Courtesy of Pam Martens.
Last week we reported on a PBS Frontline program showing that a 2 percent mutual fund management fee can gobble up two-thirds of your nest egg for retirement over a span of 50 years of saving. Now comes an equally ugly truth.
Since at least 1998 the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees the nation’s 401(k) plans, has known that fee gouging was eroding the ability of workers to adequately build wealth for retirement in 401(k) plans. It took more than a decade for the Federal agency to pass a regulation mandating that 401(k) recipients receive fee disclosure in an annual mailing. Leading the charge against full disclosure was a coalition of trade associations dominated by Wall Street.
On April 13, 1998, the U.S. Department of Labor published a “Study of 401(k) Plan Fees and Expenses,” noting the following:
“Expenses of operating and maintaining an investment portfolio that are debited against the participant’s account constitute an opportunity cost in the form of foregone investments in every contribution period. The laws of compound interest dictate that these small reductions in investment are magnified greatly over the decades in which many employees will be 401(k) plan participants. Observers have concluded that some plan providers are charging as much as 100 basis points in fees and expenses over the prevailing average rates (Benna; Butler, November 12, 1997). The effect of such higher levels of expenses would be to reduce the value of potential future account balances for these participants…
“A second issue of concern to many observers is that sponsors (and participants) lack adequate information on the structure and extent of fees and expenses to make informed choices about service providers and investment options. Thus, the inadequate disclosure of information may be a factor in the existence of the large variance in fees and expenses of 401(k) plans…”
Today, the U.S. Department of Labor web site carries a candid statement of what is happening to the unsophisticated in their efforts to save for retirement in 401(k)s: “Do you or your loved ones know how much you are paying for your retirement accounts? You could be losing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars because of excessive and hidden fees.”