Not Happy With Your 401k? Say Something.

Fidelity suit shows how far you can go to fix your retirement options

By Marc Bastow, InvestorPlace Assistant Editor

If you’re sitting with money in your company 401k plan, you’re better off than many folks. But suppose you’re not happy with the choices you’re given, such as the type and number of funds the administrator offers. Do you have any options?

Yes. Though hopefully, you won’t have to go as far as the workers over at Fidelity.

Some Fidelity employees are suing their employer, saying that a disproportionate number of their investment options have high fees despite the fact that cheaper options exist. These employees also are concerned that all 150 investment choices available to Fidelity’s 50,000 or so participants are Fidelity (or company-affiliated) products.

Fidelity employees are among a growing number of worker groups finding fault with their employers’ handling of their retirement plans that have turned to the courts. Kraft Foods (KRFT), Caterpillar (CAT), General Dynamics (GD), Cigna (CI) and ABB (ABB) are among a number of companies that have turned to the courts in complaint of unsatisfactory plans.

Employers who administer their own 401k plans shoulder a “fiduciary responsibility” defined under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to act in the best interests of employees. Employees — either individually or collectively — have the right to question whether their employers are meeting that obligation. This obviously is a recipe for conflict, which is why we have seen and will continue to see more in the way of litigation by unhappy 401k participants.

But please, don’t make a beeline for the nearest lawyer just yet.

First, look through the choices available in your plan — lower-cost options do exist for some funds, but not all. See which boat most of your funds fall into.

After that, if you have concerns that you’re getting crushed on fees or choices, you can take some action.

  • For one, you can talk with a representative of your 401k or retirement planning board if your company has one. That person should have up-to-date knowledge of the program — indeed they might be the direct contact with the plan administrators — and be an advocate for your concerns.
  • If you don’t have that option, walk over to human resources to discuss your concerns, and see what action is available.
  • Don’t be afraid to consult with co-workers, who might be sharing the same concerns but were worried about voicing them to management. If several people feel the same way, you might have a more convincing case.

If you’ve exhausted these steps, then you might consider taking a legal route. And as we’ve seen, that route has worked before.

Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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