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Raiders of the Lost Retirement Account

US News & World Report

Worried about your ability to set money aside for retirement? You should also worry about what happens to the money you do manage to put away. According to a report from Demos, the typical two-earner family with an employer-sponsored account will end up paying some 30 percent of its retirement nest egg – a total of $155,000 – to Wall Street money managers in 401(k) fees and charges.

How can this be? The financial services industry, in addition to its talent for developing different kinds of fees, has been adept at coming up with ways of concealing them. To start with, many of the fees and costs that Wall Street collects for trading securities are typically omitted from the top-line "expense ratio" reported to savers. That's a pretty huge omission, since trading fees account for half the fees charged to an average investor, according to Demos.

The industry also makes its fees look small by typically reporting them as a percentage of total savings, avoiding any mention of the far higher proportion they make up of your total investment return. For example, a total fee that adds up to 2 percent of managed assets may seem small – but if your typical return is 7 percent, the fee represents almost 30 percent of total returns.