Finding, and Battling, Hidden Costs of 401(k) Plans

November 7, 2014 | | New York Times |

Like millions of retirees who assumed their companies had taken care of them, Ronald Tussey never thought that his retirement plan might be flawed. He trusted his company so much he kept his money in his 401(k)long after he left.

Having worked as an engineer for 37 years, ultimately at ABB Inc., where he retired 11 years ago, Mr. Tussey said he never paid much attention to the fees in his retirement plan and “assumed the company was looking out for my best interests.” [...]

In many retirement plans, a significant amount of future retirees’ funds are devoured by fees. According to a 2012 study published by the progressive think tank Demos, high 401(k) fees can drain $155,000 from an average household over a lifetime. Higher-earning households can lose even more — up to $278,000.

Growing employee resistance, resulting from a greater awareness of plan costs, has resulted in more than 30 lawsuits against 401(k) plans and employers since 2006. Seventeen have been dismissed, but these suits are time-consuming, complex and difficult to litigate. The oldest 401(k) suits, like Mr. Tussey’s, have been winding through courtrooms for the last half-decade.