Reading a Mutual Fund Prospectus

Decoding information in a prospectus

When you purchase shares of a mutual fund, the fund must provide you with a prospectus. But you can-and should-request and read a fund's prospectus before you invest. The prospectus is the fund's primary selling document and contains valuable information, such as the fund's investment objectives or goals, principal strategies for achieving those goals, principal risks of investing in the fund, fees and expenses, and past performance. The prospectus also identifies the fund's managers and advisers and describes its organization and how to purchase and redeem shares. The prospectus also acts as an "owner's manual" after you've invested in a fund.

While they may seem daunting at first, mutual fund prospectuses contain a treasure trove of valuable information. The SEC requires funds to include specific categories of information in their prospectuses and to present key data (such as fees and past performance) in a standard format so that investors can more easily compare different funds.

Here's some of what you'll find in mutual fund prospectuses:

    * Date of Issue-The date of the prospectus should appear on the front cover. Mutual funds must update their prospectuses at least once a year, so always check to make sure you're looking at the most recent version.

      Risk/Return Bar Chart and Table-Near the front of the prospectus, right after the fund's narrative description of its investment objectives or goals, strategies, and risks, you'll find a bar chart showing the fund's annual total returns for each of the last 10 years (or for the life of the fund if it is less than 10 years old). All funds that have had annual returns for at least one calendar year must include this chart.

      Except in limited circumstances, funds also must include a table that sets forth returns-both before and after taxes-for the past 1-, 5-, and 10-year periods. The table will also include the returns of an appropriate broad-based index for comparison purposes. Here's what the table will look like:

            1-year     5-year
      (or life
      of fund)     10-year
      (or life
      of fund)
      Return before taxes                                                        ___%     ___%     ___%

      Return after taxes on distributions                                     ___%     ___%     ___%

      Return after taxes on distributions and sale of fund shares     ___%     ___%     ___%
      (reflects no deductions for [fees, expenses, or expenses])     ___%     ___%     ___%

      Note: Be sure to read any footnotes or accompanying explanations to make sure that you fully understand the data the fund provides in the bar chart and table. Also, bear in mind that the bar chart and table for a multiple-class fund (that offers more than one class of fund shares in the prospectus) will typically show performance data and returns for only one class.

      Fee Table-Following the performance bar chart and annual returns table, you'll find a table that describes the fund's anticipated annual fees and expenses. These include the shareholder fees and annual fund operating expenses described in greater detail in our publication on Mutual Fund Fees and Expenses. The fee table includes an example that will help you compare costs among different funds by showing you the costs associated with investing a hypothetical $10,000 over a 1-, 3-, 5-, and 10-year period.

      Financial Highlights-This section, which generally appears towards the back of the prospectus, contains audited data concerning the fund's financial performance for each of the past 5 years. Here you'll find net asset values (for both the beginning and end of each period), total returns, and various ratios, including the ratio of expenses to average net assets, the ratio of net income to average net assets, and the portfolio turnover rate.

    * Shareholder Information -The prospectus contains information on how to purchase and redeem shares of a fund. This section contains information on whether the fund requires shareholders to maintain a minimum account balance, and discloses the fund’s minimum initial or subsequent purchase amounts, if any. In addition, it contains important information on the tax consequences of buying, holding, selling or exchanging the fund’s shares.

    * File Number - Each fund is required to provide a file number on the back page of its prospectus. This file number, which begins with 811-, is used to catalog all of the fund’s filings in the SEC’s EDGAR database, and can be used to find documents the fund has filed with the SEC. To search for information using a fund’s file number, visit our EDGAR database.