Consumer Protections in Retirement Plans

Are your investment advisors acting in your best interests?

Codes of conduct for those managing your plan and what you need to know to protect yourself if you’re moving retirement money out of your retirement plan and into IRAs or other investments.

There are federal laws that govern the behavior of certain people who manage private retirement plans (pension plans that pay a specified periodic benefit during your retirement, and 401(k) and similar kinds of plans to which you and possibly your employer contribute).  These rules of behavior apply to plan fiduciaries.  Your employer is generally a fiduciary and some of the people or firms who manage your plan may also be fiduciaries.

The good news is that these federal laws require plan fiduciaries to act in your best interests and prudently.  What this means is that a fiduciary must invest plan assets with only your interests, and the interests of the other plan participants, in mind and must use care in making those investments.  If the plan lets you choose investments from a menu of alternatives, the fiduciary must make sure that the investment choices available to you were carefully chosen and do not have unreasonably high fees.  The fiduciary must also monitor the plan investments offered to make sure that they remain reasonable choices for you and the other plan participants.  However, the choices you make about how to allocate your account among the investment alternatives offered to you are your responsibility.

The companies that fiduciaries hire to advise them on investments may be but are not always fiduciaries.  But the good news is that the person(s) or entities that actually makes decisions about how plan assets are invested or what investment choices are available are always fiduciaries who are required to act in your best interests.

Keep in mind that these strict fiduciary standards apply to the fiduciaries who run your private retirement plan. The laws regarding investment advice are less protective once you take your retirement money out of a plan and instead invest it on your own.  We talk about this below.

Here is a problem to watch out for.  The people who keep records for the plan and who you may speak with when you retire or otherwise leave a job may not be fiduciaries.  If they advise you to roll-over money or to take a lump sum, they are not necessarily acting with only your interest in mind.  Indeed, they may get paid high fees for managing your money if you take their advice and invest your rollover or lump sum money with them.  Some mutual fund companies will pay bonuses to their employees when they persuade people to roll over assets.

Indeed, it is often the case that you would be better off leaving your money in the plan, where the fiduciaries do have a duty to make sure fees are not too high.

Learn more about this issue

Click on the headings below to see more information.

Watch out before you seek advice.
Some agencies have implemented rules for investment advisors, but they have been overturned or aren’t strong enough.

Consumer Protections in Retirement Plans Highlights:

Fact Sheets and Issue Papers
04/10/15 |Pension Rights Center

Investment Advisers: Who Are They and Why Does It Matter?

The Latest on Consumer Protections in Retirement Plans:

Comments & Letters
05/04/22

PRC, National Women’s Law Center, and WISER comments to the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board on new TSP recordkeeping system

PRC, National Women’s Law Center, and WISER offered comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board and the ways in which the Thrift Savings Plan’s new recordkeeping system will impact the rights of participants and beneficiaries. Read the full comments here.

Press Release
06/03/20

Supreme Court strips workers of their right to sue for pension plan mismanagement

In a 5-4 decision issued on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that pension plan participants have no right to sue the people running their plans for fund mismanagement. The Court’s majority opinion in Thole v. U.S. Bank holds that since most people participating in a traditional pension plan will receive their promised benefits regardless […]

Comments & Letters
04/10/19

Joint letter to Secretary of the Treasury on Notice 2019-18 on Lump Sum Buy-Outs

The Pension Rights Center, AARP, the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Retiree Legislative Network sent a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin urging him to rescind a recent notice that would allow companies to offer lump sum buy-out offers to retirees already receiving their benefits. Read the letter, here.

Blogs & Newsletters
07/31/17

Ready or not, here comes the conflict-of-interest rule!

By Jane Smith The fiduciary rule, a new Department of Labor regulation that took partial effect on June 9, 2017, requires investment advisers to provide advice that is in the best interests of their clients. The implementation of this common-sense regulation, also known as the conflict-of-interest rule, is a big win for investors. The rule […]

Press Release
02/06/17

Pension Rights Center statement on executive order seeking review of fiduciary rule

Ensuring that all Americans saving for retirement receive unbiased investment advice is paramount to guaranteeing their economic security in retirement. The Center believes that every American has a right to investment advice that will maximize their retirement savings rather than line the pockets of unscrupulous investment advisers. The fiduciary rule was vetted for five years […]

Blogs & Newsletters
11/06/15

The fight to protect savers from bad financial advice heats up

The U.S. Department of Labor’s effort to update its fiduciary rules – rules that protect Americans trying to save for retirement – has reached yet another new level. After asking the public for its thoughts on its proposal to close a loophole that, among other things, allows financial advisers to enrich themselves at the expense […]

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