Understanding Mutual Fund Share Classes

Your returns may differ depending on your mutual fund share class.

A graphic of financial statements and charts including the words "mutual funds."
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You have to be careful in the supermarket cookie aisle. If you’re in a hurry and thoughtlessly grab a package of Oreos, you might get a rude surprise at home when you bite into an unexpected flavor from the company’s growing menu, such as peanut butter, birthday cake or lemon.

The need for vigilance is greater — and the stakes higher — when you’re shopping for mutual funds. Fund firms have a dizzying array of share classes for their funds. If you find a fund you like, you may have to decide which of its varieties is right for you. Different companies offer different options, but the share classes you might see include A, ADV, B, C, F, I, J, K, L, M, N, R, S, T, V, W, Y and Z. 

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Kim Clark
Senior Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Kim Clark is a veteran financial journalist who has worked at Fortune, U.S News & World Report and Money magazines. She was part of a team that won a Gerald Loeb award for coverage of elder finances, and she won the Education Writers Association's top magazine investigative prize for exposing insurance agents who used false claims about college financial aid to sell policies. As a Kiplinger Fellow at Ohio State University, she studied delivery of digital news and information. Most recently, she worked as a deputy director of the Education Writers Association, leading the training of higher education journalists around the country. She is also a prize-winning gardener, and in her spare time, picks up litter.