Here is why understanding these fees is important. If Sally’s account
statement said she lost 5% for the quarter she actually only lost 3.82%
since the 5% also includes the 1.18% fee. If her statement says she earned
5% she actually earned 6.18%, but 1.18% of her fund’s value was taken as a
“net expense ratio” fee.
How a 1% 401(k) fee really equals 28%
Consider this example quoted in the article “Cracking Down On 401(k)
Fees” by Sharon Epperson on the CNBC website: "Assume you are an
employee with 35 years until retirement and a current 401(k) account
balance of $25,000. If returns on investments in your account over
the next 35 years average 7 percent and fees and expenses reduce
your average returns by 0.5 percent, your account balance will grow
to $227,000 at retirement, even if there are no further
contributions to your account. If fees and expenses are 1.5 percent,
however, your account balance will grow to only $163,000. The 1
percent difference in fees and expenses would reduce your account
balance at retirement by 28 percent." Have you asked your HR
Department or Plan Advisor what your net expense ratio is?
Additional 401(k) Fees
There will also be a third party involved in your 401(k)
transactions, in addition to your plan advisor and your employer. This
third party administrator may host the website that provides you account
information, keep records regarding your account, and handles such
administrative tasks like dispersing funds for retirement, mailing
statements, or facilitating hardship loan paperwork. These third parties
will often charge “incidental” or transaction fees, such as a dispersement
fee or check fee, when you conduct withdrawal or transferring business on
More hits on 401k growth
As demonstrated in the CNBC example, fees can reduce or stunt your
accounts growth. However, there are other factors that can work against
your 401(k) as well.
Loss of employer match: During the Great Recession many employers
started trimming benefits with items that didn’t have an immediate hurtful
impact on wages. One of the first benefits on the table was 401(k)
matching. Without an employer’s matching contribution the luster of a
401(k) account starts to fade, as there are other retirement investments
you can contribute to that allow you to take a tax deduction, such as a
traditional IRA account.
Hardship withdrawals and loans: Another effect of the recession was
a sharp increase in 401(k) hardship withdrawals and loans. Money withdrawn
from a 401(k) account, even for hardships, is subject to tax and a 10%
penalty. If your income is decreasing and your employer’s matching benefit
is gone, you may need to reevaluate the amount you are investing for
retirement if financial hardship is on the horizon.
(Fidelity: 401(k) hardship withdrawals and loans are up, David Pitt, USA
Loss of account value: Many retirement accounts, hit by a failing
economy in 2008 and 2009 had their values reduced 30-50%. That lost value
could take many years to recoup. Even when the value of your account
drops, fees are still deducted from the account each year, producing a
double negative hit.
Substandard investment management: Not all funds are created equal.
How does your investment match up to others? Peggy M., commenting on a
Smart Spending article regarding disclosure of 401(k) fees, said she put
3% of her paycheck into a 401(k) fund for 12 years and had accumulated
almost no gains. Brightscope.com provides an online tool that allows you
to compare your company’s 401(k) plan to the plans of other companies. How
does your match up?
(“401k fees exposed – finally”, Stacy Johnson, MSN Smart Spending)
If you are investing in a 401(k) retirement plan find out what fees are
deducted from your account each year. If your employer is still matching
your contributions a 401(k) investment is tough to beat. However, if you
are an employee who has lost that benefit, you should reevaluate your
401(k) investment with the questions listed below, for example.
Has your fund gained or lost value over the last 5 years? How does your
fund’s performance and fees compare to other options you may have? Are you
financially in a position to invest in a retirement account right now, or
should that money go to other pressing needs, such as medical bills, high
interest debt, or housing?
Even with the new disclosure laws set to begin soon, take the time to
educate yourself on the true costs of your 401(k) and other options you
may have. Having all the information available to you allows you to make
the best decisions for your future.