Understanding Your Retirement Plan Fee Methodology
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon
Understanding your retirement plan’s fees is not only a good practice; it’s a fiduciary requirement as prescribed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The traditional enforcement mechanism has been DOL plan audits. More recently, high-profile litigation has driven plan sponsors to evaluate their plan fees. These fees can be grouped into several categories: record keeping, administrative, legal, plan advisory, investment, and education and communication. The principal reason fees have been thrust into the limelight is that plan participants often bear most, if not all of the cost of running the plan. This article does not discuss how to determine if fees are reasonable, but instead explores a relatively new debate over which fee assessment methodology is fairer. Since DOL has been silent on this issue, it affords the plan sponsor the opportunity to determine the most appropriate structure for their plan based on their demographics.
There are two basic retirement plan fee structures: per capita hard dollar fees and fees charged as a percentage of assets. Determining whether to charge per participant hard dollar fees or fees as a percentage of assets is a philosophical decision, with each scenario possessing distinct positive and negative attributes.