New federal regulations that take effect January 2009
should make it easier for individuals to wisely invest in 403(b)
The Internal Revenue Service over the summer passed
the new regulations that will require employers to keep documentation
about the 403(b) plans they offer and, for the first time ever,
oversee the providers who run them.
One, it should make it easier
for employees to obtain information about
their investment options and the companies
and insurers that offer them.
Two, this new administrative burden on employers will most likely compel them to reduce the number of vendors running their 403(b) plans from as many as a couple dozen to a handful.
"So it might become easier for people to manage and choose if there are just three or four choices," says Gerry O'Connor, director of Spectrem Group.
What you can do now
What can you do to maximize your 403(b) today? Your first duty: Read the fine print.
When a 403(b) provider makes
a pitch, look at the prospectus and ask questions.
Make a list of the fees charged, review performance
history and compare these with your other
If you have access to no-load funds that don't charge commissions, favor them over funds that do.
A Web site run by the state
of California for its teachers, www.403bcompare.com,
can help make research easier. It lists vendors
managing 403(b) plans in that state's education
system and provides details about the investments
each company offers, including the fees charged.
"Because the state (California)
is so big, a teacher in Connecticut or somewhere
else will probably find the product on the
site," says Dan Otter, a former teacher
and author of "Teach and Retire Rich."
If you don't like the vendors in your 403(b) plan, consider opening
an IRA instead. You can't invest as much: up to $4,000 -- or $5,000
someone 50 or older -- for the 2007 tax year. In 2008 those
limits each increase by an extra $1,000. However, if you open a
Roth IRA with after-tax dollars, you'll never owe the IRS again
because earnings grow tax-free forever. If you make too much money
to open a Roth, consider a non-deductible IRA. In 2010, the conversion
restrictions will be lifted and anyone -- regardless of income
-- will be allowed to transfer traditional IRA assets into a Roth,
says Ed Slott, founder and editor of www.irahelp.com.
That's a route Stephen Schullo, an elementary school
teacher in Los Angeles, advises fellow teachers to take if they
don't have access to good, low-cost 403(b) providers.
"The consensus is if you're paying more than 1.5 percent a
year in fees, it isn't worth going with the tax-deferred route [of
a 403(b)]. Plus, with a Roth you have tax-free growth
and you can go with any company you want. You aren't restricted."