Crain News Service
WASHINGTON -- Employers and employees now have a new source of information about the fees charged by 401(k) service providers and investment funds.
The Department of Labor has released a lengthy study -- directed at employers and employees -- detailing fees associated with 401(k) retirement savings plans. It also released a shorter paper -- geared to plan participants -- explaining the general issue of 401(k) fees.
By providing both employers and employees with the information, "they will have more information to make the best decisions possible," said Olena Berg, former assistant secretary of labor, who left the Labor Department last month.
"It is very difficult for participants to know what they pay," Ms. Berg said, adding the department wants to shine a searchlight on any hidden fees associated with 401(k) plans.
Some benefit experts welcome the disclosure of 401(k) fees.
"The more information there is out there, the better off everyone will be," said Frederick Rumack, director of taxes and legal services at Buck Consultants Inc. in New York.
Others, though, question the Labor Department's effort. They are skeptical that employees will read either document, especially the 72-page study on 401(k) fees and charges, which is available only through the Labor Department's Internet site.
"I'm relatively Internet-savvy, but I'm having a hard time figuring out where I would look" to get the documents, said Margaret-Ann Cole, a principal at Fort Lee, N.J.-based PwC Kwasha, the benefits consulting unit of Price Waterhouse Coopers.
The study provides information on a wide range of expenses associated with 401(k) plans.
For example, the study explains that record keeping is the largest component of recurring administrative expenses. The study says record keeping typically comprises 14% of total expenses for a 401(k) plan with $10 million in assets.
However, record keepers may discount fees and view the service as a loss leader if they also provide asset management services, according to the study.
The study also cites previous studies on the wide range of expense ratios for various investment options. For example, the study cites a Fortune magazine survey that showed expense ratios for funds investing in U.S. Treasuries ranged from a low of 0.15% to a high of 2.19% with an average expense ratio of 0.77%.
Other fund categories and their expense ratios include:
* Growth and income, low, 0.19%, high, 3.81%, average, 1.34%.
* Growth, low, 0.2%, high, 6.49%, average, 1.42%.
* General corporate bond, low, 0.21, high, 2.18%, average, 1.04%.
The wide range of expense ratios is related to the degree a fund is actively managed, the study notes.
"In actively managed funds, the investment manager expends more costs on research, investment selection and buying and selling," the study notes.
In addition, the study, citing an earlier work by Pension Dynamics Corp., detailed how much in total fees a 401(k) plan with 100 participants and $2 million in assets might pay. According to that study, total fees ranged from a low of $11,375 to a high of $42,775 with a median fee of $25,600.