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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.

Attorney Schlichter Preps New Round of 401k Suits

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

Low 401k Fees Aren't a Legal Cure-all

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

A New Fee Challenge for Retirement Plan Sponsors: Levelization

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

Assessing Fee Reasonableness by Implementing a Prudent Process

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

The Real Cost of Fees

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

2015 DC Plan and Fee Survey: What a Difference a Decade Makes

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

Is Everyone Paying Their Share of 401k Fees?

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

The Economics of Providing 401k Plans: Services, Fees, and Expenses

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

Benchmark DC Plan Fees Now to Lower Your Personal Risk

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

Best Practices for 401k Fees

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

How to Unearth Hidden Fees in 401k Plans

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

Three Easy Steps for Small Businesses to Evaluate 401k Fees

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

ERISA Fee Litigation: Is My Plan at Risk?

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

Benchmarking -- All About That Fee

Abstract: ERISA 408(b)(2) is designed to provide a responsible plan fiduciary with sufficient information to determine if fees are reasonable and conflicts are avoided. A practical approach to benchmarking fees in a manner that complies with 408(b)(2) is outlined here.

Source: Fraplantools.com, December 2014

Fee Compression Slowing, Fee Structures Changing

Abstract: Asset levels continue to peak in defined contribution plans, driving fees tied to asset levels higher in the investment management as well as recordkeeping and administration marketplaces. However, after three straight years of material compression in recordkeeping and administration expenses, the market may have found equilibrium.

Source: Multnomahgroup.com, December 2014

Evaluating Plan Expenses: A Road Map of Possible Routes and Potholes to Avoid!

Abstract: It is important for plan fiduciaries to understand that while certain plan expenses can be paid out of plan assets, such expenses must be reasonable. A plan fiduciary must also evaluate and defray investment fees and expenses as part of that process because such costs could have a significant impact on plan investment returns. Therefore, to fully satisfy his/her fiduciary obligations with respect to a plan, each fiduciary should understand how to evaluate the myriad of plan fees, including unraveling those associated with various plan investments and plan services. This article provides guidance.

Source: Drinkerbiddle.com, December 2014

Shining a Light on ERISA Budget Accounts

Abstract: This seven page paper discusses the historical practice of paying plan expenses from revenue sharing and the fiduciary and administrative considerations of using an ERISA budget account for managing recordkeeping revenue.

Source: Vanguard.com, September 2014

The New Era of Fee Transparency: Making Sense of the Details

Abstract: Assessing the reasonableness of fees as a result of 408(b)(2) regulations has put an increased burden on the already busy shoulders of retirement plan sponsors. Yet one of the most important fiduciary responsibilities of plan sponsors is to understand the services being provided and ensure that the fees charged to the plan are reasonable. This paper will help you build best practices for evaluating plan fees and determine whether you are striking a balance between the fees you pay and services you receive.

Source: Baml.com, September 2014

Fee Equality: Leveling the Playing Field for Participants

Abstract: Employers don't usually intend to charge fees unfairly, but may be surprised to know that fees are often inadvertently structured inequitably. Fee equalization can eliminate fee imbalances across the participant base to help plan sponsors embed fundamental fairness into the plan. This paper examines the ways in which traditional fee structures create imbalances among participants and consider ways to equalize fees.

Source: Am-a.com, September 2014

Inside the Structure of DC/401k Plan Fees

Abstract: As part of an ongoing comprehensive research program, the Investment Company Institute and Deloitte Consulting have prepared this third edition of the Defined Contribution/401k Fee Study. Specifically, this report addresses and updates: The mechanics of defined contribution plan fee structures; Components of plan fees; and Factors that impact fees ("fee drivers").

Source: Ici.org, August 2014

The Economics of Providing 401k Plans: Services, Fees, and Expenses, 2013

Abstract: To provide and maintain 401k plans, employers are required to obtain a variety of administrative, participant-focused, regulatory, and compliance services. All of these services involve costs. This updated study looks at those costs. Key findings include plan participants investing in mutual funds tend to hold lower-cost funds, the expense ratios that 401k plan participants incur for investing in mutual funds have declined substantially since 2000, and the downward trend in the expense ratios that plan participants incur for investing in mutual funds continued in 2013.

Source: Ici.org, July 2014

Infographic: Breakdown of Small Plan 401k Fees

Abstract: Here is a great Infographic from the 401k Averages Book offering a breakdown of small 401k retirement plan fees.

Source: 401kfeedisclosure.com, July 2014

How to Effectively Manage Total Plan Costs

Abstract: To help workers secure a more healthy financial future, Aon Hewitt urges employers to take a closer look at their defined contribution plan costs and make sure they are distributed consistently among all employees, no matter their investment selection. Offers some tips.

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, June 2014

Compliance Refresher: Fee Disclosures and Comparative Charts

Abstract: Since June 2012, service providers to retirement plans have been required to disclose to plan sponsors the compensation they receive for their services. This article reviews these required disclosures, changes that have been made, and deadlines.

Source: Wagnerlawgroup.com, June 2014

ERISA Fee Disclosures: Best Practices for Fiduciaries

Abstract: In response to intense public scrutiny and a series of lawsuits brought against plan sponsors and fiduciaries concerning the compensation paid to 401k service providers, the DOL created a three-part fee disclosure initiative aimed at greater transparency for the benefit of such plans and their participants. In addition to changes to Form 5500, Schedule C reporting, the DOL issued two final regulations: (1) a regulation on participant-level fee disclosure, and (2) a regulation on plan sponsor-level fee disclosure. It is now up to plan sponsors and participants to use the disclosure information obtained as a result of these initiatives in a manner that yields prudent and effective investment decisions.

Source: Erisa-Lawyers.com, April 2014

DC Fee Management -- Mitigating Fiduciary Risk and Maximizing Plan Performance

Abstract: Effective fee management is a critical component in maximizing retirement readiness and minimizing fiduciary risk. DC plan fees are the target of intense scrutiny from legislators, regulators, and litigators, and lawsuits continue to grab headlines. This paper on DC Fee Management will help plan sponsors to ensure DC plan fees are competitive and appropriately allocated, and assist committee members in satisfying their fiduciary requirements.

Source: Mercer.com, November 2013

Life After Fee Disclosure

Abstract: While participants usually don't have any choice when it comes to which plan they can join, they can use fee information to pressure sponsors into negotiating for a better deal. And plan sponsors can use the data to go out to other vender's with an RFI and RFP asking for competitive bids. Not only does this allow plan sponsors to provide participants with a better plan, but should the DOL's come calling, the plan has proof that it's fulfilling its fee disclosure duty and demonstrated prudence under the new regs.

Source: Benefitspro.com, June 2013

Paying Employee Benefit Plan Expenses

Abstract: This article describes the types of expenses that may and may not be paid from the assets of an employee benefit plan. It also explains the requirements that must be met before expenses can be paid from plan assets, the methods for allocating expenses between plans and among plan participants and the consequences of paying improper expenses from plan assets.

Source: Groom.com, June 2013

PSCA's Fee Disclosure Snapshot Survey Results

Abstract: PSCA's snapshot survey on the impact of fee disclosure regulations on participants was conducted in October 2012, and received 176 responses from defined contribution plan sponsors. The fee disclosure information that participants received seems to have had little impact their behavior.

Source: 5500audit.com, April 2013

Infographic on 401k Plan Fees

Abstract: For most the world of 401k investing can be confusing. With so many terms and numbers to remember, learning all the terminology can be just like learning a new language. And with the recent release of 401k fee information, 401k participants are expected to decipher a handful of new terms. This Infographic will help you better understand the nuts and bolts of 401k plan fees.

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, November 2012

Proper Advisor Benchmarking Values Facts Over Opinions

Abstract: Plan sponsors that have hired an advisor without a documented process to support the hire are vulnerable to claims of fiduciary breach of loyalty and prudence as well as potential claims of self-dealing and conflicts of interest. Although not anticipated, ERISA 408(b)(2) and 404(a)(5) may become the death knell for lifetime members of the "good old boy network" that have relied on their relationships -- instead of the knowledge, experience and skill -- to secure retirement plan engagements.

Source: Fiduciary Risk Assessment, October 2012

Proposal Games: Why You May Not Know What Your 401k Plan Will Cost

Abstract: When a plan sponsor goes to evaluate potential 401k service providers, will they be able to determine and understand how much their plan will cost? Author says, "Unfortunately, this can be quite difficult, as many providers have tried to gain a competitive edge by playing 'proposal games.'"

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, October 2012

Slicing and Dicing Retirement Plan Fees: Allocation Considerations for Plan Sponsors

Abstract: In the wake of new fee disclosure rules, plan sponsors have increased their focus on how recordkeeping fees are allocated across participant populations. Beyond ERISA's general fiduciary requirements, there is limited legal guidance directly addressing how to allocate fees. This white paper addresses the fiduciary standards applicable to such allocation decisions.

Source: Vanguard, October 2012

Checklist for Retirement Plan Sponsors in Reviewing Fee Disclosures From Service Providers

Abstract: While the DOL has not yet issued meaningful guidance as to what specific actions are required by responsible plan fiduciaries with respect to the service provider fee disclosure regulations that took effect on July 1, 2012, This checklist is a practical guide for responsible plan fiduciaries to address their initial obligation when they receive the relevant disclosures from service providers.

Source: Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, September 2012

Inside the Structure of Defined Contribution/401k Plan Fees

Abstract: This study was designed to analyze and identify the drivers of defined contribution plan fees. It addresses: 1) The mechanics of defined contribution plan fee structures; 2) Components of plan fees; and 3) Primary and secondary factors that impact fees.

Source: Deloitte, September 2012

See How Your Company's 401k Plan Stacks Up in Three Simple Steps

Abstract: If you're one of the many business owners with a 401k plan, you probably just received an important 401k plan fee disclosure document from your plan administrator that reveals, in greater detail than ever before, just how much you and your employees are paying in fees. And while that document provides a lot of answers, it may also beg a few important questions.

Source: Forbes, July 2012

The 408(b)(2) Fiduciary Conundrums: Defining, Implementing, and Monitoring Your 401k Plan's Value Proposition

Abstract: The new 408(b)(2) fee regulations require 401k fiduciaries to make sure that the vendors' fees are "reasonable." Unfortunately, the term "reasonable" is not defined. So, what does it mean for a fee to be reasonable?

Source: Investmenthorizons.com, June 2012

The Latest in Revenue Sharing and Excessive Fees

Abstract: As a Plan Fiduciary, you cannot rely on a non-fiduciary service provider with a conflict in interest to accept responsibility for their recommendations. In a recent court decision (Tussey vs. ABB, Inc., U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri Central Division), a Company sponsoring a retirement plan (ABB, Inc.) along with the head of the Benefits committee, named individually, and the entire committee, were ordered to pay a judgment of $35.2 million.

Source: Asset Strategy Consultants, April 2012

Finally the Final...408(b)(2) Regulation

Abstract: The Department of Labor has issued the long-anticipated final service provider fee disclosure regulation. In finalizing the regulation, the DOL extended the compliance deadline from April 1, 2012, to July 1, 2012. In this article, Fred Reish and Bruce Ashton describe what the amendment says and what they think are the most important changes; in a subsequent piece, they will explain the impact on various service providers.

Source: Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, February 2012.

Fee Disclosure Overview for Plan Sponsors and Their Advisors

Abstract: This year the Department of Labor is implementing two new regulations regarding fees and fee transparency for retirement plans. This is a summary of the provisions of the new regulations and how plan sponsors and participants will be affected.

Source: Sentinel Group, January 2012.

An Effective Strategy for Plan Sponsors in a New Regulatory Age

Abstract: Roland|Criss publishes part two of their three-part white paper series on the new fee disclosure rules and their impact on plan sponsors. In this paper, they reveal the strategies plan sponsors can adopt in order to be compliant with the new fee disclosure regulations, while maximizing stewardship.

Source: Roland|Criss, December 2011.

Sample Certification of Reasonableness of Plan Services

Abstract: This is a sample certification that illustrates the type of documentation that plan sponsors need to establish compliance with 408(b)(2) requirements.

Source: Dalbar, December 2011.

A Different Perspective on the New DOL Fee Disclosure Regulations

Abstract: In order to provide perspective on how the new DOL fee disclosure rules will affect plan sponsors in 2012 and beyond, Roland|Criss has published this white paper (part one of a three-part series) that aims to clarify, equip, and empower plan administrators as they navigate through the sea change in their fiduciary roles.

Source: Roland|Criss, November 2011.

New Rules Will Have Fiduciary Impact

Abstract: Next year, new federal rules requiring fee disclosures from 401k plan providers make it imperative for companies sponsoring plans to ensure that fees are reasonable. Employers that start preparing now for the new disclosure regime will be ahead of the game.

Source: HREonline.com, November 2011.

Fiduciary-Level Disclosures for ERISA Retirement Plans

Abstract: Provides insight into the DOL's new fiduciary-level disclosure regulation, also the historical context and practical application of the regulation. In the paper, ERISA plan fiduciaries can find information regarding: An overview of the interim final regulation; types of fees and expenses included in the disclosures; timing of the required disclosures; and, a fee oversight checklist.

Source: MetLife, October 2011.

Defined Contribution 401k Fee Study

Abstract: The Investment Company Institute engaged Deloitte to conduct a survey of DC plan sponsors to shed light on how fee structures work within the DC plan market. Specifically, the research addressed: the mechanics of plan fee structures; components of plan fees; and primary and secondary factors that impact fees ("fee drivers"). This is the 33 page report on the research.

Source: Investment Company Institute, July 2011.

Economics of Providing 401k Plans: Services, Fees, and Expenses

Abstract: As part of an ongoing comprehensive research program, the Investment Company Institute conducts research to shed light on the services, fees, and expenses within 401k plans. Among ICI's findings reported here, the asset-weighted average expense ratio paid by 401k investors on their stock funds dropped 3 basis points to 0.71 percent. The asset-weighted average expense ratio paid on their bond funds remained unchanged at 0.56 percent.

Source: Investment Company Institute, July 2011.

Fee Disclosure Q&A: Answering Plan Sponsor Questions About New DOL Regulations

Abstract: This set of questions and answers can help sponsors sort through issues related to the new DOL fee disclosure requirements. The topics covered are associated with two separate regulations-one designed to provide transparency in plan fees and expenses to participants, and the other to enhance what service providers disclose to retirement plan fiduciaries.

Source: Vanguard, June 2011.

Nowhere to Hide on Hidden 401k Fees

Abstract: Under ERISA, CFOs and other retirement-plan fiduciaries are required to understand the fees and expenses charged and the services provided to the plan. With plan participants increasingly litigious, plan sponsors must take care that investment and administration expenses are "reasonable."

Source: CFO Magazine, June 2011.

VIDEO: Understanding 401k Fees

Abstract: Fees associated with 401k plans are often unknown, hard to identify and difficult to review. This AARP video introduces some common 401k fees and explains how those fees may impact your retirement security.

Source: Youtube.com, June 2011.

Benchmarking of Retirement Plan Expenses

Abstract: This paper is provided to help plan sponsors, service providers and professional advisors understand how expense data may be collected, collated and analyzed to help plan fiduciaries to make better decisions and reduce fiduciary risk. The data reflected in this analysis is not from a survey - what a service provider might charge a client, but instead actually identifies what a service provider has charged a client for the categories of services listed.

Source: PlanTools LLC, May 2011.

401k Participants' Awareness and Understanding of Fees

Abstract: Successfully using a 401k plan to prepare for retirement requires knowledge of investment opportunities, types of plans and their mix of investments, knowledge of risk, and awareness of the costs associated with maintaining a plan. Despite the need for knowledge, seven in ten are not aware that they pay fees to their 401k plan provider to maintain their account. When told of these fees, six in ten are not aware of the amount they pay in fees to maintain their account.

Source: AARP, April 2011.

Understanding Retirement Plan Fees And Expenses

Abstract: As the sponsor of a retirement plan, you are helping your employees achieve a secure financial future. Sponsoring a plan, however, also means that you, or someone you appoint, will be responsible for making important decisions about the plan's management. Your decisionmaking will include selecting plan investments or investment options and plan service providers. Many of your decisions will require you to understand and evaluate the costs to the plan. This booklet will help you better understand and evaluate your plan's fees and expenses.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, March 2011.

Fiduciary Benchmarking of Retirement Plan Fees

Abstract: This is a Q&A with Tom Kmak of Fiduciary Benchmarking and David Witz of Fiduciary Risk Assessment on the significant interest in benchmarking of fees because of the recent introduction of retirement plan fee disclosure regulations and the rise in litigation related to plan fees.

Source: Fiduciary Risk Assessment, March 2011.

401k Fee Disclosure for the "You Never Told Me" Employees

Abstract: For employees who believe their 401k is free--bad news. These "you never told me" employees could blame their employer for allowing fees to be taken out of their accounts without telling them. Despite past omissions, starting now to be clear and forthright about fund and plan fees can promote trust and encourage employees to use their employer-provided plan to save for their retirement needs.

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, March 2011.

Final Participant Fee Disclosure Regulations

Abstract: The Regulation is one part of a three-part set of rules intended to address fee disclosures and calls for two types of disclosures: (1) plan-related disclosures and (2) investment-related disclosures. This is a detailed review of the Regulation.

Source: Haynes and Boone LLP, February 2011.

Fee Disclosure: What 401k Plans Can No Longer Hide

Abstract: Employers and employees will gain a much better understanding of the behind-the-scenes workings of 401k and other defined contribution plans as the result of two regulations issued by the Employee Benefits Security Administration. The regulations' aim is to help employers/plan sponsors and employees/participants make better decisions when it comes to selecting and managing investments held in participant-directed retirement plans.

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, February 2011.

Summary of Fee Disclosure in Participant-Directed Individual Account Plans

Abstract: The Department of Labor published its final rule for disclosure of plan fees to participants on October 14, 2010. The rule was published in the Federal Register on October 20 and is effective 60 days after that date. The final rule generally follows the proposed rule, but significant additions, such as special rules for annuities, non registered investments, and employer securities; and numerous other adjustments, were made. This is a 10 page detail review.

Source: Profit Sharing/401k Council of America , October 2010.

DOL Issues Final 401k Fee and Expense Disclosure Rule

Abstract: DOL announced the final rule to give the estimated 72 million participants covered by 401k-type retirement plans greater information regarding the fees and expenses associated with their plans in order to better manage their retirement savings.

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, October 2010.

Fact Sheet on Final DOL Fee and Expense Disclosure Rule

Abstract: This is the DOL's fact sheet on their final 401k fee and expense disclosure rule which will apply to plans with a plan year beginning on or after November 1, 2011.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, October 2010.

DOL Fee and Expense Disclosure Rule - Model Comparative Chart

Abstract: The DOL's final 401k plan fee and expense disclosure rule requires that plan sponsors furnished participants a chart designed to facilitate a comparison of each investment option available under the plan. This is a model comparative chart prepared by the DOL which may be used by to satisfy the rule's requirement.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor (Word Document), October 2010.

A Guide to Retirement Plan Fees & Expenses

Abstract: In this paper, the author will discuss retirement plan fees and expenses to assist plan sponsors in achieving a greater understanding of their plan operations.

Source: Trucker Huss, March 2010.

Justifying 401k Fees: A Challenge for Fiduciaries

Abstract: Underlying the current spate of lawsuits over 401k fiduciary misconduct (particularly fee levels, revenue sharing, self-dealing, and active versus passive management) is a simple question: Are participants getting their money's worth for the fees they pay? That seemingly simple question gives rise to a multitude of other questions which are anything but simple.

Source: Investment Horizons , September 2008.

Death to the Prospectus Requirement!

Abstract: The DOL is on a roll. As of July 22nd, when they published the proposed participant disclosure regulations, they have delivered on three initiatives. This article focuses on the new participant fee disclosures.

Source: 401khelpcenter.com, July 2008.

A Primer on Indirect Mutual Fund Payments

Abstract: When it comes to the fees paid to service providers -- like the recordkeeper and the adviser -- participants almost always bear the brunt of the cost. Fiduciaries must be aware of these payments and potential conflicts and must evaluate them.

Source: Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, February 2008.

401k Expense Recapture

Abstract: The recent focus on fees and expenses is causing many employers to closely examine the fees and expenses of their plans. As a result, some employers have been able to negotiate reduced fees.

Source: Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, February 2008.

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