COLLECTED WISDOM™ on 401k Plan Fees and Expenses
The issue of fees and expenses related to the operation of a 401k plan continues to draw great attention. We have pulled together a number of items that we think will give you a good feel for the issues you need to consider.
This archive contains not only the most current material on the topic, but also older items that are still relevant, provide background, perspective or are germane to the topic.
If you find a broken link or an items that you feel is outdate, irrelevant or no longer appropriate, please let us know.
You may also find useful information also under the DOL's 408(b) Fee Disclosure Regulations page.
Abstract: Many 401k fiduciary lawsuits have focused on fees including, their reasonableness, their necessity, and whether the fees are being assessed for funds and services add value and help participants achieve their retirement goals. How often do you check up on your retirement plan fees? Investment committees need to be aware of their fiduciary duties and remain vigilant in carrying them out.
Source: 401ktv.com, December 2018
Abstract: Employers have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the fees paid by their 401k plan participants are "reasonable" and not subject to unnecessarily excessive fees. To do that job, employers must benchmark their 401k fees - basically, compare them to industry averages and/or fee charged by competing 401k providers. Sounds straightforward, but this information is hard to find and often harder to compare on an apples-to apples basis.
Source: Employeefiduciary.com, November 2018
Abstract: As a plan sponsor, you are required to understand all of the fees that are associated your organization's retirement plan benefit program. This is a challenge because plan fee structures are often opaque, complicated, and downright misleading. The most effective way to meet your fiduciary requirement is a Request for Proposals process, typically run every three-to-five years. Why? The 401k and 403b markets are extremely competitive. They are constantly evolving and changing.
Source: Fiduciaryplangovernance.com, November 2018
Abstract: With increased government scrutiny, ERISA lawsuits at an all-time high, and the plaintiff's bar not only increasing in number but in sophistication, 403b plan fiduciaries will continue to face high exposure if they fail to prudently select and then continue to monitor the investments options of their plans and plan fees. Litigation is not limited to large plans, as plaintiffs and the DOL have found that smaller plans are “low hanging fruit” in terms of finding ERISA violations.
Source: Ckrlaw.com, November 2018
Abstract: Plans compare their returns by asset class to selected benchmarks that reflect their investment goals for the asset class. Plans pay fees to external asset managers with the expectation that the managers will exceed these benchmarks. As such, this paper focuses on the benchmarks to assess the role of fees. The question is whether higher fees help or hinder the ability for a plan to outperform its chosen benchmarks.
Source: Bc.edu, October 2018
Abstract: it's critical for employers to understand the various components of their retirement plans' fees, particularly indirect fees like revenue sharing arrangements. This 4-page article describes common ways in which money flows through retirement plans. Each provider may operate differently, so be sure to check with your provider for information specific to your plan.
Source: Grinkmeyerleonard.com, September 2018
Abstract: The price of recordkeeping services is not uniform; it can vary depending on type of retirement plan. This article discusses why pricing for 403bs is different than that for 401ks including four factors that impact 403b pricing.
Source: Ntsa-net.org, August 2018
Abstract: One of the many duties plan fiduciaries have is to understand the fees and expenses charged to their employer-sponsored defined contribution plan. This is a guide to the different plan fee pricing models and the steps to take to ensure fees are reasonable.
Abstract: 401k plan fee reductions have been occurring in recent years as retirement plan vendors made a land grab for their share of the DC plan market. To date, those 401k plan fee reductions have applied mostly to costs for core services, such as administration and recordkeeping. If they haven't already, sponsors may soon experience higher 401k and 403b plan fees for "extras" such as plan distributions or loans, that only occasionally impact a portion of participants.
Source: 401ktv.com, August 2018
Abstract: This paper discusses retirement plan fees and expenses with the intention of assisting retirement plan sponsors in achieving a greater understanding of their plan fees. For the purposes of this paper, it will categorize the fees and then detail the specific functions typically related to each expense.
Source: Multnomahgroup.com, July 2018
Abstract: Under ERISA, retirement plan sponsors have a fiduciary duty that requires them to act solely in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries. Plan sponsors are also limited to using plan assets for the reasonable expenses of administering the plan. Using plan assets for other plan expenses could be a breach of the sponsor's fiduciary duty and lead to potential fines and costly litigation.
Source: Bsllp.com, July 2018
Abstract: 403b plans are fundamentally different than 401k plans. Many of these differences result in a greater amount of work required to administer 403b plans and more work equals more money. This article looks at a few of the major 403b plan price drivers that do not exist in 401k plans.
Source: Cammackretirement.com, June 2018
Abstract: At the source of every headline grabbing fiduciary breach trial is a fee mistake. How can learning more about these everyday fee mistakes help 401k plan sponsors avoid them and the fiduciary liability they bring? Here are three of the most common plan sponsor fee mistakes and what to do to avoid them.
Source: Fiduciarynews.com, June 2018
Abstract: One of the perennial issues facing the sponsors, participants and fiduciaries of 403b plans, as well as the consultants servicing or advising such individuals or plans, is plan expenses. Section 403b plans, particularly those that are covered ERISA, must carefully watch what they spend with their limited resources.
Source: Ntsa-net.org, May 2018
Abstract: A vital plan fiduciary responsibility is regular benchmarking of plan performance and fees against industry averages. This kind of cross-referencing is the responsibility of plan sponsors and can come with significant risks and opportunities. This article looks at the factors that make sound benchmarking practices so crucial.
Source: Planpilot.com, May 2018
Abstract: Many small-business owners and managers don't have a good feel for how much they or their employees pay in fees to their retirement plans, according to a survey conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The survey results indicate that many of these business leaders -- like many workers -- have limited knowledge about plan fees, a reality that can be detrimental to workers' long-term finances. Whether savers pay high or low fees on their investments can make a large difference over time in the growth of retirement savings.
Source: Pewtrusts.org, May 2018
Abstract: Plan sponsors, still feeling the pressure of the Department of Labor's six-year-old fee disclosure rules and the threat of fee-related litigation, are continuing to place 401k fees under the microscope. A number of other factors continue to drive down 401k fees, including a competitive marketplace, growing client awareness about fees, sharper value propositions from advisors, an increase in the quality and volume of reporting of plan outcomes, and an industry shift toward fee-based plans and low-cost investments.
Source: Fa-mag.com, May 2018
Abstract: With retirement plan fees serving as the centerpiece of ERISA fiduciary breach lawsuits, understanding the dynamics of retirement plan fees is critical for plan sponsors and fiduciaries. Regardless of plan size or defined contribution plan type, fees have become a primary focus and concern of plan fiduciaries. This article explores the three types of fees that retirement plan fiduciaries need to understand and evaluate.
Source: Cammackretirement.com, March 2018
Abstract: Following the findings expressed in three other Circuits, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held that plan administrators are not ERISA fiduciaries when negotiating their own compensation with prospective customers. Instead, because the employer/plan sponsor has the express duty under ERISA to defray reasonable expenses of administering a 401k plan, any claims that fully disclosed fee arrangements are unreasonable "lie against the employer, not the service provider."
Source: Masudafunai.com, March 2018
Abstract: As a plan sponsor, you are required to understand all of the fees that are associated your organization's retirement plan benefit program. This article wraps up the three part series on the subject.
Source: Fiduciaryplangovernance.com, February 2018
Abstract: As a plan sponsor, you are required to understand all of the fees that are associated your organization's retirement plan benefit program. This article continues the series on the subject.
Source: Fiduciaryplangovernance.com, February 2018
Abstract: As a plan sponsor, you are required to understand all of the fees that are associated your organization's retirement plan benefit program. This is a challenge because plan fee structures are often opaque, complicated (needlessly so) and, sometimes, downright misleading.
Source: Fiduciaryplangovernance.com, February 2018
Abstract: Employers are moving to reduce their 401k plan costs in greater numbers, largely in an attempt to avoid the fate of peers who've been sued for allegedly excessive fees in their defined-contribution plans, new research suggests.
Source: Investmentnews.com (registration may be required), January 2018
Abstract: Plan fiduciaries must review service provider fees annually against reliable indicators as part of proper plan governance. The efficacy of any such review depends upon the ability to break out fees for each service and to utilize acceptable benchmarks, rather than self-serving benchmarks supporting excessive fee arrangements.
Source: Cpajournal.com, September 2017
Abstract: NEPC's Ross Bremen, CFA, Partner, and Kevin McCullough, CFA, Analyst, hosted this review of NEPC's 12th Annual DC Plan and Fee Survey. NEPC conducted the Survey to capture data and trends around plan design, and to help plan fiduciaries better understand and measure the investment and administrative costs of their plans.
Source: Nepc.com, September 2017
Abstract: Investment consulting firm NEPC's annual defined contribution plan and fee survey reported that recordkeeping, trust and custody fees remained flat over the past year, the first time it hasn't declined since 2010.
Source: Ai-cio.com, September 2017
Abstract: While lawsuits and investigations have served a purpose in lowering plan fees, a side effect is that many plan sponsors, in their concern to meet compliance standards, have made a search for the lowest fees such a priority that they have unwittingly overlooked the best way to serve plan participants.
Source: Alliantwealth.com, September 2017
Abstract: For years, fees on investments in workplace retirement savings plans have been falling. Now, at least for the moment, they're stalling. But there's room for improvement in plan options, and look out for new fees creeping in.
Source: Investmentnews.com (registration may be required), August 2017
Abstract: A common theme running through class-action lawsuits filed against plan fiduciaries is the violation caused by not properly understanding and addressing the fees of their 401k plan. The article describes three methods for determining if plan fees are reasonable.
Source: Morganstanleyfa.com, August 2017
Abstract: As 401k fees are being challenged in excessive fee lawsuits, and participants are, rightfully, checking their accounts and verifying their fees, it is prudent to have fees that are fair and transparent.
Source: Rpgconsultants.com, August 2017
Abstract: What is a Plan Expense Account (also known as an ERISA Account, ERISA Budgets Account, or Revenue-Sharing Account)? This 5-page white paper deals with what they are, who are they for, how they work, why they exist, and how they are handled.
Source: Multnomahgroup.com, July 2017
Abstract: With retirement plan fees serving as the centerpiece of fiduciary breach lawsuits, it is no wonder that this is the leading topic of interest with retirement plan fiduciaries.
Source: Cammackretirement.com, July 2017
Abstract: Plan sponsors' desire to reduce plan costs is substantially impacting their approach to investment menu design and their relationships with defined contribution plan investment managers, according to findings from Retirement Planscape, an annual Cogent Reports study by Market Strategies International.
Source: Plansponsor.com, July 2017
Abstract: You are also required to ensure the services for which the plan is paying are necessary and reasonable. The most effective way to meet this fiduciary requirement is a Request for Proposals (RFP) process. This is part two in a series on making sure 401k and 403b fees are "necessary" and "reasonable."
Source: Fiduciaryplangovernance.com, July 2017
Abstract: A plan sponsor is required to understand all the fees that are associated your organization's retirement plan benefit program. This is a challenge because plan fee structures are often opaque, complicated, and sometimes, downright misleading. You are also required to ensure the services for which the plan is paying are necessary and reasonable. The most effective way to meet this fiduciary requirement is a Request for Proposals (RFP) process.
Source: Fiduciaryplangovernance.com, June 2017
Abstract: What if I told you that there is a fee present in mutual funds that is not included in the fund's published expense ratios and is often not publicly disclosed by the fund companies, since the SEC does not require its disclosure? You might laugh, but it is true.
Source: Cammackretirement.com, June 2017
Abstract: The cost of investing in equity, hybrid, and bond mutual funds through 401k plans fell again in 2016, according to a research study that the Investment Company Institute just released. The 32-page study also shows that participants who invest in mutual funds in their 401k plans tend to hold lower-cost funds.
Source: Ici.org, June 2017
Abstract: The topic of 401k fees has dominated the headlines for the better part of this decade. Running a company 401k plan is an arduous task. Navigating fiduciary responsibilities is also a potential minefield of liability as ambitious law firms aggressively attempt to exploit the subjective regulatory frameworks of the IRS and the DOL. Nowhere within a 401k plan is there more potential liability than with regard to the subject of fees.
Source: Forextv.com, May 2017
Abstract: As a plan fiduciary, you have a responsibility to ensure your service providers' compensation is reasonable relative to the services provided. A fiduciary process for assessing fees can help meet your obligation to provide a plan that operates in the best interest of your employees. Your plan provider or consultant can help you navigate this process by helping you answer four key questions.
Source: Tiaa.org, March 2017
Abstract: Fee reasonableness is a fundamental and widely discussed fiduciary topic. Despite the importance of the topic, the DOL hasn't given much insight or guidance as to what is considered a reasonable fee. As a result, much of the interpretation of what is and is not reasonable has come from the courts. As a fiduciary, it is important to turn to litigation for guidance, acknowledge how excessive fee allegations have evolved, and most importantly, to appropriately manage this risk in the future.
Source: Manning-Napier.com, March 2017
Abstract: Given the 12b-1 fee's implicit conflicts -- and their declining relevance -- arguably it's time to create a more appropriate pricing structure for the realities of today's investment marketplace.
Source: Kitces.com, March 2017
Abstract: If you're a 401k fiduciary, you don't want to be in the dark about your plan fees. The potential consequences for paying excessive 401k fees are too great. This FAQ will answer some of the most common 401k fee questions.
Source: Employeefiduciary.com, March 2017
Abstract: When monitoring investment and recordkeeping fees, a plan sponsor would be smart to remember the recurring themes of recent 401k participant fee lawsuits. This article reviews the themes that have frequently arisen in recent fee lawsuits.
Source: Plansponsor.com, February 2017
Abstract: There's no question fees are a hot topic for defined contribution plan sponsors. But one risk of focusing too tightly on fees is creating a distortion that addresses cost while possibly overlooking other retirement-saving factors. With so many equal or greater concerns, it's important for plan sponsors to keep a broad perspective and maintain a comprehensive approach to their fiduciary duties.
Source: Abglobal.com, January 2017
Abstract: Understanding your retirement plan's fees is not only a good practice, it's a fiduciary requirement. The principal reason fees have been thrust into the limelight is that plan participants often bear most, if not all the cost of running the plan. This article does not discuss how to determine if fees are reasonable, but instead explores a relatively new debate over which fee assessment methodology is fairer.
Source: Strategicbenefitservices.com, January 2017
Abstract: Fiduciaries of very large plans who wouldn't think of not haggling with a dealer over the price of a new car or a hotly negotiating a business deal have sometimes neglected to leverage their plan's size to negotiate lower 401k fees. The result is a sharply increased risk of being sued.
Source: Cohenbuckmann.com, January 2017
Abstract: Is your 401k service provider double-dipping? Here are a few ways that service providers could be double-dipping on their fees at your expense and what actions you should take so you can be a retirement plan hero for your employees.
Source: Brightscope.com, November 2016
Abstract: Fee allocation within DC plans continues to be a major topic of conversation among retirement plan oversight committees. An issue over which plan sponsors are showing greater concern is whether these participant fees should be calculated based on a percentage of assets or whether all participants should be assessed the same flat dollar fee.
Source: Cammackretirement.com, November 2016
Abstract: The author explains that the increase in potential fiduciary liability under ERISA might mean that retirement plan committees members might wish to review and possibly increase their fiduciary liability insurance. Additionally, because of a perceived higher risk of liability as a fiduciary, the fees charged by a service provider that is now being treated as a fiduciary may be higher and that might suggest a reconsideration as to whether those higher fees remain reasonable.
Source: Wagnerlawgroup.com, November 2016
Abstract: Jeremy Tollas, Senior Consultant with Plante Moran Financial Advisor's Institutional Investing practice, discusses the importance for sponsors to understand the fees in their organization's retirement plan, as well as ways to help monitor and document those fees on an ongoing basis.
Source: Plantemoran.com, October 2016
Abstract: The Best Interest Contract Exemption forces retirement plan advisers to divest all unreasonable compensation. But what exactly is reasonable? This 12-page paper from Dalbar examines this question and offers some answers directly from the orders of the US Supreme Court.
Source: Dalbar.com, September 2016
Abstract: Since launching its fee comparison service, Employee Fiduciary has accumulated a large database of 401k fees. This article is a summary of the fees they found for 121 401k plans with less than $2MM in assets. 401k fiduciaries can use this study to help evaluate their plan fees for reasonableness.
Source: Employeefiduciary.com, August 2016
Abstract: Investment fees matter. A lot. Sometimes numbers alone don't convey how damaging high fees are to savings. Meet the Fee Monster.
Source: 403bwise.com, August 2016
Abstract: The law firm of Schlichter, Bogard & Denton has now turned its attention to the education sector, filing separate class action lawsuits against three universities on behalf of over 60,000 employees in their defined contribution retirement plans, both 401k and 403(b).
Source: Ntsa-net.org, August 2016
Abstract: Now that many of the cases contending that large 401k plans paid fees that were too high have been settled or decided, it would be tempting for sponsors of plans that haven't been sued to breathe a sigh of relief. They should not do so, because litigation continues unabated with new theories and new targets.
Source: Cohenbuckmann.com, July 2016
Abstract: The cost of investing in equity mutual funds through 401k plans fell again in 2015, marking a 31 percent decline since 2000, according to an annual research study that the Investment Company Institute.
Source: Ici.org, July 2016
Abstract: As more plan participants scrutinize 401k fees, plan sponsors are re-examining how much they're paying their service providers for plan administration, reveals the annual Retirement Planscape report by market research firm Market Strategies International.
Source: Shrm.org, May 2016
Abstract: A new class-action lawsuit targeting excessive 401k fees in a $9 million plan could herald a new frontier of sorts in this type of litigation. The suit, Damberg et al v. LaMettry's Collision Inc. et al, alleges plan fiduciaries breached their duties under ERISA for allowing excessive fees to be charged for investments and record keeping and administration.
Source: Investmentnews.com (registration may be required), May 2016
Abstract: Report found that plan administration fees are the most common reason for switching recordkeepers, and likewise are an important driver of satisfaction and loyalty when client expectations are fulfilled. Importantly, the aspect of providing good value for the money is the leading enhancer to brand consideration this year, reinforcing the point that plan sponsors are seeking value from a provider.
Source: 401khelpcenter.com, May 2016
Abstract: Fees paid for retirement plan investments and services have always been an important consideration for ERISA fiduciaries. However, in recent years these fees have come under increased scrutiny. This 8-page Vanguard paper walks plan sponsors through their fiduciary duties pertaining to fees. The paper discusses a variety of steps and tools to help determine the reasonableness of plan fees.
Source: Vanguard.com, March 2016
Abstract: A rising number of challenges are being initiated by the plaintiffs' bar and DOL investigators in the area of retirement plan asset charges and retirement plan expenses. Retirement plan sponsors and other plan fiduciaries should take heed of this trend and consider taking the actions outlined here.
Source: Poynerspruill.com, March 2016
Abstract: This 14-page paper develops a set of four conditions for gauging the effectiveness of fee structures: adequacy, administrative ease, transparency, and fairness. These four standards will help plan sponsors satisfy their fiduciary responsibilities by ensuring administrative fees are reasonable and fairly distributed among participants.
Source: Tiaainstitute.org, March 2016
Abstract: An awareness of current ERISA litigation can help ERISA fiduciaries better understand their ERISA-mandated duties and facilitate compliance. Article lists cases that are good reminders of the importance of understanding the rules of ERISA.
Source: Francisinvco.com, February 2016
Abstract: There are a number of options available to allocate plan expenses among participants. This article explores the three most popular models.
Source: Shrm.org, February 2016
Abstract: Helping 401k plan sponsors navigate the fees they're paying to service providers and the various mechanisms through which to pay them is becoming an increasingly important component of 401k advisers' jobs.
Source: Investmentnews.com (registration may be required), February 2016
Abstract: There are numerous options available to allocate plan expenses among participants, each having its own positive and negative attributes. Paper explores the three most popular models and the associated benefits and drawbacks.
Source: Cammackretirement.com, February 2016
Abstract: Jerome Schlichter, a trailblazer of the 401k fee litigation that's proliferated in the U.S. over the past decade, seems to be gearing up for another round of class-action complaints. He is riding on a wave of success, broadening growth of similar 401k legal battles and the wind-down of older suits.
Source: Investmentnews.com (registration may be required), January 2016
Abstract: The class action lawsuit filed against Anthem Inc. over the fees paid by participants in its 401k plan is a warning to companies sponsoring such plans, and those advising them, that low fees aren't enough to protect against such suits.
Source: Investmentnews.com (registration may be required), January 2016
Abstract: Plan sponsors, as a whole, are unaware that participants pay disparate fees, and service providers, particularly recordkeepers that receive revenue-sharing payments, are not going to address it, experts say. It is incumbent on sponsors, then, to ask their plan advisers and recordkeepers about fee levelization.
Source: Plansponsor.com, January 2016
Abstract: Author discusses the third step in a three-step process of assessing the reasonableness of service provider arrangements and fees.
Source: Erisafiduciaryadministrators.com, November 2015
Abstract: Based on the findings in this 23-page report, there is a wide range in the cost of fees associated with investment accounts, yet even the lowest average cost represents hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost savings. If the capital currently lost to fees remained invested, retirement savings could increase by an equally significant amount.
Source: Personalcapital.com, October 2015
Abstract: NEPC's Defined Contribution practice group conducts an annual defined contribution plan and fee survey to help plan sponsors understand the fees, pricing, and structure of their defined contribution plans. This 2015 survey includes data from 116 plans, encompassing over 1.4 million plan participants.
Source: Nepc.com, October 2015
Abstract: Continuing focus on defined contribution plan fees by litigators, regulators and the media has made it clear that fiduciaries must understand and determine "reasonable" fees being paid from a DC plan. Equally as important, though not as widely discussed, is consideration of whether existing payment methods fall disproportionately among participants.
Source: Xerox.com, September 2015
Abstract: This 32 page report concludes that the downward trend in the expense ratios that 401k plan participants incur for investing in mutual funds continued in 2014. The average expense ratio that 401k plan participants incurred for investing in equity mutual funds fell from 0.58 percent in 2013 to 0.54 percent in 2014.
Source: Ici.org, August 2015
Abstract: Continuing focus on DC plan fees by litigators, regulators and the media has made it clear that fiduciaries must understand and determine “reasonable” fees being paid from a DC plan. Since fiduciary liability is personal, sound risk mitigation calls for a rigorous process to establish reasonable fees on an ongoing, regular basis.
Source: Xerox.com, August 2015
Abstract: Here are 10 steps designed to assist employer-fiduciaries in meeting their fee-related responsibilities, reducing the risk of fiduciary liability and increasing the value of the employer's 401k plan to participants.
Source: Poynerspruill.com, May 2015
Abstract: Opaque fee structures lurk among the complexities of 401k plans, meaning that sponsors might be leaving money on the table. Awareness of the inherent costs can help streamline management of defined contribution plans while keeping within regulatory guidelines.
Source: Institutionalinvestor.com, March 2015
Abstract: Contrary to popular belief, it can be easy for small businesses to cut through the red tape and evaluate their 401k fees, even the ones that don't appear on a Form 5500 or quarterly statements. You just need to know where to look for fees and how to benchmark them.
Source: Marketwatch.com, February 2015
Abstract: In light of these recent court settlements, plan sponsors may have wondered if their plan could be susceptible to an ERISA case over excessive fees. Here are a few things to consider.
Source: Retirementtownhall.com, January 2015
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