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Figuring out how your funds have performed isn't always easy. Be with a little figuring, it can be done.

"How's my fund doing?" is one of the most frequently asked questions the Vanguard Group gets and the impetus behind their recently introduced booklet "Measuring Mutual Fund Performance". It's the latest in their "Plain Talk" series of booklets and is free for the asking by calling 1-800-869-3548.

Throughout the 22-page booklet you can learn all sorts of things from what total return is to the various ways that funds make money for their shareholders as well as ways to measure a fund's volatility and check its performance against various benchmarks.

One point from the booklet that often gets overlooked:"The total return data for funds that charge sales commission (or "loads") do not include the effect of the sales charges---which reduce the actual return you receive".

That means, for performance numbers and rankings published by mutual fund research companies like Lipper, Inc. and Morningstar, if the fund you've invested in is a no-load fund, the total return you'll see will be right on for the time period covered. But in the case of load funds, the total returns will actually be lower.

If you're wondering why this is so, the pros say it's because calculating load-adjusted returns on load funds would mean having to know things like when someone invested in a fund and what amount of sales charge they paid. Both hard facts to come by.

"The way we handle it is the percentile rankings are not-load adjusted, but we do load-adjust for calculations in the star ratings and on the Morningstar pages of load funds we show both," says Scott Cooley, domestic equity analyst at Morningstar.

When it comes to calculating the load-adjustments, Morningstar uses the maximum load an investor would pay. While that's an easy-to-get number and does provide investors with a load-adjusted total return figure, it doesn't tell the whole performance number story either. According to 1997 figures from the Investment Company Institute, the average maximum load for equity funds was 5 percent but the actual average load investors paid was 2.3 percent.

At Lipper, Inc. the total return numbers there also are not load-adjusted. "Everybody pays a different load depending upon how much money they've invested in a fund," says A. Michael Lipper, chairman of the firm bearing his name.

So what's all of this mean to fund investors? A couple of things. First, don't always believe what you see. If, for instance, you're researching funds and comparing them based on past performance figures, it's important to know whether or not the fund's you are comparing are load or no-load."You have to know their total costs including load, when comparing," says Lipper. Total costs include things like a fund's annual expenses, 12 b-1 fees and its load, if it has one.

Second, know that load funds can't hide their load-adjusted performance figures.

"There are SEC guidelines requiring load fund families to show load-adjusted performance figures on the sales materials that go out to interested and existing shareholders," says William Benintende, a vice president at John Hancock Funds.

And third, the world of mutual fund performance figures isn't a perfect one. But to keep from getting unnecessarily caught up in this performance bailiwick, remember it isn't the advertised fund performance that counts the most, it's the return you're getting.

"For investors to know how much they've made, they need to know how when they started their fund investment, the time period they are calculating it through, and how much they paid in sales charges," says Benintende.

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