best 401k

Do you ever wonder whether your employer’s 401k plan is as good as management says it is?

Over my 30-year career, I have worked with many of the best 401k plans from Apple and IBM to John Deere and Mazda Motor Corporation. I have consulted with a number of great Fortune 500 companies on their retirement plans, as well as with hundreds of excellent small- and medium-sized companies.

How can you tell if your employer’s 401k plan is a good one? In my experience, the best 401k plans always possess the following attributes:

The best 401k plans offer index investment options

Index mutual funds, such as the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, allow employees to invest in their 401k plans in a cost-efficient way. The best 401k plans offer a number of index fund options over the entire asset class spectrum. For example, index options should be available in at least the fixed income, U.S. equity and international equity asset classes.

Better 401k plans will have at least one fixed income index option, three U.S. equity index options and one international equity index option.

A cost-efficient target date series

If you are like most workers, you may find it easier to invest in your 401(k) plan using a target date fund. These funds are used by employees who don’t wish to actively manage their accounts and keep up with what is going on in the markets.

Target date investors contribute to only one fund for their entire careers. They invest in the fund named for the year closest to their expected retirement date.

As published in planadviser, the average target date fund expense ratio in 2015 was 53 basis points (or .53%). The target date funds your plan uses should have expense ratios that are close to that average to be considered cost-efficient.

Why is cost so important in a target date series? The highest-rated target series also tend to be the lowest cost. They achieve a lower average cost by including index investments within their underlying investments.

Availability of investment advice

Nearly all large 401k plans offer an investment advice option. Many investment advice options are free and are algorithm based.

The best 401k plans offer more than one option. For some options, like Financial Engines, employees may pay a fee to obtain a more personalized level of advice.

Feedback on how you are doing

On each of your quarterly statements, you should have information enabling you to gauge whether you are on track to accumulate a balance large enough to fund the retirement you desire.

This information could appear as an expected replacement ratio (for example, you are on track to replace 80% of your earnings) or it could be displayed as some sort of retirement readiness measure (you are in the red zone and not contributing enough).

Retirement calculators and projection tools

Planning is an important part of achieving. Your recordkeeper’s website, the same site you log into to view your account balance, should offer a robust selection of planning tools.

From retirement calculators to basic projection tools, you should be able to determine an expected 401k balance and what contribution rate is necessary to achieve it. You should also be able to add in a projected Social Security income stream and annuitize other balances (personal, spousal, your other 401k plans) to derive a projected monthly retirement income estimate.

Investors who achieve their retirement savings goals effectively use these types of planning tools.

You and your fellow employees understand the plan

The best 401k plans are well understood by employees. These plans tend to have straight-forward plan designs and a management team that can explain the plan easily.

For example, while visiting one of my clients, I heard employees say in an employee education session, “Look, you need to be in the 401k plan and you need to contribute at least 8% to receive the maximum company match. It’s that simple.”

If you don’t understand your 401k plan, there’s a good chance you won’t get the most out of it.

Senior management talks about your plan

All of the best 401k plans, without exception, receive significant support from the company’s leadership team. Company executives not only talk about the plan at official corporate gatherings, they feature it as a recruiting and retention tool in their everyday conversations.

How would you rate your 401k plan on these factors?


About LRPC’s Monday Morning Minute

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) Monday Morning Minute is crafted to provide decision-makers with important information about the economy, investments and corporate retirement plans in a format that allows a reader to consume the information in less than 60 seconds. As an independent, objective investment adviser, LRPC has access to many sources of research and shares the best and most relevant information with its readers each week.

About Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to employer retirement plan sponsors. The firm specializes in Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) strategies for retirement plans and is a pioneer in the field. LRPC currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on nearly $475 million in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or or visit the firm’s website at Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

Important Disclosures

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, a plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.