401(k)s strangled by fees, study shows
WASHINGTON — It's the silent enemy in our retirement accounts: High fees.
And now a new study finds that the typical 401(k) fees — adding up to a modest-sounding 1 percent a year — would erase $70,000 from an average worker's account over a four-decade career compared with lower-cost options. To compensate for the higher fees, someone would have to work an extra three years before retiring.
The study by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, backed by industry and government data, suggests that workers who are struggling to save enough for retirement are being further held back by fund costs.
“The corrosive effect of high fees in many of these retirement accounts forces many Americans to work years longer than necessary or than planned,” concludes the report, released Friday.
Most savers have only a vague idea how much they're paying in 401(k) fees or what alternatives exist, though the information is provided in often dense and complex fund statements. High fees seldom lead to high returns. And critics say they hurt ordinary investors — much more so than, say, Wall Street's high-speed trading systems, which benefit pros and have increasingly drawn the eye of regulators.
Consider what would happen to a 25-year-old worker, earning the median income of $30,500, who puts 5 percent of his or her pay in a 401(k) account and whose employer chips in 5 percent:
• If the plan charged 0.25 percent in annual fees, a widely available low-cost option, and the investment return averaged 6.8 percent a year, the account would equal $476,745 when the worker turned 67 (the age he or she could retire with full Social Security benefits).
• If the plan charged the typical 1 percent, the account would reach only $405,454 — a $71,000 shortfall.
• If the plan charged 1.3 percent — common for 401(k) plans at small companies — the account would reach $380,649, a $96,000 shortfall. The worker would have to work four more years to make up the gap. (The analysis assumes the worker's pay rises 3.6 percent a year.)
The higher fees often accompany funds that try to beat market indexes by actively buying and selling securities. Index funds, which track benchmarks such as the Standard & Poor's 500, don't require active management and typically charge lower fees.
With stocks having hit record highs before being clobbered in recent days, many investors have been on edge over the market's ups and downs. But many experts say timing the market is nearly impossible. By contrast, investors can increase their returns by limiting their funds' fees.
Most stock funds will match the performance of the entire market over time, so those with the lowest management costs will generate better returns, said Russel Kinnel, director of research for Morningstar.
“Fees are a crucial determinant of how well you do,” Kinnel said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- UPMC offering buyouts to 3,500 employees in cost-cutting move
- Citizens Bank executive kept busy by spinoff
- Billionaires club to decline as they retire
- Tight supply pushes home prices higher
- Air bag fix may be more elusive than hoped
- Murray Energy expects to lay off as many as 1,800 more
- Pittsburgh gasoline prices nearing $3
- Tesla home battery at $7K, partnered with rooftop solar system, may help reduce power bills
- EPA to release biofuels proposal by June 1
- Greek debt fears, surge in dollar nip at stock market
- Media heads rule ranks of best-paid CEOs