For years, companies have been dropping traditional pension plans, which paid a guaranteed income for life. Instead, most offer 401(k)-style plans, which require workers to choose specific funds and decide how much to contribute from their pay. Workers also bear the risk that their investments will earn too little to provide a comfortable retirement.
The shift from traditional pensions threatens the retirement security of millions of Americans. Many don't contribute enough or at all. Some drain their accounts by taking out loans and hardship withdrawals to meet costs. Sometimes their investments sour. And many pay far higher fees than they need to.
Of all those problems, fixing the fees is the easiest, Center for American Progress researchers Jennifer Erickson and David Madland say.
They are calling for a prominent label to identify how a plan's fees compare with low-cost options. That information, now found deep inside documents, shows the annual fees on investing $1,000 in a plan. Yet that figure, usually only a few dollars, doesn't reflect how the fees rise into tens of thousands of dollars as the account grows over decades. The researchers say the Labor Department could require more explicit disclosure without going through Congress.
Part of the blame goes to employers that offer workers high-fee plans.
"The good options are out there," said Alicia Munnell, director of the Boston College's Center for Retirement Research. "But when you introduce bad options into a plan, you attract people to them. There are a lot of people who think they should buy a little of everything, and that's diversification.
"I want the world to know that fees can really eat into your retirement savings."
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