After Occupy Wall Street, Occupy 401(k)?

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The ‘Great Recession’ has awakened many Americans to the fact that they must prepare for their own retirement. Relying on the government will not allow them to retire with dignity.

Retirement plan sponsors, beware! The anger that fueled Occupy Wall Streetand, closer to home, Occupy Sacramento and Occupy Stockton, could spread to the 401(k) world.You may think Smart Investor is kidding. But we’re not.

Consider this statement by respected financial columnist Ron Lieber: “…people who are lucky enough to be employed and have a retirement plan ought to be staging a sit-in in the office of the person who runs that 401(k) plan. He made this comment in “5 Ways to Think About Nuisance Fees” in The New York Times (Nov. 18).

401(k) Plan Fees Worse than Bank of America Debit Card Fees

Lieber was comparing the impact of excessive 401(k) fees with the impact of Bank of America’s unpopular monthly fee for debit card users, which was ultimately cancelled in response to protests. From Lieber’s perspective, “However symbolically irritating Bank of America’s move was, we focus on smaller fees at our peril. The biggest potential hit on the fee front probably comes from your investments, where mutual fund fees can quietly rob you of enormous piles of moneyover time.”

We don’t believe Lieber is fomenting a new Occupy movement. But he makes a good point. Most consumers and retirement plan participants aren’t aware of the high mutual fund fees that sap their investment returns. Once they learn, they may get riled up.

Retirement Plan Expenses to Be Revealed in 2012

Right now it’s hard to cut through the verbiage obscuring the fees that plan participants pay for their 401(k)s. But that will change in 2012 when plan sponsors will be required to share expense information with employees in an easy-to-understand format.

Employees are likely to be upset when they learn they’re paying high fees and earning subpar returns. This is a good time for employers to clean up their 401(k) plans, so they get ahead of employee outrage.

There is no such thing as free. Many plan sponsors will realize this when their employees begin asking about the fees the employee is paying.

Please comment or call to discuss how to proactively deal with this issue.

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