In an unusual move for a large corporation regarding lawsuits claiming excessive 401(k) fees, construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar decided to repay $16.5 million to 80,000 former and current plan participants. The company also agreed to replace retail mutual funds in the plan with lower-cost institutional funds and hire an independent consultant to review the plan for the next two years.

Certainly, while it is difficult for investors to unearth the fees they pay in a plan, the 2009 401(k) Fair Disclosure Act now sitting in the House of Representatives could force administrators to reveal fees more clearly, and, ostensibly, this higher scrutiny could force administrators and sponsors to offer lower-cost choices. It would also encourage 401(k) plans to offer at least one low-cost index fund option and require them to disclose potential conflicts of interest.

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