Average investors are getting cheated out of thousands of dollars in earnings for their 401(k) plans by hidden fees and expenses, according to Bloomberg.

“We're getting bamboozled,” said Jerry Schneider, 62, who said he hoped to save $1.5 million for retirement when he joined Elcon Associates Inc. in 1995. He said he now has about $450,000 and may not be able to retire as planned in September or October.

“It depends on how everything works out,” he said. “Trying to figure out the fees is not a full-time job, but it could be.”

Schneider said he has been trying to find out how much he pays in 401(k) fees, and keeps discovering more charges.

Last September, he found undisclosed expenses for securities trades, administration and advisory services that had driven the cost of his plan to at least 3.5% of the amount he invested.

The U.S. Department of Labor lists 17 different 401(k) fees, including record keeping, legal services and toll-free telephone numbers. Most investors don’t realize that these hidden fees, buried in the fine print, are slowing the growth of their investments.

Hidden fees of 1% can reduce an investor’s 401(k) by 15% over 30 years, said Stephen Butler, president and founder of Pleasant Hill, Calif.-based Pension Dynamics Corp., a retirement plan consulting firm.

“These are expenses that investors never receive a bill for and they never write a check for and they have no say in when the plan is set up,” Butler said. “It's a loss to their accounts that happens with 100% certainty.”

Gregory Kasten, a financial planner at Lexington, Ky.-based Unified Trust Co., said the most an investor should pay for a mutual fund-based 401(k) is 1%.

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