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Friday, June 18, 2010

On Slicing Pies, Or, Mystery Fees Cause Retirement "Money Spill"

It’s part two of our “Netroots Nation Goes To Vegas Piano Bar Extravaganza”, and in keeping with tradition that means we are again taking a story request.

This time we won’t be talking about energy security or “climate security”; instead, we’ll discuss retirement security, keeping your money for yourself instead of paying it out in “mystery fees”, and how one of the “usual suspects” is at it again.

And if all that wasn’t enough...we also have pie.

And when the Pye was open’d
The birds began to sing,
And was not this a dainty dish
To set before the King!

--Charles Lamb, writing to Miss Sarah James, April, 1829

So here’s what’s going on: about 50 million Americans have one of those 401(k) retirement plans.

The concept behind these plans is that you put money into an investment account of some sort, and the money accumulates, tax-free, until you withdraw it after you retire.

These accounts are “managed” by financial services firms, who collect fees for the service.

Lots of fees, for all kinds of services.

The problem is that not all of these fees are fully disclosed to investors. In fact, it’s legal for an investment firm to deduct some amount of money out of the mutual fund that you’ve put your money into...and not tell you how much they took.

Part of the House’s vision of financial reform legislation requires the managers of these monies to fully disclose, up front, before you invest, and on every statement afterward, what fees are being collected; an amendment before the Senate would remove this protection—and here’s where the “usual suspects” part comes in: we have this amendment thanks to our good friend...wait for it...Senator Max “I love healthcare reform—as long as those healthcare industry checks keep coming in” Baucus, he of the Senate Finance Committee.

The US Department of Labor says that you could lose as much as 28% of your money, over time, to these hidden fees, and that’s a pretty big slice out of your retirement pie.

To illustrate the point Congressman George Miller, chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor (following the requisite press conference) dispatched his minions to deliver 72% of an apple pie to each member of the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday, as you can see in this video, courtesy of Mr. Miller’s office:

What about the other 28%?

That was replaced with a big red wedge that reads “Wall Street’s Cut of Your 401(k) Pie” before the pies were boxed up...and it was actually a nice presentation, if I may say so myself.

So exactly who got the pies?

With no effort made to change the names for the protection of the innocent, here’s a list of the members of Senate Finance, along with their States and affiliations:

Max Baucus (Oy, Vey!-MT)
Jeff Bingaman (Big-Time Lobbyist Wife-NM)
Jim Bunning (Nutty-KY)
Maria Cantwell (Used to be Rich-WA)
Thomas Carper (Once Accused of Designing a Regulatory Deathstar-DE)
Kent Conrad (Countrywide VIP Home Mortgage Program Participant-ND)
John Cornyn (Compensating...-TX)
Mike Crapo (Big-Time Lobbyist Daughter-ID)
John Ensign ("Wanna Donate To My Legal Defense Fund?"-NV)
Mike Enzi (One of Those C Street Guys-WY)
Chuck Grassley (Against Healthcare Reform...Until He Was For It-IA)
Orrin Hatch (Supports Drug Testing For Unemployment Benefits-UT)
John Kerry (John Kerry Walks Into A Bar, The Horse Says “Hey: Why The Long Face?”-MA)
Jon Kyl (Wants Joe Arpaio to Enforce Immigration Law-AZ)
Blanche Lincoln (Damn Near Fired-AR)
Robert Menendez (Never Convicted-NJ)
Bill Nelson (Had His Own “Flight Suit” Moment-FL)
Pat Roberts (Is America's Phone Tapped?-KS)
John D. Rockefeller IV (Actually Wanted a Public Option-WV)
Charles Schumer (Will Go Upstate-NY)
Olympia Snowe (Always the “Possible Republican Vote”-ME)
Debbie Stabenow (Can't Live With 'Em...-MI)
Ron Wyden (Geek-OR)

This is another one of those stories where getting ahold of one or more of these Senators, in the next few days, could matter quite a bit if it’s your pie that’s at stake...and even if it isn’t, why should fund managers get to charge “mystery fees” to anybody?

So get to it, now, because if you do, you may be able to afford more ice cream to go with your pie later.

WARNING - Blatant Self-Promotion Ahead: It's Netroots Nation time once again, and the fine folks at Freedom To Marry have chosen me as a finalist for their Blog 4 Equality contest. If I am one of the chosen, it's off to July. You can vote for that Don Davis guy here, which is my "in person" name, once every 24 hours, so vote early and often. Voting ends June 25th. Thanks very much, and we now return you to your regular programming.

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