Employee Fiduciary LLC studied the fees that 401(k) plans with less than $2 million in assets pay and found they average 2.22%. The firm’s small business 401(k) fee report is based on 121 plans, which had an average of $677,000 in assets.
By comparison, the Investment Company Institute (ICI) reports that plans of all sizes pay an average of 1.29% in fees and that those fees decline as assets rise. For plans with $1 million to under $10 million in assets, ICI found the fees to be smaller than what Employee Fiduciary found—1.65%. Plans with $10 million up to $100 million in assets pay an average of 1.28% in fees. Plans with $100 million to $500 million in assets pay an average of 90 basis points (bps), and plans with $500 million or more in assets pay an average of 67 bps.
“Meaningful 401(k) fee data is hard to come by, and that’s a big problem for small businesses,” says Employee Fiduciary President and CEO Eric Droblyen, in Tampa, Florida. “Sponsors of small business 401(k) plans have a fiduciary responsibility to keep fees reasonable for plan participants. When this responsibility is not met, the consequences for 401(k) fiduciaries can be severe—including personal liability. Required publicly available filings, most notably the Form 5500, provide only snippets of fee data. Even worse, 401(k) fees are often a tangle of direct fees from employees and sponsors and indirect fees that come from certain investment providers.”
Employee Fiduciary found that brand-name insurance and payroll company 401(k) providers are the most expensive, while lesser-known, open architecture providers are the least expensive.