The Department of Labor announced this week that it will delay the date that plan sponsors will be required to disclose 401(k) fees to participants by three months. Plan sponsors will now have until August 30, 2012 to provide 401(k) fee information to retirement savers, rather than the May 31, 2012 deadline under an earlier version of the rule.
"Extending and aligning the applicability dates of these related rules gives plan fiduciaries an appropriate amount of time to get all required fee and investment information from their covered service providers so they can then disclose, by the date required, complete and accurate information about retirement plan and investment costs to their workers," says Phyllis Borzi, assistant secretary of the Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). The rules were first published in the Federal Register in 2010. Service providers who fail to comply with the rules by the new deadline will be subject to IRS penalties.
401(k) account owners can expect to receive an initial annual disclosure of investment, record-keeping, and other fees deducted from their retirement plan by August 30. Retirement savers should also begin receiving quarterly statements listing fees incurred by November 14, 2012. The first quarterly statement will reflect the fees and expenses deducted from the participant or beneficiary's account from July through September 2012.
The final rule does not include a provision that requires a summary document that lists all expenses deducted from the 401(k) account in one place. The Department of Labor says it will soon propose a new rule that would require 401(k) service providers to organize the fee and investment expense information into a standardized, user-friendly guide. “The Department will be exploring to what extent a guide should be required in a final rule,” says a high-ranking EBSA official. The EBSA published a sample guide that service providers can use on a voluntary basis, but participation is not required.
Obama administration officials hope that 401(k) participants will use this fee information to select lower-cost investments. “If plan participants have access to better information on administrative and investment fees, they may be able to demand more efficient and cost-effective products and services,” according to a report by the Council of Economic Advisers. Reducing fees by even a small amount can provide big returns for retirement savers. For example, a 0.25 percent higher return after fees could increase the cumulative savings of a 25-year-old worker by about 10 percent by retirement, the Council of Economic Advisers found. “When businesses that sponsor retirement plans, and the workers who participate in those plans, get better information on associated fees and expenses, they’ll be able to shop around and make informed decisions that will lead to cost savings and a larger nest egg at retirement,” says Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
Some 401(k) service providers have requested that the 401(k) fee disclosure rules be delayed for longer than three months, but the Labor Department says it has not been persuaded that a further extension is necessary. “The Department also believes that a further delay in implementing the regulation is not in the best interest of responsible plan fiduciaries, plan administrators, and plan participants and beneficiaries,” according to the final rule. Unless the rules are further delayed, 401(k) participants should be able to see exactly how much they are paying in fees before the end of 2012.