Thumbs Down: Real Fund Scandal

No one is defending the shady maneuvers that some mutual fund firms have involved themselves in, but in terms of the cost to the average fund shareholder, some experts note that the amount that investors have lost because of late trading and market timing is small potatoes compared with the robber-baron fees that some funds charge for their services. Estimates of investor losses because of unethical transactions range up to $5 billion, a fraction of the estimated $34 billion in fees that investors are forking over to fund managers in exchange for, in many cases, second-rate stock-picking proficiency. Add sales loads and commissions and the funds' take gets even bigger. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average fund charges a 1.36% annual management fee. Tip: Look for low-cost, no-load funds with bare-bones expense ratios.