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The Cheapest No-Load Fund Families

Vanguard tops the list, while Firsthand and Gabelli bring up the rear.

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If investors learned anything during the past year's uncertain, bearish stock market, they should have appreciated that there are some things they can't control. Owning so-called must-have stocks like Yahoo (YHOO) or Cisco Systems (CSCO), or giving your money to widely lauded managers such as Firsthand Funds' Kevin Landis or Legg Mason Value's (LMATX) Bill Miller, did not protect you from losses in 2000.

Take heart, though. Markets, at times, can seem incoherent and capricious, but expenses can be predicted accurately year after year. This is why Morningstar and other savvy fund shoppers incessantly say costs should be of paramount importance to mutual-fund investors. Avoiding exorbitant expense ratios, sales commissions (or loads), and other costs is a simple way to enhance long-term returns, because over time, investors who sacrifice less of their returns to fees tend to do better than those who pay up.

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Dan Culloton does not own (actual or beneficial) shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.