Method to Lower Your 401(k) Fees

Aug 26, 2022 By Susan Kelly

There's no denying that 401(k) plans are a great way to put away money for the future. Donations are deducted automatically from employees' paychecks, and they receive tax benefits in return. In addition, many companies may match their employees' 401(k) contributions dollar for dollar up to a predetermined cap.

One element that can considerably and perhaps unfavourably affects these balances over time is the plan's expenditure ratio. How can businesses and their personnel lower their expenditure ratios, and why is this important?

Expense ratios quantify the fees associated with 401(k) plans, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds. Depending on the size of the program and the investments available, the expense ratio could be much lower or much more significant than 1%. Potential savings can be realised through low-fee funds and other investment alternatives.

How much does the 401(k) fee average each year?

All 401(k) plans include various administrative (or "participation") costs and investment fees. This category's expenses include transaction processing, record keeping, legal services, and customer service. Investment fees are charged by the funds in which the plan invests, and these costs are referred to as "expense ratios" in the plan's literature. The plan's administration costs are often split between the company and the employees (i.e., the employees).

Expenses are frequently expressed as a percentage of assets, such as 0.75 per cent or 1.25 per cent. The typical 401(k) expenditure ratio is 1% of assets or $1,000 for every $100,000 in plan assets. However, most fees are paid annually.

However, 401(k) expenditure ratios vary greatly depending on the plan's size. More extensive programs have lower costs due to economies of scale, and smaller projects, especially those with ten participants or fewer, often have higher ratios. Following is a table showing the average expense ratios for various sized 401(k) plans, as reported by the 401(k) Books of Averages.

The expense-to-income ratio is crucial

The difference between a 0.05% expense ratio and a 1% expense ratio is only $59 for a typical 401(k) amount maintained by a person in their twenties. But throughout the investment's lifetime, this fluctuation can significantly affect your bottom line. It may be the deciding factor in whether or not you can retire when you'd like to.

Here are the reasons why. A yearly fee of $100 is charged for a $10,000 investment, whereas $1000 is set for a $100,000 investment. The actual loss is the opportunity cost of preceding compound growth on every dollar spent on fees.

Consider the following as an illustration. Assume that you're 40 now and planning to retire when you're 70. Your current 401(k) balance of $100,000 is about average for someone your age, and your projected yearly 401(k) contributions of $10,000 are roughly half the maximum allowed. As an illustrative last point, an 8% investment return (after-tax) is chosen.

Your retirement account balance would be $1,909,490, assuming a cost structure of 5%. But if you pay 1% in fees, your final sum will be $1,705,833—a loss of $203,656. If you paid the higher 1% fee rather than the more minor 0.5% cost, the calculator estimates that you would need to contribute $2,156 more annually (for three decades) to end up with the same amount in retirement.

How to Decrease Your 401(k) Fees

Figure out what you're already spending initially. Since few individuals are aware of it, further research may be required. Examine your 401(k) plan's statement and the member fee disclosure notice to see how it stacks up against other projects of comparable size. If you are looking to compare retirement plans, the website BrightScope is a great place to start. A strong indicator of a plan's quality is whether or not its fees are comparable to those of similar options. Suppose your employer's 401(k) plan fees are significantly higher than the industry average. In that case, you may wish to discuss options for transferring to a plan with more reasonable prices with the plan administrator, as it is the employer's fiduciary duty to do so.

The next thing to think about is your financial security and investments. Investing in less expensive things is a terrific method to save money. Index funds, institutional funds, and some target-date funds typically have lower costs than other mutual funds, even though many mutual fund rates have been reduced in recent years. Check to see if your plan offers a self-directed brokerage window if you don't have access to low-cost investment options like these.

The Bottom Line

If you are a part of a large-scale plan, your 401(k) fees must be under 1% (anything above 1% should be looked at). Investigate the expenses you're incurring and, if possible, take steps to lower them so you may keep more of your hard-earned money. You can save money by putting your money into index funds, institutional funds, or target-date funds with low management fees.

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