After the new fee disclosure statements went out, roughly the same percentage—half!—of participants said that they still do not know how much they pay in plan annual fees and expenses, according to a recent survey by LIMRA, an association of insurance and financial services organizations.
....For those 401(k) participants who said they thought they knew how much they paid in fees, most of them were way off base. One out of four participants thought they paid 25% or more in fees, 16% thought they paid between 10% to 24% in fees, and 30% thought they paid between 2% and 9% in fees. Only 28% of participants thought their fees were less than 2%.
That group is the closest to reality. On average fees and expenses range between 1 to 2 percent, depending on the size of the plan (how many employees are covered) and the employees’ allocation choices (index funds versus actively managed funds), says LIMRA.
First, this is bizarre, as the indictment here of private fund management seems to be that people are *gasp* paying fees that are much lower than they think they are. Also, it may well be that these people are not mistaken, but just using a different mental definition for fee percentage. After all, why is total assets necessarily the best denominator for this calculation? Obviously the fund industry likes it that way because it gives the lowest number, but it could be that people are thinking about annual fees as a percentage of the annual income. Thus a fee of 1-2% of assets could well be 25% of annual income. Hell, since I invest for income growth, I could argue that this is a MORE rational way to think about fees. Obviously Drum and Yglesias are just captive mouthpieces of big Mutual Fund.
Second, and perhaps more importantly -- do you know what retirement fund has higher implicit fees and a lower lifetime total return than nearly any private fund in existence? Social Security. Read your statement you get and do the math. You will find that the total you will likely get out will be less than you put in, even BEFORE present value effects, even if you have put money in for 30 years. In other words, the internal rate of return on your and your employer's taxes is less than zero.
Ahh, but you say, that is because your Social Security taxes are going to subsidize people who don't work. Fine, but then don't be surprised if there is strong support for a retirement system that does not pass the money through government hands. Even getting a crappy rate of return from some hack investment manager is likely still better than putting your money in a government system where cash is skimmed off to feed whatever political constituency has the clout to grab it.
Postscript -- by the way, I leave aside the issue of whether it is a productive thing to tax-subsidize. I am generally against tax preference for selected behaviors, even relatively popular ones like savings. But Yglesias wants to replace 401-K's with some kind of coerced government system (the note about fees above is to make the case that the average person cannot be trusted and that our masters need to do the savings for us). Image one giant Calpers. Ugh.