Financial Literacy - Securing retirement
10 ways to spot 401(k) abuse

"If you've got a plan prospectus and you see the performance for the money you have in one of these accounts varies from the publicly available information on plan performance, then maybe you've got an issue," Hotz adds.

Tip: You might wish to request your plan's Form 5500 or Form 5500-C/R (for plans with fewer than 100 participants). Both contain information on the plan's overall finances. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, and IRS rules mandate that your plan complete Form 5500 annually. The DOL says you have a right to these documents. The agency describes on its Web site how to mine the document for important information.

5. My 401(k) statement doesn't jibe with my contribution

"Begin by talking to the representative at your employer, and if you don't get satisfactory answers there, go immediately to the plan provider," says CFP Ken Robinson, a Cleveland-based attorney, author and head of Practical Financial Planning.

He adds that it pays to have a knowledgeable expert in your corner if your 401(k) becomes problematic or you feel overwhelmed by all the rules and regulations.

Tip: Robinson recommends getting your financial planner, if you have one, to step in and make inquiries for you. "Sometimes contributions don't end up where they are supposed to; they're taken out of a paycheck; they're supposed to get to a plan and it's just an honest oversight that they're late," he says. "Having a third party may help to separate out those types of issues."

6. I didn't sign up for these investments

One investor, James LaRue, lost $150,000 in his 401(k) plan because his former employer neglected to move his assets to more conservative investments despite repeated requests. LaRue took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, who unanimously found in his favor. The landmark decision marked the first time the court addressed whether workers could sue over individual losses in their 401(k) plans under federal rules.

No one expects the courts to be flooded with disgruntled investors. Sometimes simple clerical mistakes can happen when you first sign up for your company's 401(k) plan. If you have access to the Internet and your 401(k) plan allows you to manage your account online, check to see if the funds you originally selected are still available. If they are, you can make the corrections yourself. You can change investment elections, change the percentage of your contribution or stop contributing outright with the click of a mouse.


Tip: If your plan allows participants to direct their own investments, find out from your plan provider what investments are available and request a prospectus for the ones that suit your goals. Some plan providers allow you to request or access this information on the Internet. You may even be able to view your plan's SPD, which may describe your available investment options. It should be available free of charge.

However, if you find yourself in LaRue's situation, contact your plan provider first (Vanguard, Fidelity, etc.) and see if they can move assets over the phone or Internet. If they can't without employer approval and the employer does not comply, then contact the nearest EBSA field office.

Show Bankrate's community sharing policy

Connect with us