If you're tired of paying taxes on mutual fund distributions, you might want to consider investing through a separately managed account.These products can give you access to some of the same investment strategies used in mutual funds, but unlike funds, you pay taxes only when you actually sell your holdings. The investment minimums on separately managed accounts have been steadily falling, so they're no longer reserved for the very wealthy. F-Squared Investments of Wellesley, Mass., recently started offering a handful of products with one of the lowest minimums around: $15,000. That's at the higher end of the minimums on mutual funds aimed at retail investors. Many separately managed accounts require you to pony up at least $100,000. But it's hard for people with even $1 million or more to diversify across several investment strategies when the minimums are this high. Howard Present, president and CEO of F-Squared, says that with a $15,000 minimum, an investor with as little as $100,000 to $200,000 can enter the club. The fees on F-Squared's new offerings, which it calls "individually managed accounts," are also a very low 55 basis points, or 0.55% of assets. Present says that's about half of what the average separately managed account costs. What's so great about separately managed accounts? You actually own the underlying securities. That means you won't incur a capital gain unless the securities are sold at a profit -- although you may get a tax bill for stock dividends or interest on bonds.
By comparison, with mutual funds you are buying shares in a pooled investment vehicle that must distribute the capital gains it makes at least once a year. So you could get a tax bill for profits the fund made before you invested (though it all comes out in the wash; you can use these payments to offset your final tax bill when you sell the fund shares). Currently, F-Squared offers just five strategies -- large-cap core, large-cap growth, small-cap value, small-cap growth and a financials strategy. All are based on indices of actively managed mutual funds. They use a proprietary formula to replicate the holdings of the top-performing managers. You can't sign up for one of these accounts on your own; you must do it through a registered investment adviser or a broker-dealer. And it may be relatively difficult to find one that offers the accounts, because F-Squared is making them available only via the FolioFN trading and custody platform. Many smaller, independent advisers prefer to consolidate client accounts on a single large platform such as those offered by Fidelity Investments or Charles Schwab ( SCHW - Get Report). And larger broker-dealers typically offer only their own, proprietary, separately managed accounts. Present says FolioFN offers the capability to trade factions of shares, which may be necessary with smaller accounts. F-Squared's individually managed accounts aren't the only option for smaller investors. Steve Deutsch, director of separate accounts at Morningstar, says minimums on separately managed accounts have been coming down all over, and $15,000 isn't necessary the lowest out there. "The norm is still $100,000, but $25,000 is not unheard of," he says.
Morningstar doesn't yet track F-Squared's new accounts. Keep in mind that there is another investment vehicle with the same tax advantages as separately managed accounts that is much more widely available than F-Squared's new products: exchange-traded funds. These are baskets of securities that trade throughout the day on an exchange, like stocks. And like stocks -- or separately managed accounts -- you make a capital gain only when you sell an ETF at a profit. Until recently, all of the ETFs available in the U.S. tracked indices, and so were more or less passively managed. But the first actively managed ETFs hit the market earlier this year.