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Trailer Fee Definition, How It Works, Pros/Cons, Examples Trailer Fee Definition, How It Works, Pros/Cons, Examples


Trailer Fee Definition, How It Works, Pros/Cons, Examples

Learn about the trailer fee in finance, including its definition, how it works, pros, cons, and examples.

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What are Trailer Fees?

When it comes to investing, many people are unfamiliar with the term “trailer fees.” So, what exactly are trailer fees and how do they work? In this article, we will explore the definition of trailer fees, how they work, their pros and cons, and also provide some examples to help you understand them better.

Key Takeaways

  • Trailer fees are recurring payments made by mutual fund companies to financial advisors for ongoing services and advice provided to their clients.
  • These fees are typically a percentage of the assets under management and are paid out on a regular basis.

Definition of Trailer Fees

Trailer fees, also known as “trailing commissions,” are recurring payments made by mutual fund companies to financial advisors for the ongoing services and advice they provide to their clients who have invested in those mutual funds. These fees are called “trailer fees” because they “trail” the performance of the investment.

Investors often have a long-term commitment to mutual funds, and financial advisors play a crucial role in providing guidance and support throughout the investment journey. To compensate financial advisors for their ongoing services, mutual fund companies pay them trailer fees, which are a percentage of the assets under management.

Trailer fees are paid out on a regular basis, typically quarterly or annually, and are calculated based on the average value of the assets under management during that period. These fees are usually a recurring source of income for financial advisors and are intended to reward them for their ongoing effort in managing client investments.

How Trailer Fees Work

Now that we understand the definition of trailer fees, let’s dive deeper into how they actually work:

  1. Investor purchases mutual fund: An investor decides to invest in a mutual fund and seeks the assistance of a financial advisor.
  2. Financial advisor recommends mutual fund: The financial advisor recommends a mutual fund to the investor based on their investment goals, risk tolerance, and other factors.
  3. Investor agrees to invest: The investor agrees to invest in the recommended mutual fund and signs the necessary paperwork.
  4. Trailer fee agreement: As part of the investment process, an agreement is made between the mutual fund company and the financial advisor, specifying the trailer fee percentage.
  5. Trailer fees paid out: Once the investment is made, the mutual fund company pays the agreed-upon trailer fees to the financial advisor on a regular basis. The fees are calculated as a percentage of the assets under management.

This cycle of trailer fees continues as long as the investor keeps their money invested in the mutual fund and the financial advisor continues to provide services and advice.

Pros and Cons of Trailer Fees

Like any financial arrangement, trailer fees have their own set of pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look:

Pros of Trailer Fees:

  • Compensation for ongoing services: Trailer fees provide financial advisors with a recurring source of income for the ongoing services they provide. This incentivizes them to continually monitor and manage their clients’ investments.
  • Access to professional advice: Investors benefit from having access to professional financial advice and guidance throughout their investment journey. Financial advisors can help clients make informed decisions, keep track of market changes, and adjust investment strategies accordingly.

Cons of Trailer Fees:

  • Cost to investors: Trailer fees are ultimately paid by the investors. These fees can reduce an investor’s overall return and may not always align with the level of advice or service received.
  • Potential conflict of interest: Some critics argue that trailer fees can create a conflict of interest for financial advisors. They may be incentivized to recommend mutual funds with higher trailer fee percentages, even if those funds might not be the best fit for the investor’s specific needs.

Examples of Trailer Fees

To understand trailer fees better, here are a couple of examples:

  1. An investor has $100,000 invested in a mutual fund with a 1% trailer fee. The financial advisor would receive $1,000 in trailer fees annually.
  2. Another investor has $250,000 invested in a mutual fund with a 0.5% trailer fee. In this case, the financial advisor would earn $1,250 in trailer fees annually.

Note that these examples are for illustrative purposes only and do not take into account any other fees or expenses associated with mutual funds.


Trailer fees are an integral part of the mutual fund landscape. They allow financial advisors to be compensated for their ongoing services, while investors benefit from professional advice and guidance. It is important for investors to understand the pros and cons of trailer fees and consider them in relation to their own investment goals and preferences.

By understanding how trailer fees work and their potential impact on investment returns, investors can make more informed decisions about their investment strategies and the financial advisors they choose to work with.