Private Pensions: 401(k) Plan Participants and Sponsors Need Better Information on Fees

GAO-08-95T Published: Oct 24, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 24, 2007.
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According to Labor's most recent data, there are an estimated 44 million active participants in 401(k) plans. As participants accrue earnings on their investments, they also pay a number of fees, associated with 401(k) plans. Over the course of the employee's career, fees may significantly decrease retirement account balances. For plan sponsors, understanding the fees they are being charged helps fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of plan participants. GAO's prior work on 401(k) fees found that fee disclosures are limited and do not allow an easy comparison of investment options. GAO previously made recommendations to both Congress and Labor on ways to improve the disclosure of fee information to both plan participants and sponsors. Both Labor and Congress now have efforts under way to ensure that both participants and sponsors receive the necessary fee information to make informed decisions. These efforts on the subject have generated significant debate. This testimony provides information about the way fee information could be disclosed to benefit 401(k) participants and sponsors, focusing on 1) the information on fees that could be most useful for plan participants and plan sponsors and 2) how such information could be effectively presented. To complete this statement, GAO relied on previous work and also utilized information from Labor and from industry experts on the subject of fee disclosure to participants.

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