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The Canadian Financial Advisor

The Cost of “Tax-Free” Corporate Class Fund Switches

Benjamin Felix

A mutual fund can be structured as a trust or as a corporation. While most mutual funds in Canada are structured as trusts, it is common for financial advisors to pitch their clients on the merits of corporate class funds. When mutual funds are structured as trusts, each fund is its own separate entity. When mutual fund families are structured as corporations, each fund in the family is a class of shares within a single corporation. The pitch for corporate class funds is that within a fund family the investor is free to move their capital across the various mutual funds without triggering a taxable disposition. The disposition will only occur when the investor eventually sells shares of the corporation, leaving the fund family altogether. Although the idea of tax-deferred switching between funds is a good sales pitch, the wise investor will look deeper.

Mutual fund investors realize capital gains in two ways:

When the fund manager sells a security held by the fund at a gain, it is distributed to unit holders as a capital gains distribution at the end of the year (type 1 gains);

When a mutual fund investor sells units in a mutual fund for more than they originally bought them for, they realize a capital gain (type 2 gain).

Mutual funds use something called the capital gain refund mechanism to reduce the potential for double taxation of unit holders. It has the intention of reducing capital gains distributions (type 1 gains) by the amount of gains realized by the investors who sold their holdings of the fund (type 2 gains). Under the trust structure, any time a unit holder moves out of a fund, their realized gains (type 2 gains) will reduce the amount of capital gains distributed to remaining unit holders (type 1 gains); in a mutual fund trust type 2 gains reduce type 1 gains. Under the corporate class structure, unit holders can switch between funds without having to sell, eliminating much of the type 2 gains. Reduced type 2 gains increases the amount of type 1 gains that must be distributed to unit holders at year end.

The ability to switch between funds without incurring taxes sounds good, but it is ultimately just a gimmick shifting how and to who capital gains will flow. Corporate class funds create an environment where type 2 gains are being deferred at the cost of higher type 1 gains.

This blog post is based on a white paper from Dimensional Fund Advisors, download the full paper here.

Original post at pwlcapital.com