Business groups testified last week that disclosing 401(k) fees to investors would confuse them, while shareholder advocates said it would lead to lower fees and a better quality of life for retirees because that would boost their savings, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Opponents to more disclosure also said it would raise plan expenses. More information would be “burdensome, complex and likely to increase participant confusion rather than enhance knowledge [and] would confuse most participants and possibly hinder rather than help them make investment decisions,” said Lew Minsky, an attorney representing various business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America and the ERISA Industry Committee, which works with corporations on pension issues.
Whereas companies used to pay plan expenses, they have shifted much of the cost to employees through the higher, retail investment management fees that the funds charge, rather than lower-cost institutional fees.
“We want workers to have information that is presented in clear, straightforward and easily understandable terms, thereby allowing them to make sound investment decisions for themselves,” said a spokesman for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who has sponsored a bill calling for more 401(k) disclosure. “Let’s be clear: The biggest risk here is not too much disclosure but too little.”
Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), who has also sponsored a 401(k) disclosure bill, said, “It pays to know what these expenses are.”
In addition, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are also expected to propose such a bill.
The Government Accountability Office has said that a $20,000 balance in a 401(k) growing at an average rate of 7% a year and being charged a 50 basis-point management fee would grow to $70,555 over 20 years, but only $58,400 if the management fee were 1.5%.
Over 30 years, the AARP added, that would grow to $132,287 with the lower fee but only $99,679 with the higher fee.
“The fee information participants currently receive about their plan is often scattered, difficult to access or nonexistent,” said David Certner, legislative policy director at the AARP. “It’s clear that better information is needed.”