Author Archives: Chris Costello

401k Fees Eat Holes in Money Socked Away

What The Heck are 401k Fees and How Do You Kill Them?

The saying “ignorance is bliss” doesn’t apply to hidden 401k fees. We frequently reference them … and for good reason. According to research from NerdWallet, people with 40 years until retirement could lose as much as $500,000 because of investment fees.

Worse yet. Most people aren’t AWARE they are paying these fees. An incredible 92% of Americans have no idea how much they pay in 401k fees.

We’re going to provide a simple break down of the fees found in your 401k. We’ll also review what, if anything, you can do about them.

Providers Have Three Main Types of 401k Fees

Investment fees are specific to each investment option your plan offers and typically the loftiest type of fee. Luckily, you can usually control – or get help to control – these types of fees. They can be reduced by simply choosing to invest in funds that have lower expense ratios.

Other types of 401k fees, administrative and service fees, are more difficult for you to reduce, as they are an innate part of your provider’s plan.

Here’s the quick overview of the three main types of fees:

  1. Investment fees – Expressed as an “expense ratio” of anywhere from 0.01% – 3%. Our team will call these “fund specific fees” or “fund fees.”They cover the management of the investments within your plan. And they typically represent the largest component of fees. Generally assessed as a percentage of assets invested, they are deducted directly from your investment returns: Investment fees are taken out annually as a percentage of your investment.
    • Sales charges – transaction costs for buying/selling shares
    • Management fees – for managing the assets of the fund, often used to cover administrative expenses
    • Other fees – to address services such as furnishing statements
  2. Plan administration fees – The fees charged to keep your plan running. These fees include recordkeeping, accounting, legal and trustee services that are necessary for administering the plan.
  3. Individual service fees – typically associated with optional features offered under a 401k plan. Some additional services may include access to a customer service representative, educational videos or seminars, planning software, investment advice, or online transactions. The more services provided, the higher the fees. The cost typically corresponds with the size of your employer’s 401k plan, i.e. there are benefits of scale (the following are the typical fees by employer size):
    • 1.4% for small employers
    • 0.85% for medium-size employers
    • 0.5% for larger employers

Investment Fees Pile On – They’re Vermin You Want to Control

We sometimes hear from people that they don’t need to worry about investment fees because their account balance is relatively small. But here’s the rub: Fees negatively affect your 401k (or other employer-sponsored retirement plan) in several ways.

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When Market Tanks ... Do These 3 Things

3 Things You Should Do With Your 401k When The Market Tanks

Disclaimer:  I am not predicting the market tanks tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year. Contrary to what the media or “pundits” try to convince you — it is impossible to predict when the market will drop or what will ultimately cause it. That said, I am 100% convinced that the market will drop at some point.

In fact, at blooom – we guarantee that it will drop at some point in the future. In reality, it isn’t IF the market will drop. It is WHEN and how many times over your investing lifetime will it occur. We try to inform our clients about this as often as possible and set the expectation that market drops – although painful at the time – are perfectly normal.

The mistake average investors make most often is they take the assumption that something is wrong with the market or their portfolio and they bail out of their investments right in the midst of the market decline. They do this thinking that they are doing the “safe” thing but it is often the absolute worst thing you can do. It is a huge reason why average investors perform so horribly when left to their own devices.

So what can you do the next time the market tanks?  At blooom, we advocate that our clients do these 3 things.

1. Set Your Expectations Ahead of Time

Just knowing that it is perfectly normal for the market and the value of your account to decline from time to time is half the battle.

History has repeatedly shown that the right thing to do — regardless of the circumstances causing the market decline — is to not panic, sit tight and just get through it. You probably know that the average rate of return over the stock market over the past 30, 50 whatever years is something close to 10%. Guess what, the 10% rate of return was calculated by STAYING in the market 100% of the time. Even in the last 20 years (1997-2016), the average investor return – 2.29% — has paled to that of the S&P’s 7.68% 1.

Achieving the S&P historical numbers does NOT assume that an investor had a fully functioning crystal ball. They weren’t hopping out of the market before a decline and back into the market right before it turned upwards. That rate of return assumes you left your investment the heck alone!

Start prepping your mind today — when the waters are fairly calm — for the fact that your 401k will decline in value when the market drops. This does not mean anything is wrong with your 401k, the investments, or blooom!  I promise you — after 22 years of experience working with clients to help them save for retirement — if you can come to grips and expect the market and your portfolio to drop from time to time, you will put yourself in a much better position for investing success.

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Wall Street Won't Provide 401k Help

Helping You With Your Retirement Where Wall Street Won’t

After about 20 years of working as financial advisors and helping people reach retirement, Kevin Conard and I knew the financial services business model was broken. No — more pointedly – we knew Wall Street was broken. Don’t believe us? Take a few minutes to learn about the Wall Street neglect that led us to create our 401k management app at blooom. We believe every hard-working American trying to save for retirement deserves to receive expert 401k help! If you watch blooom’s story, you’ll see why we are here to change the culture of saving for retirement:

Want More of the Story?

Based in Leawood, Kansas, our culture consists of Midwestern values and hard-work. We are a low-cost, online platform created to help improve the way average Americans manage their 401k retirement plans. In just five minutes, anyone with a 401k can receive a free health assessment on their current investment strategy. Then, for those that want professional Do-it-For-You 401k help, blooom can be hired manage your account for a flat, Netflix-like fee of only $10 per month. We don’t even need to move your account.

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401k Management Requires Dissection

What Do an Appendectomy and 401k Management Have in Common?

Picture this. You start to feel a dull sense of pain around your belly button that shifts to your lower right abdomen. Within just a few hours the dull pain has escalated to a sharp pain that can no longer be ignored. When you move, the pain gets excruciating and if by chance you need to cough or sneeze – you’d better be gripping onto something!

At this point, you realize you need to get your butt to the ER. After what seems like a million bumps in the road on the way to the hospital, you check yourself into the ER. The ER doctor then begins the examination. After just a few moments of probing your lower abdomen — she is confident that you have appendicitis.

The doctor explains that if appendicitis is not treated quickly, the appendix can rupture. When that happens, it releases bacteria into the abdomen and potentially leads to other, life-threatening infections.

Because of this danger she explains, appendicitis is considered a medical emergency. It typically needs to be removed within 24 hours of the condition being diagnosed. Given the amount of pain you’re are in, surgery sounds like the least of your worries. So, you tell her, “Let’s do it! Get this thing out of me. Nobody even knows what the heck an appendix does anyway!”

Then comes a response that you were not at all expecting. Instead of starting the process to prep you for the appendectomy, she instead asks you just about the …

Strangest Question You Would Expect a Doctor to Ever Ask

“I would love to perform this appendectomy, but before we can proceed, I need to know how much you have saved for your retirement?”

You are thinking … WTF!  What in the world does my retirement saving have to do with this emergency surgery? But given how much pain you are in, you will answer just about any question if it means getting you closer to the pain meds.

“I have about $70,000 saved up in my 401k,” you answer proudly. Still, you hadn’t seen the 401k management questions in the admittance form. What’s this about?

Her reply leaves you totally dumbfounded. “That is great but, unfortunately, you don’t have enough saved for ME to perform the appendectomy you badly need.”

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With Target Date Funds, Simple Isn’t Always Easy – On The Investor

When it comes to 401k accounts, target date funds (TDF) have seen massive adoption in the past ten years. Over 70% of 401k plans on the market offer some form of TDF and 60% of people in their 20s use them.1 Cerulli Associates estimates that by 2019, 90 percent of new 401k contributions will go into TDFs.2

This rapid adoption isn’t surprising. In concept, a TDF is not a horrible investment for retirement when used correctly. At first glance, they look like a solid retirement strategy. Namely, they offer simplicity and a diversified allocation that becomes more conservative the closer you get to your targeted retirement date.

But take a look at the elephant in the room when it comes to target date funds. They can be built with 100% proprietary funds, often from the same institution providing the 401k plan to the participant!

That seems a little like the fox guarding the chicken coop, doesn’t it?

Vanguard is the current market share leader, managing $224.9 billion in TDFs. They are followed by Fidelity and T. Rowe Price (as of 12/31/16, according to Morningstar Inc.’s annual Target-Date Fund Landscape report). These three firms manage more than 71% of all TDF assets, effectively controlling the industry.

We can’t deny the simplicity of a TDF. Unfortunately, you often end up paying for that simplicity in the form of the higher internal fees associated with these proprietary funds.

A Target Date Fund Case Study: Walmart’s 401k plan

For an example, let’s take a look at Walmart’s 401k plan. With 1.5 million 401k participants and $22 billion in plan assets, it is one of the country’s largest retirement plans. Given this size, Walmart can negotiate extremely low fund costs for its associates. The TDF options within their plan have internal expenses of 0.34%. That is roughly 50% of the industry average 0.71%. This makes Walmart’s plan one of the best-case scenarios for TDFs when it comes to expense.

Yet even in this “best-case scenario” of comparatively low expense ratios, a Walmart employee can do better.

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