If you have money in a mutual fund, it's probably costing you more to invest these days. That's because mutual-fund fees have been inching up in recent years.
The higher fees have come despite the fact that mutual-fund sponsors are making more money than ever before, according to the July issue of Money magazine.
Last year, the average pretax profit margin for large, publicly-traded fund sponsors was a hefty 34 percent, the magazine reported. That compares with 13 percent for banks.
So why aren't the funds passing those profits to investors? In some cases, the answer may be greed.
But investors need not take it sitting down, experts say. If your fund is charging too much, you can always switch.
But first, you must understand what others are paying, on average, to invest in a given type of mutual fund.
To evaluate your fund, look at your fund's total annual expenses, not just management fees. Then compare your costs with the national averages listed below, as reported by Money.
* Equity funds, 0.93 percent.
* Taxable bond funds, 1.03 percent.
* Tax-exempt bonds, 0.69 percent.
* Money market funds, 0.60 percent.
Remember, some funds will charge more than the national averages, and others will charge less.
But be cautious about switching investments: If you sell shares from one fund and move to another, there may be tax consequences.
Also, if you are satisfied with the performance of your fund, don't worry about a small difference in fees.
Now that interest rates have fallen, many consumers are saving money by refinancing their old debts, such as home mortgages, credit cards and personal loans.
So why aren't folks rushing to refinance their auto loans?
Because it probably wouldn't be worth a trip to the bank, said DTC Gary Klott, author of "The Complete Financial Guide to the 1990's."
For example: If a 48-month, $12,000 car loan taken out two years ago at 11.7 percent were refinanced today at 9.9 percent, the monthly payment would shrink by less than $6. And over the remaining 24 months of the loan, the savings would total only $144.
But that savings would be wiped out by loan-origination fees, which could run as high as $125.
Though smaller loans usually don't produce much savings, refinancing can make sense if you have a large debt on a late-model car, Klott said. It also may work if your existing loan carries an unusually high interest rate, or if you can find a bank or credit union with low application fees.