Recruit help. At a time when layoffs are common, it's wise to not be the only employee criticizing the 401(k) plan. "Particularly in today's economy, you don't want to sound like a complainer," says Loeper. "If you are the only person that brings it up, your employer probably isn't going to act on it." It could be more effective to approach your employer with several other colleagues who also want to save money on their retirement investments.
New funds may be coming soon. The Department of Labor's rules were first published in 2010, and many companies have already begun looking for lower-cost investments and recordkeeping services in preparation for the required disclosures to employees. "A lot of 401(k) plans have renegotiated with their supplier and a lot of fees have come down somewhat," says Signorille.
Retire sooner. The expense ratios on your investments can affect how soon you are able to retire. A Towers Watson analysis of target-date funds, the most common default 401(k) investment, found that most target-date fund owners lose 30 percent or more of their potential retirement income to fees. That works out to be between five and 15 years' worth of retirement income that is deducted from a 401(k) account over a worker's lifetime.
Switching to investments with lower expense ratios could allow you to retire years earlier. Consider an employee with a starting salary of $45,000 who contributes 8 percent of his pay to a 401(k) each year between ages 25 and 62. If he invests his retirement savings in a target-date fund charging 1 percent annually, he will lose 13.9 years' worth of retirement income to fees, Towers Watson found. If he instead chooses a target-date fund charging 0.5 percent in annual fees, he will spend 7.7 years' worth of retirement income on fees. An even more affordable target-date fund charging 0.2 percent in fees would deplete his savings by just 3.2 years' worth of retirement income.