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How Do Your 401(k) Fees Stack Up?

Now that the government requires the fees associated with our 401(k) accounts to be disclosed, we all want to know: Are they on the low side, about what they should be, or too darn high?


At the moment, it's pretty hard to tell. Federal regulators are mulling over ways to improve the disclosures so that retirement savers like you and me can more easily answer that question.

There's a lot at stake. More than 50 million workers and retirees hold some $2.8 trillion in assets, according to the Investment Company Institute.

Related: How Much Income Will Your 401(k) Provide?

In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal reports, third-party advisers are helping investors make judgments about the fees deducted from their plans for such things as record-keeping, administration and redemption.

Example: Personal Capital, a San Francisco startup, is now offering at no cost a "401k Fee Analyzer" that tells people whether the fees they are charged are less than 1 percent a year (in the "green" zone), 1 percent to 1.99 percent ("yellow" zone) or 2 percent or more ("red" zone).

The analyzer shows the potential impact of those fees on your plan balance over time.

Another option is Brightscope, a service that rates most 401(k) plans.

Why is all this important? Check out, courtesy of the nonprofit policy organization Demos, what impact the fees can have when you retire:

  • A two-earner household will pay an average $154,794 in fees and lost returns (assuming each partner earns the median income for their gender annually) over their working years.

  • A higher-income household will pay an average $277,969 over their working years.

If that doesn't motivate you to save more for your retirement, click on AARP's 401(k) savings calculator. You might be surprised to see how your contributions and earnings add up over your working years.

For more information on 401(k) fees, check out the Department of Labor's e-booklet.

Illustration: 401k 2013/Flickr


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