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What to Do When Your 401(k) Doesn't Offer ETFs

Actively managed equity mutual funds are often loaded with higher fees and only report their underlying holdings on a quarterly basis. In addition, it has been proven in many studies that the majority of actively managed funds are not able to successfully beat their benchmark index. This is one of the reasons why so many people have flocked to passive ETFs in the first place.

For the fixed-income side of your portfolio you may actually benefit by choosing an actively managed holding such as the Pimco Total Return Fund (PTTRX). Many fixed-income managers such as Pimco have been able to successfully beat their benchmarks over the last decade by strategically allocating to sectors that offer superior returns. In the event that the quality of your fixed-income selections is poor or fees are too high, it may make sense to turn to an index fund as a suitable alternative.

When you come to the crossroads of not being able to substitute an area of the market where you want exposure because you don't have a suitable candidate in your 401(k) menu, consider making some compromises. You may have to adjust your asset allocation to increase exposure to stocks or bonds that you normally wouldn't own in your other investment accounts. However, that can sometimes lead to better diversification and enhance your returns in other areas.

The Bottom Line

My preference is to use ETFs whenever possible to increase trading flexibility, lower fees and enhance transparency. However, there are going to be situations where they just aren't offered or a better alternative presents itself. In that instance, you need to be prepared with a game plan to select the best fund to meet your needs.

You should also review your 401(k) at least quarterly to ensure that it is performing in line with your expectations and consider making changes when opportunities present themselves. The end game is to have a large nest egg when you are ready to retire that you can roll over into an IRA and manage with as few restrictions as possible.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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