401(k), IRAs and 403(b) retirement accounts are a very smart way to invest in your future. The tax deferral is a huge benefit. And with Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s you can even get tax exempt distributions when you retire – which is a huge benefit. Especially if you don’t retire before the bill for all the delayed taxes of the last 20 years starts to be paid. The supposed “tax cuts” that merely shifted taxes from those spending money the last 10 years to those that have to pay for all the stuff the government spent on them has to be paid for. And that will likely happen with higher tax rates courtesy of the last 10 years of not paying the taxes to pay for what the government was spending.
When looking at your 401(k) and 403(b) investment options be sure to pay close attention to expenses for the funds. Some fund families try to get people to investing in high expense funds, that are nearly identical to low expense funds. The investor losses big and the fund companies take big profits. Those people serving on the boards of those funds should be fired. They obviously are not managing with the investors interests at heart (as they are obligated to do – they are suppose to represent the investors in the funds not the friends they have making money off the investors).
Here is an example (that I ran across last week) expense differences for funds that have essentially identical investment objectives and plans in the same retirement plan options: .39% (a respectable rate, though more than it really should be) for [seeks a favorable long-term rate of return from a diversified portfolio selected to track the overall market for common stocks publicly traded in the U.S., as represented by a broad stock market index.], .86% [for "The account seeks a favorable long-term total return, mainly from capital appreciation, by investing primarily in a portfolio of equity securities selected to track the overall U.S. equity markets based on a market index."]. Do not rely on your fund provider to have your interests at heart (and unfortunately many companies don’t seek the best investment options for their employees either).
The .47% added expense isn’t much to miss for 1 year. However, over the life of your retirement account, this is tens of thousands of dollars you will lose just with this one mistake. Personal financial literacy is an easy way to make yourself large amounts of money over the long term. It isn’t very sexy to get .47% extra every year but it is extremely rewarding.
$200,000 at 6% for 25 years grows to $858,000
$200,000 at 6.47% for 25 years grows to $958,000
So in this case, $100,000 for you, instead of just paying the fund company a bit extra every year to let them add to their McMansions. In reality it will be much more than a $100,000 mistake for you if you save enough for retirement. But if you save far too little (as most people do) one advantage is the mistake will be less costly because your low retirement account value reduces the loss you will take.
Related: 401(k)s are a Great Way to Save for Retirement – Retirement Savings Allocation for 2010 – Many Retirees Face Prospect of Outliving Savings
This same retirement plan has a one money market with a .38% expense charge (too high) and another with .92% (way too high). Vanguard’s expense is .25%. Companies should not let those managing their employees retirement money charge such exorbitant fees.