Investors in Eaton Vance Corp.'s tax-exempt mutual funds will begin seeing lower dividends in December as the result of a new Internal Revenue Service ruling, a company executive said yesterday.

The IRS on Nov. 4 issued Revenue Ruling 94-70, which requires that mutual fund companies deduct their sales and marketing fees from income, rather than from principal. The ruling affects the way Eaton Vance and a few other mutual fund companies calculate 12b-1 fees, and is expected to result in a reduction in shareholders' dividends.

Although the ruling doesn't take effect until April 1, 1995, Eaton Vance is altering its accounting methods now and investors will see slightly lower dividends at the next payout on Dec. 15, said James B. Hawkes, an Eaton Vance executive vice president.

The company preferred to use the old accounting method because it offered its municipal fund shareholders more tax-exempt income and lower capital gains, he said.

If 12b-1 fees are deducted from principal, more of a fund's tax-exempt income is passed on to investors as dividends. The accounting method also produces lower capital gains, and a lower net asset value. The total return, however, is not affected.

The accounting change will cause funds' dividends to decrease slightly, while the net asset value will rise, Hawkes said.

Eaton Vance charges 12b-1 fees of 75 basis points annually. The effect on a fund with a $10 net asset value and seven percent annual distribution, for example, would be a decrease in the dividend of about seven and a half cents each year, Hawkes said.

Most mutual fund companies already comply with the ruling. Other fund companies which use the accounting practice are Federated Investors, Pilgrim Group and Keystone Group.

Eaton Vance has 74 tax-exempt mutual funds and one money market fund, and has more than $9 billion in assets. The bulk of its municipal funds charge 12b-1 fees and will be affected, Hawkes said.

Ten Keystone tax-exempt funds with about $2.2 billion in assets will be affected by the revenue ruling, a spokesman said. He declined to comment on how soon the company would implement the accounting change.

Federated has 41 municipal funds with about $3 billion in assets. A spokesman said he didn't know how many of the funds would be affected by the ruling.

Pilgrim couldn't be reached for immediate comment.

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