UPDATE: Focus on finance

October 10, 2003

Fund fees; dividend increase; pet travel

 

UPDATE

Focus on Finance

By Yvonne Chilik Wollenburg

Jump to:Choose article section...Do you know how much you're paying in fees? Companies are shelling out a bit more Is that fund good for you—or for your broker? Small claims on home insurance could backfire When you can't bear to leave Rover behind

Do you know how much you're paying in fees?

Mutual fund companies should come clean about how much they charge shareholders, say investor advocates; even new rules under consideration by Congress don't go far enough. A mutual fund reform bill approved by the House Financial Services Committee would require the funds to disclose the fees they charge on a hypothetical $1,000 investment—in dollar amounts, rather than as a percentage of assets, as some do now. But Fund Democracy, a shareholder advocacy group, and the Consumer Federation of America want companies to give shareholders individualized reports of how much they are paying in fees.

Companies are shelling out a bit more

Increases in stock dividends among the S&P 500 (combined with tax cuts on these payments) will put an extra $46.7 billion in investors' hands annually, says Standard & Poor's. By July 2003, 152 companies had either introduced new dividend programs or increased the amount of dividends paid to shareholders, with an average increase of 18 percent. The number of companies declaring dividends went up to 365—the highest in 20 years.

Companies that pay dividends generally have better returns than those that don't make regular payouts to shareholders. Between 1980 and 2002, dividend-paying S&P 500 stocks outperformed nonpayers by 2.7 percent a year.

Is that fund good for you—or for your broker?

Investors should know if their broker is getting a bonus for selling a particular mutual fund, says the NASD, a regulatory body for the securities industry. Proposed rules would require that brokers tell investors if they receive a financial incentive from mutual fund companies to sell their products, or if they get more for selling one particular fund than another. Investors would be notified in writing about these payments when they open a brokerage account or purchase shares of a mutual fund. The information would be updated twice a year, and be posted on brokers' Web sites.

Small claims on home insurance could backfire

About four in 10 households were hit with increases in their homeowners' insurance rate within the past two years, says a survey conducted for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Nearly 2.5 million lost their coverage entirely, as insurance companies weeded out homeowners they considered to be bad risks.

To protect your coverage, limit the claims you file. If you have home damage that exceeds your deductible by $200 or less, it's best to pay for the loss out of your own pocket. Ironically, if you do make a small claim, you could end up paying more in premium increases than in repair costs.

When you can't bear to leave Rover behind

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which operates Westin, Sheraton, and W hotels, is opening its doors to dogs and intends to pamper them. Extra amenities, such as complimentary toys, will vary within the chains, but all the hotels will have custom-designed doggy beds, food and water bowls, and ID tags waiting.

Pet owners can find more than 18,000 hotels, motels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts in the US and Canada that welcome pets, by searching Web sites such: www.petsonthego.com, www.petswelcome.com; www.bringyourpet.com, and www.travelpets.com. Try more than one site if you're planning a trip, because they don't all list the same properties.

 

Yvonne Wollenberg. UPDATE: Focus on finance. Medical Economics Oct. 10, 2003;80:17.