I'm thinking about putting my money into Dreyfus (DTGRX) - Get BNY Mellon Tech Growth A Report Premier Technology Growth. Do you think this fund will continue to show the amazing return that it is currently enjoying? Last year it went up 98%. This year, how high do you think it will climb? -- Mike Pollack

Mike,

I can't tell you how this fund will perform in the future, but I can say that if you buy this fund, you might be paying additional (and arguably unnecessary) fees in the form of a sales load.

A load "doesn't go toward better performance. In fact, it detracts dollar for dollar from your return," says John Markese, president of the

American Association of Individual Investors

. "You aren't buying better managers or better analysis. It is a marketing charge, basically."

Yep.

The A shares of this fund carry an upfront sales charge of 5.75%, which comes right out of your initial investment. With the fund's Class B shares, you avoid that hefty front-end charge, but the shares carry a 4% redemption fee if you sell within two years. (That fee disappears after six years.) The C shares carry a 1% redemption fee for shares sold within the first year of purchase. And both the B and C shares have an annual 12b-1 marketing fee of 0.75%, which makes the annual operating expenses of these shares higher than those of the A shares.

Load or not, I can certainly see why you would be attracted to this fund. Last year, the fund's 98.4% return ranked second among science and technology funds tracked by

Lipper

. This year, the fund's 37.6% return ranks eighth among 49 funds in the category.

The fund, which opened in October 1997, does not have a long track record. Lead manager Mark Herskovitz has been at Dreyfus since 1996. Previously, he was a trust investment officer at

National City Bank

. Dreyfus couldn't make him available for an interview, saying he was traveling.

When the fund first opened, it was no-load. Unfortunately, you didn't get into this fund before it added loads in April. Patrice Kozlowski, a Dreyfus spokeswoman, says the firm added the load for "for increased distribution capabilities." That means most of the loads will go to the brokers, financial advisers and other intermediaries who encourage their clients to invest in the fund. Simply, this new distribution channel should increase sales of the fund.

Increasing numbers of mutual fund investors are buying their funds through brokers and advisers. According to

Financial Research Corp.

in Boston, direct sales of funds topped out in the mid-1990s at 45% of all sales. That number should drop to 35% next year and 20% by the year 2005. "The growth part of the market is the advice-giving market, and growth in the no-load market is slowing," says Henry McVey, an analyst at

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

.

But this does not mean that you have to pay a load. To avoid paying the sales charge on this Dreyfus fund or any other fund that carries a load, you may want to buy it through a fee-based adviser or a fee-based account like a wrap account that you get from a brokerage firm. This Dreyfus fund is sold at net asset value (read: without the load) in these types of arrangements.

Some financial professionals will argue that there is nothing wrong with paying a load if you are getting advice that is worth the extra charge. It is easy to say, "Make sure you are getting some value for the 5.75%." But that statement is difficult to quantify.

"We think a fee-based arrangement is a vastly better way to go than paying by the transaction because it is a lot easier to determine the objectivity of the adviser in that arrangement," says Charlie Bevis, a senior writer for Financial Research Corp. When a load goes to a broker, you can't be sure whether he put you in the fund because it's a good one or because he wants to collect the commission.

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Also,

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

recently said it is making fee-based brokerage accounts the centerpiece of its offerings as part of its move into online trading. And this move could push the other brokerage firms toward more fee-based arrangements. Merrill, for example, expects to charge 0.2% to 1% annually, based on the type and size of assets, in its new fee-based accounts.

When you're shopping for a fund, some professionals will tell you to first look for a fund with comparable performance and characteristics that does not carry a load. Among the top performers are the

Firsthand

family of funds (

Technology Innovators

,

(TLFQX)

Technology Leaders and

(TVFQX)

Technology Value). Firsthand Value, the oldest, has shown an average annual return of 47% over the past five years.

If you desperately want to own the Dreyfus fund, try to buy it without the load. Or look for a comparable fund with a lower load. The

Fidelity Select

funds, which encompass an assortment of technology portfolios, carry loads of only 3% -- on the low end of the scale -- and you can buy them directly from Fidelity. Fidelity

(FDCPX) - Get Fidelity Select Computers Report

Select Computer has a long track record and has returned an average of 27.1% annually over the past 10 years.

Unfortunately, the science-and-technology fund field is small -- there are fewer than two dozen that have five-year track records -- and most sport sales charges. At least some of Fidelity's tech funds have long track records, something missing with many of the tech funds out there.

Then again, maybe you think the load is worth the advice. Your call.

Send your questions and comments, along with your full name, to

deardagen@thestreet.com.

Dear Dagen aims to provide general fund information. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell funds or other securities.