The Frugal Fiduciary Small Business 401(k) Blog
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Believe it or not, ERISA imposes few fiduciary responsibilities on business owners when selecting investments for their 401(k) plan. They boil down to picking – and maintaining - enough “prudent” investments to allow plan participants to diversify their account “so as to minimize the risk of large losses.” Prudent 401(k) investments are simply funds that meet their investment objective for reasonable fees.
Inappropriate investment selection is one of the top three reasons why 401(k) fiduciaries are sued today. In my experience, employers can easily avoid these lawsuits by having a clear understanding of their investment-related 401(k) fiduciary responsibilities. These responsibilities are surprisingly basic. They boil down to selecting enough “prudent” investments to permit any plan participant to sufficiently diversify their account – to minimize their risk of unrecoverable losses. A prudent investment is simply one that meets its investment objective for reasonable fees. I’ve never seen a leading index fund from providers such as Vanguard, Fidelity, or Schwab fail to fit this bill. For that reason, I consider these funds to be indisputably prudent 401(k) investments.
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To meet retirement goals as affordably as possible, 401(k) participants must do three basic things – save early and often, invest appropriately, and keep account fees to a minimum. Investing appropriately involves constructing - and maintaining – a 401(k) investment portfolio that balances growth potential with the risk of losses.Striking this balance is important. Otherwise, a 401(k) participant could miss out on gains by investing too conservatively when young or sustain unrecoverable losses by investing too aggressively when near retirement.
All 401(k) plans require three basic administration services – asset custody, participant recordkeeping and Third-Party Administration (TPA). A 401(k) provider can be paid “direct” or “indirect” fees from plan assets to deliver these services. Direct fees are deducted from participant accounts, while indirect fees are paid by plan investments. The most common form of indirect fee is revenue sharing. Below are five reasons why employers should pay direct fees for 401(k) administration services instead.
There is no better scorekeeper in the active vs. passive fund debate than the SPIVA Scorecard. Published by S&P Dow Jones Indices, the semi-annual report measures the percentage of actively-managed funds that outperform their market index benchmark over specific periods of time, net of fees. I consider the SPIVA Scorecard a must-read for 401(k) fiduciaries.
Mutual fund companies usually make their funds available to 401(k) plans in multiple share classes. While all classes hold the same underlying securities, they can charge very different fees. In general, employers have a fiduciary responsibility to choose the lowest-priced share class available to their 401(k) plan – so participant investment returns aren’t reduced unnecessarily by avoidable fees.