What Are Mutual Fund Class B Shares?

Mutual Fund Class B Shares Explained

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Mutual fund Class B shares may be one class of shares that investors can purchase when investing in a mutual fund. They do not have a front-end sales charge (like many Class A shares do), but they often have a sales charge when shares are sold. This is why Class B shares are also known as back-loaded shares.

Learn how Class B shares work, what makes them different from Class A and Class C shares, and whether they’re right for your portfolio.

Definition and Examples of Mutual Fund Class B Shares

Many mutual funds offer various classes of shares for purchase. They’re typically categorized as Class A, Class B, and Class C shares. Each class of shares follows the same investment strategy and holds the same portfolio of securities.

Each share class requires management and operating fees, and many share classes also include a 12b-1 fee. The differences among share classes are in the mutual fund fees and expenses. Because the different classes have different fees, the class shares will have different performance results.

For example, the AIG Multi-Asset Allocation Fund offers Class A, Class B, and Class C shares for investors.

How Mutual Fund Class B Shares Work

Mutual fund B shares do not require front-end sales charges, but carry a contingent deferred sales charge (CDSC) and have a higher 12b-1 fee (12b-1 fees are capped at 1%) than other mutual fund share classes. 12b-1 fees are paid by mutual funds to brokers to compensate them for marketing and selling their fund shares. CDSCs are imposed on shareholders who sell their shares in the fund during the surrender period.

Generally, owning mutual fund Class B shares may be more expensive than holding Class A shares over four to eight years, and always more expensive than holding low-cost, no-load funds.

CDSCs are not paid to advisors, but to the fund company to cover various costs, including the upfront commissions the fund pays to advisors. They’re typically, 4% to 5%, but the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) caps front-end and back-end sales loads at 8.5%. Investors do not see these upfront commissions charged by funds that are paid to the advisors who offer the fund shares for purchase.

Specific CDSCs are outlined in the mutual fund’s prospectus and the cost depends on how long the investor holds their shares. Many mutual fund Class B shares have a CDSC that is eliminated, typically, within seven years but the duration could vary. Also, mutual fund Class B shares often convert to Class A shares (which carry no surrender charges and have lower 12b-1 fees) within that time frame.

Class A vs. Class B vs. Class C Shares

If you compare various mutual fund share classes, you might be given a set of scenarios whereby mutual fund Class B shares look more attractive than other share classes of the same fund.

The FINRA Fund Analyzer may allow you to see when a lower investment over a longer period of time may be more appropriate for Class B shares than Class A shares (which include upfront sales commissions and breakpoints) and C shares (which incur higher 12b-1 fees).

As with any investment, the devil can often be found in the details—as well as unforeseen circumstances. It’s wise to remain cautious when using hypothetical scenarios to determine the best investment for your portfolio.

FINRA’s Fund Analyzer and similar tools may be accurate when simply comparing the fee structures of Class A, Class B, and Class C shares, but they may fail to take other factors into consideration.

For example, what happens if changes to fund management or investment strategy leave you wanting to sell your shares after only a short period of time? If you need to sell a particular mutual fund’s B shares sooner than you expected to, you might be able to switch from one fund to the B class of another fund within the same fund family without incurring surrender penalties (but, you still may incur capital gains and an exchange fee). The question then becomes whether the fund family in which you purchased the original mutual fund B shares has another adequate mutual fund. Will you be forced to settle with a mediocre fund in order to avoid surrender charges?

This chart provides a breakdown of the key elements of each class of mutual fund shares.

Class A Shares Class B Shares Class C Shares
Often has a front-end charge No front-end charge but often a 4% to 5% back-end charge May have front- or back-end charge, but lower than Class A or B
12b-1 fee is usually lower than Class B shares 12b-1 fees may disappear if shares are held long enough (typically seven years) 12b-1 fee is often higher and permanent
Sales charge may decrease with larger amounts invested Shares may convert to Class A shares if held long enough Shares may never convert to higher class of shares

Pros and Cons of Investing in Mutual Fund Class B Shares

There will always be advisors, and maybe even investors, who want to debate whether choosing mutual fund B shares is a poor decision, arguing that they are suitable for investors in certain circumstances. On the positive side, Class B shares do not have a front-end sales charge and may convert to Class A shares if they are held long enough.

The downside of Class B shares is incurring the back-end sales charge if you do not hold the shares long enough. 

Class B shares do not offer discounts for larger investments, and they typically have higher expense ratios than Class A shares.

Unfortunately, the way B shares are explained and the way they are sold is a major problem facing investors today. Millions of dollars in restitution have been paid to investors for suitability issues over the years due to actions of the SEC, while FINRA has also fined and censured numerous brokerage firms after recommending this particular class of mutual fund shares to investors for whom they are not suitable.

Along this line, mutual fund Class B shares are often mischaracterized as no-load funds, a particular class of mutual funds that do not charge sales loads but can incur other fees. Be wary of working with an advisor who mischaracterizes mutual fund Class B shares. 

What Mutual Fund Class B Shares Mean for Individual Investors

Despite their potential for profitability to advisors, some mutual funds have actually eliminated Class B shares from fund company offerings over the years. This may be due to better-informed mutual fund investors or more scrupulous brokerage firm compliance departments. Whatever the case, you may find that mutual fund Class B shares are no longer offered by a fund.

If you do have the opportunity to invest in Class B shares, tread carefully and make sure you do your research before purchasing. It may also be smart to plan your exit strategy, just in case you ever need to sell.

If and when you do need to sell, you may owe a sales charge (unless you've held the fund for several years). Also, the 12b-1 fees attached during the years you held the fund often increase the cost of B shares, making them more expensive than no-load funds.

Key Takeaways

  • Class B shares have no upfront sales charge, but do have a high back-end sales charge known as a contingent deferred sales charge (CDSC) if you do not hold the shares long enough.
  • The CDSC for Class B mutual fund shares often decreases the longer you hold the shares and may be eliminated after holding shares for seven years.
  • Some Class B mutual fund shares convert to Class A shares if held for a certain period, often seven years.
  • Class B shares also charge higher 12b-1 fees and expense ratios than Class A shares.