The Frugal Fiduciary Small Business 401(k) Blog
Get the latest industry news, deadlines and tips you need to know to help tackle your fiduciary responsibility needs.
Due to the power of compound interest, 401(k) participants can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to their savings – or retire years sooner - by keeping their account fees as low as possible throughout their working years. And yet, in my experience, few participants appreciate this indisputable truth. Employee Fiduciary would like to help change that. This month, we launched an online calculator to show users how much they can add to their future savings by lowering their 401(k) fees today. Our bet - most users will be shocked by the amount they find.
This month, the Department of Labor (DOL), IRS and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp (PBGC) proposed changes to the Form 5500 – a report most 401(k) plans must file annually to meet ERISA requirements. Two changes would require large Form 5500 filers to report more 401(k) fee information. I think more fee reporting is necessary.
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The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is federal agency that, according to its website, “provides Congress and federal agencies with objective, non-partisan, fact-based information to help the government save money and work more efficiently.” In an August report, the GAO assessed the effectiveness of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) 401(k) fee disclosure rules. They found that nearly 40% of 401(k) plan participants do not understand the fee information mandated by the DOL. This much confusion is a big problem when you consider the cumulative effect of 401(k) fees over time. To manage these losses, participants need a clear understanding of their 401(k) fees.
401(k) plan fiduciaries are often concerned about their fiduciary liability – little surprise when they can be personally liable for fiduciary failures. To mitigate this risk, fiduciaries must understand the sources of liability. A way to do that is asking insurance companies about the factors that increase the price of 401(k) fiduciary liability insurance.
There are few industries where the phrase “you get what you pay for” is less applicable than the 401(k) industry. Equally competent 401(k) providers can charge dramatically different fees for comparable administration services and investments. This variability is a big problem for employers – who have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of plan participants by paying only “reasonable” 401(k) fees. Employers that fail to meet their responsibility can be personally liable for restoring participant losses due to excessive fees.
Employers have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the fees paid by their 401(k) plan are “reasonable” – so excessive fees do not reduce the investment returns of plan participants needlessly. To do that job, employers should ”benchmark” their 401(k) fees periodically by comparing them to industry averages and/or the fees charged by competing 401(k) providers. Sounds straightforward, but this information is hard to find and often harder to compare on an apples-to apples basis.