Plugging the holes in your retirement bucket

Per US Department of Labor, a 1 % higher 401k plan fees and expenses could reduce your balance at retirement by 28% over a 35-year career. That’s a big deal!  !  As not all employers match employee contribution, people are looking to advisors for answers (and ironically paying hefty fees to find ways to reduce fees).  

Most common fees you will see in your 401k account are:

1. Administrative fees

These fees are charged by the entity (bank, brokerage, financial institution) that manages your 401k plan.  It’s for paying employees, maintaining the website, and other expenses necessary to keep your account up and running.  Some employers will pay this fee for you while others will pass it on to you either as a flat fee or a percentage of your total balance.  We are not suggesting to look for a new job if your employer is not picking up these fees. However, it would be helpful for you to know how much is being charged and you’re not surprised on retirement day

2. Service fees

These fees are levied by the trustee and are incurred for services such as rolling over your 401k investments to an IRA, approving a loan from 401k account or other financial advisory services.  So before you do anything other than reallocating investments within your 401k, check how much fees you will incur.

3. Investment fees

Investment fees are charged by the institution that manages a specific fund or investment.  For instance, if you buy shares of a mutual fund through your 401k, the mutual fund provider charges an investment fee to cover its expenses of managing that fund.  Information on these fees are explained in fine print in the fund’s prospectus.  A rule of thumb is that an actively managed fund (where somebody’s job is to choose investments and buy and sell them) will generally have much higher fees than a passively managed one (where the fund typically mirrors an index of some type).  Therefore, investing in index funds and index ETFs will keep your investment fees lower.

Disclosure requirements

Fee disclosure is required by law.  Under the fee disclosure rule that is enforced by the US Department of Labor, plan administrators are required to mail you a quarterly statement showing your investments’ rate of returns, fees and expenses, including any amounts deducted from your account to cover administrative fees.  Look out for that!

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