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Free 401k Advice for Plan Participants.

Posted on | March 18, 2011 | 1 Comment

This article will focus on the latest trend in the 401k space ~ “free” 401k advice!

To begin with, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 which came into effect in January of 2008, includes a provision for plan providers (the vendor that provides you company with your 401k plan platform) to offer plan sponsors (your company) the option for plan participants (you) to pay for independent third party investment advice with pre-tax money from your plan assets. Granted this is not free but it gives the plan participant the choice to use pretax dollars vs. writing a check for the investment advice.

Know that even though you do not currently get a bill for the service, you are already paying manager fees if you own any type of mutual fund in your plan. You just do not see the money deducted from inside the fund. It is not transparent.

Furthermore, at least one plan provider, Charles Schwab, has begun offering some of their plan sponsor clients the option for plan participants to use, without charge, an unrelated investment advisory firm, GuidedChoice Asset Management, Inc.. There is a catch however; their investment advice is limited to the core lineup of mutual funds offered in the plan. In other words, if the plan also has a self directed 401k GuidedChoice will not advise the plan participant on those possible investment choices. Neither will they provide any advice on assets held outside the plan whereas an independent advisor would, if asked.

Yet, Schwab has taken the concept a step further. They are introducing an indexing-only 401k plan using exchange traded funds… along with customized 401k advice. The indication so far is not clear if the client plan sponsor or the plan participant is billed for the advice; however, it is clear that participants are in dire need of this service.

If you think that 401k advice is a good idea and you want to know if your company has adopted any of these provisions, call your human resources department and ask. If no one can give you a verbal answer, ask for a document called The Summary Plan Description. This document will spell it out for you. Just know that there are 401k advisors ready and willing to help.


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