Trading Expense Ratio (TER), which is simply the amount of brokerage commissions the fund incurs to implement its investment strategy. The more stocks and bonds the strategy dictates that they buy and sell, the higher the TER will be.
If your fund engages in active management, that means its portfolio managers try to pick what they consider to be the stocks and bonds with the highest potential return. This tends to entail a hefty research budget to figure out what investment to pick, as well as a higher TER that reflects the buying and selling of these investments as they fall in and out of the research results. In Canada, an active fund will generally cost you 1%-2% of your investment per year all things considered.
If your fund engages in passive management, that means its portfolio managers don’t go to the trouble of trying to make predictions about the best investments to own. They opt instead for owning every stock, bond, or both in the markets they cover, or at the very least a sample or index of them that’s representative of the whole. The managers take this route because they believe that human progress will continue indefinitely, which will be reflected in the long-term rise in value of their stocks and bonds. A passive or index fund in Canada will cost you 0.1%-0.3% per year depending on what parts of the world it covers.
Which style has made investors the most money dependably over time? The evidence is squarely in passive investing’s corner.
Then there’s always the option of hiring a financial advisor to make all of your investment decisions for you. If you truly feel that you don’t have the time or patience to learn by yourself, this is the way to go. An advisor will probably cost you about 1%-1.5% of the value of your investments per year—and that’s on top of any fund MERs and TERs—but the fee is worth it if it frees up your time to do more of the things you love.
Now you have a good working sense of what it costs to invest, making you better prepared to make informed financial decisions.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!
If you are ready to learn how to invest on your own, have a look at my new investing guide for young Canadians. It’ll give you the tools you need to put your money to work in index funds in no more than an afternoon.
I’m also available to teach you 1-on-1 over Zoom if you prefer.
Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult with a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.