NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When you stepped foot in your first job out of college, you may have heeded the conventional wisdom and opened a 401(k) account. But you may not have been aware that these retirement accounts don’t come for free.
In fact, about 70% of 401(k) holders in the U.S. falsely assume that their 401(k) plan is free, according to an AARP survey. Recognizing this gap, former president of Waze Uri Levine, Yoav Zurel and David Weisz decided to create FeeX to educate consumers on the hidden fees associated with 401(k) plans, IRAs, and brokerage accounts, and to then help them get rid of these fees. The Israeli startup, which launched in 2012, brands itself as the “Robinhood of Fees.”
“This is probably the biggest secret in the world--$600 billion of fees every year that people [in the U.S.] are paying and aren’t even aware of it,” said Uri Levine, co-founder and chairman of FeeX. “The reality is that about one-third of your retirement will be lost in fees. If you have a 401(k) plan, and you don’t know how much you’re paying, you’re paying too much.”
The average American household will pay $155,000 on 401(k) fees, according to a study from New York think tank Demos. “Most people are so cost-conscious, but they don’t think about the inherent costs that go with a 401(k),” said Jared Snider, a financial advisor at Exencial Wealth Advisors.
That’s where FeeX comes in -- to try to help consumers navigate the often obscure terrain of their 401(k) plans. When a consumer creates a profile on FeeX, and the platform may recommend alternative mutual funds that a consumer can switch to that have lower fees. In the future, Levine says FeeX could expand to other financial products like mortgages and loans to give similar advice.
For now, you simply provide your information for your 401(k), IRA or brokerage account, and FeeX will scan the accounts for eight different types of fees, using crowdsourced financial data from its users. The algorithm takes that data and shows how the fees will compound over time. FeeX then offers alternative plans that charge lower fees.
FeeX has attracted 100,000 users in the country and has actually moved the needle in reducing retirement erosion from fees, Levine says. In 2012 only 3% of the population in Israel paid the lowest fees possible on their retirement plans, and by the end of 2014 there were 15% in that category. Levine knew he was making waves when financial institutions started approaching him to be on their boards.
The startup launched in the U.S. last August and has accumulated 25,000 users stateside, saving the total user-base $300 million in fees and the average user $50,000 to $100,000 over the lifetime of an account.
Consumers in the U.S. especially are already not setting aside enough money for retirement. And it’s becoming a growing problem as the population’s lifespan increases.
“The culture is a culture of spending -- we spend more than we have and we can take student loans and credit card loans,” Levine said. “No one cares about retirement, we care about living in the moment.”
This culture is only worsened by the lack of transparency when it comes to saving, so FeeX is on a mission to correct that and create a bit more awareness in the market.
“In general consumers are not as informed as they need to be about investments,” said Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations and external affairs at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
In 2012, the Department of Labor added new requirements for disclosures, forcing financial institutions to reveal more information about fees; however, the pertinent information still gets hidden in the fine print.
“For people who don’t deal with this all the time, it’s hard to parse out what those costs really mean,” Snider said. “You may seem them in terms of dollars, but you don’t know how it relates to the overall plan and how relatively expensive or inexpensive the plan is.”
That’s why it’s helpful to have a service like FeeX come in and explain what you’re actually paying for your 401(k) or brokerage account, he explained.
“It’s helpful to have a third-party who doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome helping you sort out, ‘Hey, am I in the right fund and is the overall plan working?’” Snider said.
—Written by Rebecca Borison for MainStreet