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What Your 401(k) Provider Doesn’t Want You to Know

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What Your 401(k) Provider Doesn't Want You to Know

What Your 401(k) Provider Doesn’t Want You to Know

Born in 1984, the 401(k) plan gave regular Americans a way to make tax-deductible contributions to a retirement account directly from their paychecks.

Today, it’s the single most important investment vehicle for most people in the country:

  • 90 million Americans participate in 401(k)s
  • $6 trillion in assets are invested in 401(k)s
  • 51% of employers match a portion of employee 401(k) contributions

The only problem? With trillions of dollars at stake, financial firms have scrambled to get their hands in as many 401(k) cookie jars as possible.

And today, the vast majority of plans are characterized by huge commissions, expensively managed funds, and layer upon layer of additional – and often hidden – charges.

Flying Below the Radar

Today’s infographic is from Tony Robbins, and it uses data and talking points from his #1 Best Selling book Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook, which is now available on paperback.

It reveals that although 401(k) plans can be used as crucial vehicles for tax-free retirement saving, 92% of investors admit that they do not have any clue about the fees associated with their plan.

Further, 71% of people enrolled in 401(k)s incorrectly think that there are no fees at all.

The Retirement Savings Drain

Many people are unaware of the types of fees that get loaded onto 401(k) plans – and here are just some of them that get passed to the investor:

  • Investment expenses
  • Communication expenses
  • Bookkeeping expenses
  • Administrative expenses
  • Trustee expenses
  • Legal expenses
  • Transactional expenses
  • Stewardship expenses

How much does this all end up costing?

According to a thinktank report from Robert Hiltonsmith, the additional 401(k) fees can cut down the size of your retirement nest egg by an average of 30% for an average worker earning $30,000 per year (and saving 5%), this ends up being $154,794 over his or her lifetime.

For someone making $90,000 per year, it works out to a whopping $277,000 in 401(k) fees.

Paying to Play

Hidden fees are bad, but this next practice is potentially even worse.

It turns out that most big-name 401(k) providers accept payments from the mutual funds they offer on their plans, as a part of revenue sharing agreements. In other words, many of the funds you get to choose from are not there based on merit – instead, they were the ones that coughed up the money to be there.

Not surprisingly, these tend to be actively managed, expensive funds – some of which even charge a “front-end load” fee of 3% to even buy into.

Why are there so few options to choose from?

  • 93% of 401(k) plans carry under $5 million in total plan assets
  • These are the small and medium-sized companies that make up most of the economy
  • However, they also have the lowest buying power to demand better options for their employees

As a result, most providers offer limited options to their smaller, less lucrative accounts – and the low fee options that are offered are sometimes marked up big time.

For example, one major insurance company offers an S&P 500 index fund for 1.68% annually when the actual cost is 0.05%. That’s a 3,260% markup!

Small Fees Make a Big Difference

How much do these seemingly tiny percentages really hurt savers? More than you think.

Take two people saving for retirement generating the same return – one is charged 1% in fees, and one is charged 2%.

The 1% difference in fees may not sound like much, but through the power of compound interest, it works out to 10 years of extra retirement money!

What to Do About It?

The problems here are systemic, and not any one company is to be blamed. If you want to take action, here’s what you can do:

Examine: Take a look at your plan’s fee disclosures and the expense ratios of mutual funds you’re invested in. If expense ratios are above 1%, you are likely paying too much.

Compare: Look at available fund options and switch to lower fee options if they offer similar levels of performance.

Lobby: If your 401(k) is getting battered by fees, tell your employer. Employers not only have a fiduciary duty to benchmark their 401(k)s, but also to seek the best option for employees.

The journey towards financial freedom is tough enough as it is – and while a 401(k) is a wonderful tool to help you get there, it needs to be used correctly!

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Bitcoin

How Decentralized Finance Could Make Investing More Accessible

Under the current global financial system, billions of people do not have access to quality assets. Here’s how decentralized finance is changing that.

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Infographic: How Decentralized Finance Could Make Investing More Accessible

Did you know that a majority of the global population doesn’t have access to quality financial assets?

In advanced economies, we are lucky to have simple options to grow and protect our wealth. Banks are all over the place, markets are robust, and we can invest our money into assets like stocks or bonds at the drop of a hat.

In the United States, roughly 52% of people are invested in the stock market – but in a place like India, for example, this portion drops to a paltry 2%. How can we make it possible for people on the “outside” of the financial system to gain access?

Breaking Down Barriers

Today’s infographic comes to us from Abra, and it shows how decentralized finance could make investing a more universal phenomenon, especially for those that don’t have access to the modern financial system.

It lays out four key obstacles that prevent people in developing markets from investing in quality financial assets in the first place:

  1. The Geographic Lottery
    Where you live plays a massive role in determining your ability to build wealth. In advanced Western economies, the average person is much more likely to be invested in financial markets that can help compound wealth.
  2. Financial Literacy and Complexity
    Roughly 3.5 billion adults globally lack an understanding of basic financial concepts, which creates an impenetrable barrier to investing.
  3. Local Market Turmoil
    Even if a person is mentally prepared to invest, local market turmoil (hyperinflation, political crises, closed borders, etc.) can make it difficult to get access to stable assets.
  4. The Cost of Investing in Foreign Markets
    Foreign assets can be pricey. One share of Amazon is $1,800, which is realistically more money than many people around the world can afford.

In other words, there are billions of people globally that can’t take advantage of some of the most effective wealth-building tactics.

This is just one flaw in the current financial system, a paradigm that has created massive amounts of wealth but only for a specific and well-connected group of people.

Enter Decentralized Finance

Could decentralized finance be the alternative to open up access to financial markets?

By combining apps with blockchain technology – specifically through public blockchains such as Bitcoin or Ethereum – decentralized finance makes it possible to get around some of the barriers that are created by more traditional systems.

Here are some of the innovations that are making this possible:

Smart contracts could automate transactions and remove intermediaries, making investing cheaper, faster, and more accessible.

Fractional investing could allow partial or shared ownership of financial assets by using tokenization. This would make expensive stocks like Amazon ($1,800 per share) available to a much wider segment of the population.

Location independent investing is possible through smartphones. This would make it possible for people in remote parts of the developing world to invest, even without access to nearby financial institutions or local markets.

Like the internet with knowledge, decentralized finance could reshape the world by making financial access universal. Who’s ready?

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Economy

How Macro Trends Shape the Market’s Future

From climate change to aging populations, macro trends are changing the future. Here’s how to use them to your advantage.

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It’s hard to say for certain what the future holds.

Without the luxury of a crystal ball, investors must find opportunities by analyzing the market. There’s just one problem: the 24/7 news cycle is enough to make anyone’s head spin.

Where should an investor focus their attention, when almost every new venture is forecast to be the next big thing?

The Powerful Influence of Macro Trends

Today’s infographic comes to us from U.S. Global Investors, and it highlights how analyzing macro trends can serve as a key investment tool.

U.S. Global Macro Trends

Two Main Investment Approaches

When selecting stocks, many investors fall into one of two camps:

1. Top-down Investing

  1. Analyze macroeconomic trends.
  2. Identify specific sectors and regions.
  3. Choose individual stocks based on company fundamentals.

Considering the aging Chinese population, a top-down investor may choose to invest in Chinese healthcare stocks.

2. Bottom-up Investing

  1. Complete in-depth company analyses.
  2. Select a stock that is outperforming others in its sector.

A bottom-up investor could analyze Home Depot and choose to invest if it had strong performance relative to Lowe’s.

These approaches can be used separately, or even combined together. Zooming out allows investors to identify the big picture opportunities. Then, a bottom-up approach can find the companies that best capitalize on each trend.

What is a Macro Trend?

A macro trend is a long-term directional shift that affects a large population, often on a global scale. For example, climate change is affecting industries in both positive and negative ways. While “green” industries have seen increased support, ski resorts are projected to have 50% shorter winter seasons by 2050.

There are a couple of main ways to identify macro trends:

  1. Government policy
    Government policies are a precursor to change, shaping macro trends and creating opportunities. For instance, Obama’s Recovery Act fueled growth in renewable energy with a $90 billion investment.
  2. Economic cycles
    The cyclical nature of the economy means that investors can also use history to identify macro trends. Consider fiscal and monetary policy, which is implemented in response to economic data:

    • Expanding economy
      The central bank raises rates and the government reduces fiscal stimulus. As a result, inflation is moderated.
      • Contracting economy
        The central bank lowers rates and the government increases fiscal stimulus. As a result, growth is stimulated.

Discovering Long-Term Value

Macro trends are a key tool for discovering long-term market opportunities. They are beneficial because they are:

  • Unbiased and data-driven
  • Not swayed by daily headlines
  • Tend to avoid riskier, niche industries
  • Can be diversified by sectors and regions

There are currently many macro trends at play. For example, Trump’s sweeping tax reform and deregulation boosted the U.S. economy, lifting GDP growth to a 13-year high of over 3% in 2018 Q3.

However, not everyone’s a winner. America’s reduced taxes have made Canada less competitive. It’s estimated that 4.9% of Canada’s GDP is at risk due to ripple effects from U.S. tax reform. What’s more, regulators worry that the bank deregulations might put the financial system at risk.

The proposals under consideration… weaken the buffers that are core to the resilience of our system.

— Lael Brainard, Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve

So, how do investors distill this wealth of information into a future of wealth?

Spotting the Next Wave

In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s easy to get lost in data overload. Thinking big picture allows investors to focus on trends that:

  • Have a long-term outlook
  • Affect a large population
  • Create a clearer vision of the future

Then, an investor can target the most promising regions and sectors. When used effectively, this approach enables investors to ride the next big wave that will shape markets.

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