The Frugal Financial Small Business 401(k) Blog
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Two weeks ago, Equifax – one of the country’s biggest credit reporting agencies – announced that its systems were hacked by cybercriminals, exposing the Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver's license numbers of 143 million Americans. Unfortunately, this huge data breach was not unprecedented. The personal information for 1 billion Yahoo users and 145 million eBay users was exposed in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
When I started my 401(k) career in the mid-1990’s, employers who sponsored a 401(k) plan with little to no assets had few 401(k) provider options. The options they had – generally, brokerage and insurance companies – treated 401(k) plans like a one-size-fits-all product by restricting fund options to expensive funds (usually proprietary) that charged a minimum amount of hidden 401(k) fees and plan designs to basic options that could be administered cheaply. Because of their hidden fees, the value of these high-profit products was rarely scrutinized by 401(k) plan sponsors. Today, small 401(k) plans have much better provider options available. Thanks to DOL fee disclosure rules and some high-profile 401(k) fee lawsuits, employers are scrutinizing 401(k) fees now more than ever and that’s forcing 401(k) providers to deliver more valuable services for lower fees. This trend has made providers that treat 401(k) plans like a service - not a product - affordable to 401(k) plans of any size. Instead of restrictions, these providers offer impartial fund advice, consultative plan design expertise and personalized customer service – often for lower fees!
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The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a 401(k)-like plan for Federal employees. By combining index funds and low cost administration services, the TSP offers participants professionally-managed market returns with very low drag from expenses. In an Aspen Institute article last month, I wrote 401(k) plans modeled after the TSP are the key to incentivizing retirement plan sponsorship by small businesses – which today sits at a low 52 percent. This rate is a big problem because American workers are 15 times less likely to save for retirement when their employer fails to offer a savings plan. I think TSP-like 401(k) plans offer indisputable value to participants. They make it dead simple for participants in even the smallest 401(k) plans to achieve professionally-managed, market-correlated returns for a very low all-in fee. Their value makes it easy for 401(k) plan sponsors to demonstrate their plan pays reasonable fees – an important fiduciary responsibility. In short, I think TSP-like 401(k) plans are a common sense retirement plan - a safe harbor of sorts from the confusing array of services, fee structures and investments offered by 401(k) providers today. That said, these simple and effective plans are not for everybody. Sometimes, 401(k) investments and investment-related services with higher fees are a better fit for a small business and its employees. Not sure if you’re one of these businesses? Compare these services against a TSP baseline to decide if they are worth the extra money.
Many employers allow employees to take loans from their 401(k) account. A loan feature is generally appreciated by 401(k) plan participants, but the complicated rules that govern these loans are often misunderstood. This is a problem because taxes or penalties can result when 401(k) participants violate these rules.
You’ve been taxed with the responsibility of setting up a retirement plan for your tax exempt organization and now you’re trying to decide between a 403(b) or a 401(k) plan. You’ve Googled, you’ve read, you’ve cringed at the technical language presented to you, desperately trying to understand the differences. Been there, done that.
According to AARP, Americans are 15 times more likely to save for retirement when they can do so by payroll deduction through a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan. However, while most large businesses – companies with more than 100 employees – sponsor a retirement plan, 51 to 71 percent of small businesses don’t. Because workplace retirement plans make savings – and in turn, a comfortable retirement – dramatically more likely for workers, increasing this percentage is essential.