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Understanding 401(k) Fees

Understanding 401(k) Fees

January 03, 2023
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A 401(k) plan is a type of retirement savings plan that is sponsored by an employer. It allows employees to contribute a portion of their salary to a retirement account, which is typically invested in a variety of financial products such as mutual funds. 401(k) plans offer several benefits, including tax advantages and potential employer matching contributions. However, like any investment vehicle, 401(k) plans also come with fees that can eat into your investment returns. Understanding these fees is important for maximizing the performance of your 401(k) and ensuring that you are getting the most out of your retirement savings.



There are several types of fees that may be associated with a 401(k) plan. Some of the most common fees include:


  1. Investment feesInvestment fees are charged by the mutual funds or other investment products in which your 401(k) contributions are invested. These fees can include:
    • Expense ratios: Expense ratios are a percentage of your investment that is charged annually to cover the costs of managing the fund. These costs can include things like salaries for fund managers and analysts, marketing expenses, and other administrative costs. Expense ratios can vary widely, with some mutual funds charging as little as 0.1% per year and others charging as much as 2% or more. Higher expense ratios can eat into your investment returns, so it's important to look for mutual funds with low expense ratios.
    • Sales charges: Some mutual funds charge sales charges, also known as loads, when you buy or sell shares in the fund. There are two types of sales charges: front-end loads, which are charged when you buy shares, and back-end loads, which are charged when you sell shares. Sales charges can range from a few percentage points to as much as 8.5% or more. Like expense ratios, sales charges can reduce your investment returns, so it's important to consider the impact of these fees when choosing mutual funds for your 401(k).
    • Other fees: In addition to expense ratios and sales charges, mutual funds may also charge other fees, such as redemption fees for selling shares within a certain time period after purchase, or exchange fees for switching between funds. It's important to be aware of these fees and to consider their impact on your investment returns.
  2. Plan administration fees: Plan administration fees cover the costs of running the 401(k) plan, including recordkeeping, legal and compliance services, and customer service. These fees may be charged to the employer or to the individual participants in the plan. Plan administration fees can vary widely, with some plans charging as little as 0.1% per year and others charging as much as 1% or more. It's important to understand who is responsible for paying these fees and to consider the impact they may have on your investment returns.
  3. Individual service fees: Some 401(k) plans charge fees for individual services such as account maintenance, account balance inquiries, or investment advice. These fees may be charged on a per-transaction basis or as a percentage of your account balance. It's important to be aware of these fees and to consider whether they are worth the cost.
  4. Loan fees: If you take out a loan from your 401(k), you may be charged a loan origination fee or interest on the loan. Loan origination fees are typically a percentage of the loan amount, and can range from a few percentage points to as much as 5% or more. Interest on 401(k) loans is typically charged at a rate that is slightly higher than the prime rate. It's important to consider the impact of loan fees on your investment returns, as they can reduce the amount of money you have available for retirement.

By understanding the fees associated with your 401(k) plan and choosing investments with low fees, you can maximize the performance of your retirement savings and ensure that you have a secure financial future.