Market Beat: Hidden fees in 401K plans

Kenneth RobertsSpecial to the Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. andamp;#8212; The relationship between investment fees and investment returns has been studied in-depth. The result of these studies is simple and straightforward. High investment fees have an adverse impact on investment returns. In order to determine whether or not a particular investment is appropriate, an investor must understand the expenses and be able to determine whether or not the long term returns justify them. The problem that 401K participants and sponsors face is that the total fees paid can be very tough to determine.In his book, andamp;#8220;A Random Walk down Wall Street,andamp;#8221; Burton Malkiel builds a great case for the expense ratio of a fund being the single most important factor in predicting long term results. The case Malkiel makes is that over time a low expense index fund will outperform a managed fund with higher expenses. Morningstar, an investment analytics firm, has also done a study that concludes that funds with lower expense ratios outperform funds with higher expense ratios over time.Employees who participate in 401K plans at work can have a very difficult time determining the true cost of their planandamp;#8217;s investments. The reason is that 401K plans can contain many different types of hidden fees which can be very hard to uncover, even for the most sophisticated plan sponsors and participants. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) maintains that participantsandamp;#8217; funds are being eroded by these excessive fees. There are several types of hidden fees that are buried inside 401K plans, and they can be categorized as:andamp;#8226; 12b-1 feesandamp;#8226; 28(e) Soft Dollar Arrangementsandamp;#8226; Revenue Sharingandamp;#8226; Sub-transfer agent feesandamp;#8226; Trading costsBig investment companies have been getting away with charging these fees for many years. Today, there is some good news for 401K plan participants. The Department of Labor has long been opposed to the high fees charged by some investment companies and has finally come up with new regulations on fee disclosure. Starting April 1st, 2012, new fee disclosure laws will take effect.After April, plan participants and sponsors can look forward to being able to see their plan expenses disclosed in a clear and understandable fashion. The new transparency will help participants determine which investments are best for them and will help the employers determine if the fees charged are reasonable in light of the services provided, which is required under the labor law known as ERISA.Kenneth Roberts, a Truckee-based Registered Investment Advisor, has been in the securities business since 1992, has worked as a branch manager for a major Wall Street firm and is currently a portfolio manager for Fusion Asset Management. Information on his money management service can be found at or by calling 775-675-8065. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Consult your financial adviser before purchasing any security.

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