We research all brands listed and may earn a fee from our partners. Research and financial considerations may influence how brands are displayed. Not all brands are included. Learn more.

Get ready for higher mutual fund fees.

Morningstar reports that expense ratios will likely climb in 2009. As investors yanked money out of the market in the last year, fund asset levels declined. At the end of February, for example, mutual funds held $5.9 trillion, down from $8 trillion at the start of 2008, according to Morningstar. Since a fund's expense ratio reflects total fees divided by assets, it's not surprising that fees are on the rise.

It's just painful -- and a dubious approach for winning back investors hit by losses of 50% or more.

Granted, expense ratios may climb by only a few basis points. But in a market where positive returns are scarce, slight increments are felt. If you own a fund where the expense ratio already was high, you may want to reconsider your position. In 2008, the average fee for a U.S. stock fund was 1.6%. For an international stock fund the average was 1.8%, and for a taxable bond fund, 1.3%, according to Morningstar.

Getting below the average can minimize the pain. Vanguard--yes, even this fee-conscious shop--is raising the expense ratio on some of its funds, including Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt (ticker: VWITX), a Money 70 pick. The new fee is 0.20%, up from 0.15%. At that level, however, you're not giving up too much money. Let's say the fund manages a 5% return this year (hey, it's a hypothetical). On $10,000, the higher fees cost you only an additional $5.

--Carolyn Bigda