As a retirement plan sponsor, you want your employees to save the most they can in order to reach their maximum retirement potential. A significant amount of research says that you can improve both employee participation and their saving rates. Here are four ways you can help your employees start building a confident retirement:

  1. Boost employee participation with automatic enrollment. Choosing to automatically enroll all new employees in your retirement plan can dramatically improve your participation rates. According to the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College, in one study of automatic enrollment, participation increased by 50 percent, with the largest gains among younger and lower-paid employees.1 While auto-enrolled employees are allowed to opt out of the retirement plan, most generally stay enrolled.
  2. Set the initial default contribution rate higher. Many companies who use auto-enrollment set their default contribution rate relatively low at 3 percent, according to the CRR, which is lower than the typical employer match rate of 6 percent. Workers who might have contributed more to their savings passively accept the lower default rate, which means they’re sacrificing employer matching funds along with saving less of their own pay.
  3. Adopt auto escalation. Plans that use auto escalation automatically increase their participants’ contribution rate every year, typically by 1 percent. Over time, that can significantly improve savings rates among workers. The CRR cites a 2013 study of Danish workers where the majority of workers who experienced automatic increases simply accepted them, and savings rates dramatically increased.
  4. Automate investment decisions with target date investment products. Investing is complicated, and many employees don’t want to take the time to learn how to manage their portfolios. Target date strategies automatically adjust an employee’s investment allocations over time, shifting them to a more conservative asset mix as the target date (typically retirement) approaches. The ease of use of target date funds means their popularity is increasing. The CRR notes that in 2014, nearly 20 percent of all 401(k) assets were in target date funds, and about half of plan participants used target date funds.2




About the Author, Michael Viljak

Michael joined RPAG in 2002 and has over 30 years of experience in the retirement plan industry, on both the wholesale and retail levels, focusing on retirement plans ever since their inception in 1981. Michael has an interest in fiduciary-related topics and was part of the team that created RPAG’s proprietary Fiduciary Fitness Program. He also authors many of the firm’s newsletter articles, communication pieces and training modules.


 Many plan sponsors struggle with deciding how many investment options to offer in their retirement plans. While people generally like to have lots of options when making other decisions, having too many plan options can potentially lead to poor investment decisions by plan participants. In addition, increasing plan options can also increase plan costs, as well as the administrative paperwork associated with the plan.

In a study on retirement plan options, researchers concluded that it is possible to present plan participants with too many options.1 The researchers began by offering people selections of jams and chocolates. Some were offered a wide variety, while others received less choices. The wide variety of jams attracted more attention from people, but more people purchased jams when offered limited choices. When sampling chocolates, people enjoyed choosing from the larger selection more, but also were more dissatisfied with the choices. Those who sampled from a smaller selection were more satisfied and more likely to buy chocolates again. In other words, as the number of options increased, people became more concerned by the possibility of making the “wrong” choice–they became uncertain that they had made the best choice possible. 

Chocolates and jams aren’t very big decisions, but the researchers found that these same behaviors carried over to retirement plans. They examined participation rates for 647 plans offered by the Vanguard Group, a large investment management company, covering more than 900,000 participants. They found that as plans increased the number of options they offered, employee participation decreased. In fact, for every 10 options added to the plan, participation dropped by 1.5-2 percent. Plans offering fewer than 10 options had significantly higher employee participation rates.

In addition, more plan options can increase costs both for participants, in the form of fees, and for plan sponsors, who may face additional administrative charges from third party administrators for additional options. Further, auditing and other costs may increase, since the number of options could increase the time necessary to conduct audits.

It’s important to balance choice overload against the requirements of ERISA Section 404(c) which requires plan sponsors to have at least three diversified investment options with different risk and return characteristics.



Welcome to Hey Joel! This forum answers plan sponsor questions from all over the country by our in-house former practicing ERISA attorney.

Hey Joel,

What’s the appropriate number of members and positions for a retirement plan committee? – Plannin’ in Pennsylvania

Dear Plannin’,

There is no specific guidance on the appropriate number of committee members. It’s important to have committee members who can contribute to the topics to be focused on. When there is one committee, as opposed to separate committees (for investments, plan design, employee communications, etc.) perhaps a CEO and/or CFO, an administrative executive and a participant communications representative would be appropriate committee members.

Ideally, these would be people who want to be on the committee to make a contribution to plan success and who are willing to accept fiduciary responsibilities, not the least of which is personal financial liability in event of a fiduciary breach. (Our Fiduciary Fitness Program (FFP) is designed to substantially mitigate this liability if followed appropriately.)

You can also have, as a regular or a non-voting member (guest with no intent as fiduciary), someone who can represent an employee base.

Most importantly, when setting up a committee, is to determine who the “named fiduciary” for the plan is. The named fiduciary will be identified in the plan document and this person or entity is the primary fiduciary for the plan. Note, if the named fiduciary is listed as “the Company” this is interpreted to mean the board of directors (if a C corporation or managing partners, if a partnership). The named fiduciary is expected to be the entity who has the authority to decide to have a retirement plan. The named fiduciary can delegate the majority of their fiduciary duties to co-fiduciaries (e.g., a retirement plan steering committee). Typically they would be anxious to do so as they likely would not want to be responsible for day-to-day management of the plan. The Committee Charter and ancillary paperwork (in our FFP) is designed expressly for this purpose.


The Committee Planner Extraordinaire,

Joel Shapiro


About Joel Shapiro, JD, LLM

As a former practicing ERISA attorney Joel works to ensure that plan sponsors stay fully informed on all legislative and regulatory matters. Joel earned his Bachelor of Arts from Tufts University and his Juris Doctor from Washington College of Law at the American University.


This month’s employee memo informs participants about the benefits of joining their employer’s plan versus an IRA. Download the memo from your Fiduciary Briefcase at and distribute to your participants. Please see an excerpt below.

Do you have retirement plan assets with a former employer’s plan that you’re not sure what to do with? Review the pros and cons of consolidating into your current employer’s retirement plan versus an individual retirement account (IRA).

1. Performance results may differ substantially.

 As an institutional buyer, a retirement (401(k), 403(b), 457, etc.) plan may be eligible for lower cost versions of most mutual funds. Cost savings with institutional share classes can be considerable and can have significant impact on long-term asset accumulation, which benefits you.

 One recent study by the Center for Retirement Research indicated that the average return retirement plan participants experienced was nearly 41 percent greater than other investors. Share class savings likely contributed to this result.

2. The IRA rollover balance may be too small to meet minimum investment requirements.

 Many of the low expense mutual fund share classes available to investors outside of retirement plans have minimum investment requirements in excess of $100,000. Some are $1 million or more. As a result, the average retirement plan participant who rolls a balance into an IRA may not have access to certain investments and/or will often end up investing in one of the more expensive retail share classes.

3. IRA investment advisors may not be fiduciaries.

 In a 401(k) or 403(b) plan (and even many 457 plans), both the employer and the plan’s investment advisor may be required to be a fiduciary. This means that investment decisions they make must be in the best interests of plan participants. This is the golden rule of fiduciary behavior and if not explicitly followed can lead to heavy economic impact to those organizations.

 A non-fiduciary IRA broker or advisor is not necessarily required under law to act in the client’s best interests, and as a result, there is the possibility that their recommendations may be somewhat self-serving.

4. Stable value funds are not available.

 While money market funds are available to IRA investors, they do not have access to stable value funds or some guaranteed products that are only available in qualified plans. Historically money market fund yields have often been below that of stable value or guaranteed interest fund rates.

5. IRAs typically apply transaction fees.

 Many IRA providers require buy/sell transaction fees on purchases and sales. Retirement plans typically have no such transaction costs.

6. Qualified retirement plans (like 401(k), 403(b), and 457) offer greater protection of assets against creditors.

 Retirement plan account balances are shielded from attachment by creditors if bankruptcy is declared. In addition, retirement balances typically cannot be included in judgments.

7. Loans are not available in IRAs.

Loans from an IRA are not allowed by law, unlike many qualified retirement plans which may allow for loans. Although we do not generally recommend you take loans from your retirement plan, as they may hinder savings potential, some individuals prefer having such an option in the event they run into a financial emergency. Also, as a loan is repaid through payroll deduction, participants pay themselves interest at a reasonable rate.

8. Retirement plan consolidation is simple and convenient.

It is easier and more convenient for you to manage your retirement plan nest egg if it is all in the same plan rather than maintaining multiple accounts with previous employers or among multiple plans and IRAs.

9. Retirement savings via payroll deductions are convenient and consistent.

The convenience of payroll deductions is very helpful for consistent savings and achieving the benefit of dollar cost averaging.

10. For present retirement savings strategies, retirement plans can provide greater savings than IRAs.

The law allows you to make a substantially larger contribution to many retirement plans than you can save with an IRA.


Although personal circumstances may vary, it may be a good idea for you to rollover your balance in a former employer’s retirement plan into your current employer’s plan rather than an IRA. Your savings potential will not be as limited as with an IRA.


Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results.  Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Lutz Financial (“Lutz”), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful.  Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Lutz.  To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing.  Lutz is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the newsletter content should be construed as legal or accounting advice.  A copy of the Lutz’s current written disclosure Brochure discussing our advisory services and fees is available upon request. Please Note: If you are a Lutz client, please remember to contact Lutz, in writing, if there are any changes in your personal/financial situation or investment objectives for the purpose of reviewing/evaluating/revising our previous recommendations and/or services, or if you would like to impose, add, or to modify any reasonable restrictions to our investment advisory services. Lutz shall continue to rely on the accuracy of information that you have provided.

For more important disclosure information, click here.



IRAs are an effective way for individuals covered by employer-sponsored retirement plans to supplement their retirement savings. Anyone can make IRA contributions up to the annual limit. For 2019, this limit is $6,000, plus an additional catch-up contribution of $1,000 for taxpayers 50 and older. For traditional IRAs, contributions are tax deductible in the year made. Taxes are deferred on both contributions and earnings until the year withdrawn. For Roth IRAs, contributions are after tax and withdrawals (if certain requirements are satisfied) are completely tax free, including earnings.

While everyone with income can contribute to an IRA, there are phase-outs for high earners. These phase-outs reduce or eliminate the ability to make deductible or Roth contributions. The phase-outs for deductible contributions only apply to individuals covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan.  The phase-outs for Roth contributions apply to all high earners.

  • Individuals subject to these phase-outs can still make nondeductible contributions. Nondeductible contributions to an IRA are advantageous as taxes are deferred on earnings until the year withdrawn. This can be especially attractive for individuals who expect to be in a lower tax bracket after retirement.
  • For 2019, if covered by a retirement plan, the phase-outs for deductible contributions are:
    • Single taxpayers: $64,000 – $74,000
    • Married filing jointly:
      • For the spouse covered by a plan: $103,000 – $123,000
      • For the spouse not covered by a plan: $193,000 – $203,000
  • For 2019, for all individuals, the phase-outs for Roth contributions are:
    • Single taxpayers: $127,000 – $132,000
    • Married: $193,000 – $203,000


Wells Fargo sold off a number of business units in an effort to better focus on its core banking business. In the latest deal, Principal Financial Group agreed to purchase Wells Fargo’s retirement and trust services business for $1.2 billion. This is a substantial acquisition. This business represents $827 billion in retirement plan assets with 7.5 million participants. This transaction will increase Principal’s footprint in the mid-size market as the majority of Wells Fargo’s plans range from $10 million to $1 billion in assets. In terms of assets, Principal will become the third largest recordkeeper, trailing only Vanguard and Fidelity. It is possible significant layoffs will occur as this transaction is obviously attractive to Principal because of the opportunity to achieve economies of scale.  This is part of an ongoing wave of consolidation in the industry that includes a number of significant acquisitions: Empower- JP Morgan, John Hancock – New York Life, and One America – Bank of Montreal.


 Neither the Department of Labor (DOL) nor the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) has given any indication of how they are progressing with their new respective fiduciary rules. Last year, both agencies said they would publish their respective rules in September of this year. At this point, it seems unlikely either agency will meet this deadline. Additionally, it is possible these rules may never materialize due to the current administration’s general view on regulations.

In March of last year, almost 10 years after the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule was first proposed, the Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated the rule in its entirety. The DOL elected not to appeal to the Supreme Court. Quickly following this decision, and to no one’s surprise, the SEC issued a package of its own proposed advice standards. This includes a “Regulation of Best Interest.” The Commission indicated that a final rule would be forthcoming this fall.

In October, DOL released its regulatory agenda for 2019 which includes plans to issue a revised Fiduciary Rule in September of 2019.  The essence of the DOL’s original Fiduciary Rule was that persons advising plans, participants or IRA holders, are acting as fiduciaries and may only make recommendations that are in the “best interests of the client.” The SEC’s new rule goes beyond the existing rule of suitability and requires that brokers and advisors put the best interests of their clients ahead of their desire to make money. Both rules have generated controversy. They have been criticized as unnecessary and overly complex (DOL’s rule is 176 pages long and the SEC’s proposed rule is almost 1,000 pages). The DOL’s rule experienced challenges in the courts on the grounds that the attempt to regulate the financial services industry went beyond the Department’s statutory authority. Although the aims of these two agencies are similar, they have made no attempt to coordinate their efforts.


ABB recently announced the settlement of a lawsuit involving its 401(k) Plan. This settlement is another victory for the law firm of Schlichter, Bogard & Denton in St. Louis. Earlier this year, it obtained a $10 million settlement in a suit brought against Duke University. Filed in 2013, this suit has now dragged on for almost 13 years. It was one of the first class action suits against a retirement plan under ERISA. As in all such class actions, the plan in question is substantial. ABB has 24,000 employees and about $2 billion in plan assets. The alleged fiduciary violations are typical for these kinds of suits – poor investment choices and excessive fees that, in this case, were used to subsidize services provided to other plans. The case went to trial in 2010, resulting in a $36 million judgment for the plaintiffs. On appeal, the judgment was overturned and the case remanded for further proceedings.  The Schlichter firm has obtained large settlements in other class actions including $57 million against Boeing and the largest settlement to date in these types of suits – $62 million against Lockheed Martin. Attorney’s fees and other details of the settlement have yet to be announced.


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