Financial advisors commonly advise their clients to seek investments with high returns in order to maximize their retirement funds, but most investors don’t realize that high fees are eating into those earnings.
While fund fees have steadily declined in recent years, many investors don’t realize how much they’re paying in fees to begin with or how much these expenses and other investment costs are eating into their retirement savings. Remember that as your investment returns compound over time, so do the fees, which means your payments could accumulate to 2% or more.
Below are some of those hidden fees and what you can do to avoid them.
This refers to the annual fees charged by all mutual funds, index funds, and exchange-traded funds as a percentage of your investment in the fund. Expense ratios apply to all types of retirement funds, such as your 401(k), individual retirement account, or brokerage account, and they cut a percentage of your investment in the fund depending on its annual yield.
Mutual Fund Transaction Fees
This is a fee you pay a broker to buy and sell some mutual funds on your behalf, similar to a “trade commission” that a broker would charge to buy or sell stock.
These fees surface when a broker successfully sells a fund to you that has a sales charge or commission.
These fees are associated with maintaining your portfolio or brokerage account.
Brokerage Account Inactivity Fees
If your account allows you to buy and trade at any time, you could face an unexpected inactivity charge if you don’t trade for a few months.
To determine whether your retirement fees are too high, check the fee disclosure and look at the expense ratios on the mutual funds you are invested in. Likewise, check these fees before you invest in a mutual fund you are interested in.
To help balance your investment accounts and minimize your retirement fees, take advantage of lower-fee mutual funds if your 401(k) plan already has an expense ratio of over 1%.
Finally, be aware that fees may also be related to how much advice you’re getting and where that advice is coming from. Human advisors are more expensive than robo-advisors, and an actively managed fund will cost more than an index fund or an exchange-traded fund (ETF).
When you accept a new job with a new company, you need to decide what to do with the money in your 401(k) plan. Here are your options.
1. Leave the money in your former employer’s 401(k) plan
While this is typically an option, and your funds will continue to grow tax-deferred, it may not be the best option. For starters, once you move to your new place of employment, you’re no longer able to contribute to it. Another possible deterrent is the fact that your former employer could switch 401(k) providers or get bought out by a different company. Both scenarios would potentially leave you in the dark in regards to your account number or login information. However, if your new employer requires employees to work a certain length of time at the company before permitting them to partake in the 401(k) plan, leaving your 401(k) funds with your former employer temporarily might be a good game plan.
2. Roll your 401(k) to your new employer’s plan
If your new employer allows rollovers, you can have your 401(k) funds directly transferred to your new employer’s plan. This is called a “trustee-to-trustee” transfer: assets from one trustee or custodian of a retirement savings plan are transferred to the trustee or custodian of another retirement savings plan. By having your 401(k) funds directly transferred following federal rollover rules, you’ll avoid having federal income tax withheld, and your money will be easier to manage in one account. You can also have the funds transferred to a new or existing IRA.
3. Transfer your plan via an indirect rollover
Another possible alternative is to roll the funds over to another employer-sponsored retirement plan by having your 401(k) distribution check made out to you, and then depositing the funds to a new retirement savings plan. However, this particular move will require that 20 percent of the taxable portion of your distribution is withheld for federal income taxes. And if you wait beyond 60 days to redeposit the funds, the full amount of your distribution will be taxable.
Whichever way you choose to move forward with your 401(k) plan, you should be aware of rollover fees. Typically the fee is only a minimal one-time fee, but it’s worth checking in with your 401(k) provider to discuss this as well as any other questions you might have.
As you approach retirement you’re probably going to be asking yourself when to collect social security benefits. After all, the longer you wait, the more money you can secure. For instance, as long as you’ve paid into the program for 40 quarters (or roughly 10 years), you can start collecting as early as age 62, though full social security retirement age ranges from 65 to 67 for people born after 1943. If you can hold off a few more years, however, your benefit increases by about 8% every year until age 70.
Experts recommend that one thing to look at is whether or not you can afford to wait. Do you have financial flexibility with other assets that can cover your expenses, or do you need the extra monthly payment to keep with the lifestyle to which you’ve grown accustomed? If it’s the latter, you may be forced to withdraw sooner or make changes to your lifestyle. What about existing investments? If you collect early, your investments can grow longer, but they would have to grow by at least 8% a year just to equalize the loss from collecting early.
As you decide when to start withdrawing social security, take into account the age at which you’re planning to retire. If you’re still in the workforce when you become eligible to receive benefits, you can start collecting social security. However, there are some potential downsides to consider. For example, if you haven’t reached your full retirement age, you lose $1 for every $2 you earn above the $15,480.00 earning limit. Your benefits are recalculated to recover those lost benefits once you reach full retirement age, but it can take up to 15 years just to restore the loss.
Another consideration to look at is your marriage status. If you’re married, experts recommend that the higher earner in the marriage hold off on collecting benefits for as long as possible. However, it’s possible for the higher earner to file for benefits at retirement age and then suspend them, which could allow your spouse to collect a spousal benefit equal to ½ of your full retirement benefit. Meanwhile, your benefit continues to grow until age 70.
Lastly, consider your health. If you’re in poor health, you might be better off taking benefits early. According to the Social Security Administration, if you live to the average life expectancy for your age, you’ll get about the same amount of benefits no matter when you start collecting. The longer you live beyond that age, the more you’ll benefit by delaying payments.
With so many factors to consider, there is no “right” age to start collecting social security benefits, so just be sure that you’re making an informed decision when the time comes.
For some employees, simply opening a Roth IRA or another retirement account independent of your employer may be sufficient and necessary. But many employees should consider digging into the details of why your employer does not offer a retirement savings plan. And if you think your company is one of the few who doesn’t offer one, unfortunately, nearly half of U.S. companies don’t provide their employees with a 401(k).
When it comes to smaller firms, many avoid the offering simply due to high start-up costs and time commitments, as administering the plan and ensuring it meets regulatory requirements can take serious time and attention. Retirement offerings also present significant liabilities for firms, including civil or criminal penalties for plan administrators if legal and regulatory compliance is not met. According to the Census Bureau, the combination of fees, time and risk may be why over 90% of small businesses do not offer a 401(k). Others may simply not be aware their employees desire a plan.
Like your company, but want help saving for retirement?
If you would like to see your company add a 401(k) plan, the first step is talking to other employees to determine the collective interest in a plan and how many individuals would “buy in” if offered one. Your employer may not be persuaded by one employee’s desire for a plan, but a group request will likely garner more weight. Remind your employer they would also reap benefits from a business standpoint (lowering taxes) and a personal standpoint (their own retirement savings).
Step two involves doing your homework. Is your boss concerned about the risks involved? There are plans whose providers will share legal responsibilities, so research plans and present several options to your supervisor. Is time or added work/stress the issue? Talk amongst your co-workers and determine a strategy for divvying up duties so one person isn’t burdened with added responsibilities. Supportive plan providers can also help companies create a structured strategy to manage the extra work
Overcoming hurdles to a company 401(k)
What if cost is my employer’s biggest concern? Plan start-up fees can sound daunting to small firms, but consider the company’s spending and ways those costs could be mitigated or offset, such as through tax savings or by redistributing the holiday party budget to cover expenses. Inform your employer that many employees might prefer or expect a 401(k) over a holiday party, so using those funds could attract and retain quality employees.
Being prepared and showing your boss that the added time and effort is advantageous will go a long way. Offering a 401(k) can grow their business, supplement their goals and maintain and engage new employees, which is critical in today’s job market. Taking the time to research beforehand and help whoever is in charge throughout the process may seem like the last item you want to add to your plate, but the benefits are twofold for you as well. Not only will you be able to start saving for retirement in a tax-advantaged way, but your employer may also notice your strategic drive, organization and initiative, which could benefit you as new company opportunities or initiatives arise.
Millennials and Roth IRA’s: Why the Two Make a Perfect Pair
From Millennials who seem to never save for retirement to Boomers who are now wondering if what they’ve saved will be enough, retirement seems to be a never ending topic of worry and anxiety for most. Below are five of the top misconceptions regarding retirement and how to be more prepared when your time comes.
- I will just continue to work when I’m “retired”
Many Americans believe that even when they “retire” from their full-time roles, they will continue to work at least part-time, whether for financial reasons or simply to stay active and social. However, the reality of that idea is actually somewhat slim. In fact, about 79% of workers polled by the Employee Benefit Research Institute said their plan is to work for pay during retirement. The actual percentage of those who work in retirement? Around 29%. Although many plan to work, life and the workforce may look drastically different when retirement comes, so it’s better to be prepared rather than assume the money will continue to flow.
- Social Security is going bankrupt, so I cannot count on the system
While it’s safe to say there is plenty that could be done to improve the Social Security system, it seems many in the workforce believe the future of our government retirement system is significantly worse than it is. Even if the government takes no steps to repair the financial situation of Social Security, the system will continue collecting payroll-tax income and other revenue to pay beneficiaries most of their benefits for decades. According to a report by Social Security trustees, after the year 2034, the system would only have enough funding to pay 77% of scheduled benefits. So, while most beneficiaries would need to adjust their spending, they would only need to calculate a 23% differential, not a complete loss.
- My Social Security benefits won’t be taxed
Unfortunately, this is not entirely true since the Social Security Administration does in fact levy taxes on those receiving benefits, namely those who are bringing in other income. For retired singles who make more than $25,000 annually (outside of their SS benefits) and couples who make more than $32,000, they could be taxed up to 50% of their benefits. Singles making more than $34,000 annually and married couples making more than $44,000 could see up to 85% of their benefits taxed. Thus, you may want to consider the financial value of working during retirement, as limiting your income could actually be more profitable.
- I’ll invest more in cash than stocks for my long-term strategy
When surveyed about the best assets to invest in for 10-plus years, most Americans responded with cash or real estate rather than stocks, bonds or gold/precious metals. While real estate is certainly not a poor long-term investment, cash holdings, like money-market accounts, only yield dividends that are on pace with inflation at the time, which is anything but reliable. Stocks statistically offer higher, more significant dividends, but many individuals avoid them out of sheer lack of knowledge of the market. Therefore, consider doing your homework, or working with a reliable financial advisor before you assume that cash holdings are your best bet.
- I can make up for my lack of retirement planning early on by saving more in the final years
When questioned about which strategy would be most effective in “making up time” for retirement planning, most Americans answered they would save 3% more of their salary in the last five years leading up to retirement, over working for two more years or delaying Social Security benefits for two years. Unfortunately, this is actually the least effective method when comparing the three, so you may want to consider a few extra years in the workforce if you are able, or at least considering holding off on those benefits.
Although it is virtually impossible to prepare for everything that may come up during retirement, it is possible to be educated and avoid common pitfalls. So before you jump right into that part-time role, or you hold off on saving now in lieu of saving more later, or you start right in on receiving Social Security benefits, consider speaking with a financial advisor to determine a plan that makes the most sense for you and will help you feel secure when the big “R” rolls around.
For many, even hearing the word investing seems like a frightening proposition filled with great risk and little reward. While investing your hard earned money certainly involves patience and a willingness to learn some key principles, it does not have to be the intimidating process that many make it out to be. According to research, there are four concerns people often cite when choosing not to invest: lack of knowledge or experience, lack of pricing transparency, distrust of the financial industry and the sheer complexity of investing. Below, we discuss ways to conquer each of these concerns and begin investing well.
LACK OF KNOWLEDGE/EXPERIENCE
We can’t sit here and act like investing is a walk in the park. It takes time, patience and at least a general understanding of some finance and investment principles. However, you do not need to have your MBA or have worked in finance for 10 years to grasp the fundamentals of investing. Luckily, we live in an age where you have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. A simple internet search can return articles, blogs, podcasts and more that discuss concepts such as long-term compounding of returns or diversification to lower risk. Solid research combined with common sense can put you well on your way to investing sensibly.
LACK OF PRICING TRANSPARENCY
Surely, there are often additional charges, such as fixed index annuities and variable annuities, that can seem confusing or excessive when considering the cost of investing. However, there are plenty of investment structures out there with clearly defined and labeled fees. Sites like morningstar.com allow you to search for investment quotes and discover the annual expenses and sales charges associated with that fund, providing you with a clear directive and comparison to invest where it makes the most sense for you.
DISTRUST OF THE FINANCIAL INDUSTRY
Markets shift on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis, and there are financial advisers out there who take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge, so while a dose of skepticism may be healthy when you begin investing, it should not stop you entirely. If you understand upfront that the markets will indeed fluctuate, sometimes dramatically, so you must remain patient, and know that every investment firm may not have your best interest in mind, you will enter the market cautiously and avoid falling into unknown investment traps.
COMPLEXITY OF INVESTING
Many financial firms will advise a plan of constantly scanning the market and jumping in and out of funds based on new data to be the smartest investor, a process that truly does sound complicated and confusing. However, while this process may work for some, it is not a one-size-fits-all formula. There are a variety of options, from total stock or bond market index funds to target fund portfolios, where you can build wealth for your future with less hassle and constant shifting.
Many let the fear of failure stop them from even trying, but you don’t have to let your fears control you. Be smart, consider your options and do some solid research to mitigate uncertainties, then get those feet wet and start planning and investing for your future, today.