The Hidden Fees In My Employer Sponsored Retirement Plan

Do you know what fees you are being charged in your retirement plan? Read below as I examine my plan!

Now that you have a small insight as to how the mutual fund industry works, I wanted to walk you through my current employer-sponsored retirement plan.

If you missed my earlier article on the Mutual Fund Industry, you can read about it here: Exposing The Mutual Fund Industry.  Since I will be exposing some of the hidden truths within this powerful industry, I am not going to disclose my employer or the retirement company that is sponsored because I really don’t want to get sued.

With that being said, my employer-sponsored plan is actually quite good compared to others offered out there.  While there are hidden fees in my plan, the fees are reasonable if you know what funds to choose.

While I was doing research for this article, I could not remember the annual fee my retirement provider charged me to administer the plan.  This is the administrative fee charged on top of the fees added on the individual funds themselves.  I signed on to my online portal but could not find the fee disclosure anywhere.

Calling My Plan For More Information

I decided to call the 1-800 number on the top of the website.  I initially spoke with a nice lady and asked her about the annual fee.  I told her all I needed to know was how much the annual fee was that they charged me for administering my plan.  She didn’t even attempt to answer and told me she would need to transfer me.

I sat on hold for five minutes until someone picked up.  The first lady answered and introduced me to a man who she said could answer my questions about fees.  I relayed my initial question and told him I just needed to know the annual fee I was charged.  He told me he didn’t think there was an annual fee on my plan to which I quickly informed him that I was positive there was an annual fee.

I sat on the phone with him as he continued to look at his computer.  He finally found that my plan charges an annual fee of .12%.  This fee is charged on top of the fees charged by the individual funds.

For reference, he told me that the annual fee information was on page 6 of my disclosure forms.  I looked through my paper copies and found the language (in small print) on page 6.  Here is the fee disclosure:


Does that make sense to you?   There is a reason they don’t just write: This plan charges a .12% annual fee for maintaining the plan.  What are T1 and T2?  Without getting into the weeds, the T1 and T2 denote differences between funds as to the time the actual transaction of the funds take place.

In other words, T1 funds charge a .12% fee and T2’s don’t.  All of the funds in my plan are T1 funds – except one which is a stable income low return fund – that you shouldn’t be invested in.

After recording that .12% fee, I looked further into my plan.  Below is a front page view and explanation of my statement:


The very first line is the annual fee that was taken out of my account and charged by my plan – the fee that the representative didn’t think I was charged.

The second line is a recent purchase of stock I made that came directly out of my check pre-tax.

The third line of “Reinvested Dividend Adjustment” shows the amount of money I received from owning specific stocks within my funds.  Refer to my article Stock Market Basics for information on dividends.

The activity report should be self-explanatory and the reason the dividends is $0.00 in this section is due to the short time frame that is recorded (10/1 – 10/10)

Investment Options

Next, I took a look at the options I have to invest in based on my plan.  Below is a screenshot of the options available to me.


The first picture is of the available target date funds.  I will go deeper into target-date funds in the future, but in essence, they automatically change what you are invested in based on your anticipated retirement date.  They become more conservative the closer you get to retirement.

In theory, they are a great option. For my plan, they charge very small fees compared to other target date funds.  However, based on my investment strategy, target date funds are not for me.

The second page involves more traditional fund options.  Below is a diagram of the page with explanations.

Explaining The Fees

Now before you go investing your money, you need to pay attention to track records and expense ratios.  When I look at a fund, I don’t usually don’t give much credit to the Year To Date percentage.  Those can fluctuate significantly depending on where we are in the year and just because a fund manager is doing great this year doesn’t mean they performed great in prior years.

It also doesn’t mean they aren’t going to fall on their face next year either.  You can see that in the large-cap funds there are two fund options.  One appears to be performing better than the other wouldn’t you agree?  Then why am I invested in the fund that isn’t performing as well? (Denoted by the check mark)  There are several reasons I’m invested in the second fund.

  1. The top fund has performed better every year right?  Well, look at the inception dates.  The top fund was created in December of 2016.  We have been in a historic bull market since the recession and pretty much everything has been going up.  The inception date of the second fund goes all the back to 1990 – yet still has averaged a 10.05% return each year.  That is stellar compared to most actively managed funds.
  2. I look at expense ratios.  The top fund charges .64% annually while the second fund charges .04%.  While this may not seem like much, the more than .5 percent is significant over time when you factor in compound interest!

The Games They Play

If you look at the funds in my plan, there is one new one that is outperforming the older more established fund in a few of the categories.  Coincidence?  I think not… the older funds are index funds and the newer funds are actively managed funds.

Mutual fund companies pay extra money to retirement plans so you can bet that part of that expense ratio is going to my plan sponsor.  Mutual fund companies bid with retirement plans and make deals to get their funds in the plan.  Win-win for everyone! Except for the investor.

Why Are The Newer Funds Outperforming The Older Ones?

Mutual fund companies frequently create new funds.  For instance, they may create 5 funds, and if one does well, they scrap all the others and promote the best fund.  Throw enough at the wall and hope something sticks.. makes sense right?

Take into account the newer funds in this plan.  What do you think they will do if one of these funds starts performing poorly and can’t keep up with the index?  They will replace it with a fund that is performing better at that moment and ride it as long as they can until it tanks as well.  It’s a game my friends, a game the 17 trillion dollar industry hopes you don’t figure out.

How To Invest

Before you start investing, start thinking about what you need the money for.  For me, I don’t need to touch my account for another 20+ years so I have plenty of time.  I invest in different indexes.

If the market tanks for the next 3 years, it doesn’t affect me because I’m in it for the long haul.  I will leave my money there and buy as much as I can while the market is down.  Never, ever, pull your money out when the market is down (if you’re invested in a mutual fund).  The market has always recovered – just be patient and wait it out.

If you try to time the market, you will pull your money out and put it back in at the wrong time and miss out on all the opportunities – including dividends.  Slow and steady wins the race.  The object is to do the best job you can with the information you have.  Pay attention to those fees, inception dates, and past performance.

While past performance is not an indicator of future performance, it can give you some insight as to how the market performs over time.

If you have a much shorter time until retirement, I would seek the advice of a Registered Investment Adviser (Fiduciary) and ask questions about fees.

Thank you so much for reading and please comment below if there are any questions you have that I forgot to address!! I would love to hear from you and please subscribe to my blog by entering your email below.

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