CoronaCrisis: Do You Know What’s In Your 401(k)?

Dear Reader,

A lot of people are facing a financial crisis right now. 

If you’re one of those people, ask yourself these questions: 

Will this crisis make you stronger, or weaker? 

Will you rise to the challenge, use your creativity and persistence to overcome hardship? Or will you complain, play the blame game, and let the situation get the best of you?

There’s a wonderful quote by Albert Einstein that says:

“Let’s not pretend that things will change if we keep doing the same things. A crisis can be a real blessing to any person, to any nation. For all crises bring progress.

“Creativity is born from anguish, just like the day is born from the dark night. It’s in crisis that inventiveness is born, as well as discoveries made and big strategies. He who overcomes crisis, overcomes himself, without getting overcome. He who blames his failure to a crisis neglects his own talent and is more interested in problems than in solutions. Incompetence is the true crisis. The greatest inconvenience of people and nations is the laziness with which they attempt to find the solutions to their problems.”

In 2002, I wrote Rich Dad’s Prophecy, a book forecasting the biggest stock market crash in the history of the world that was anticipated sometime around 2016. My prediction came true a bit later than I expected but as I’ve said before, there are a couple of factors that I couldn’t have seen when I made the prediction. 

Prior to March 2020, I would have said we are in the early stages of the greatest retirement crisis in the history of our nation and indeed the entire world. But I think we’ve actually skipped some stages and are now facing a full-on crisis. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the “new normal” for many of our oldest. Global population demographics, coupled with indisputable glaringly insufficient retirement savings and human physiology, suggest that a catastrophic outcome for at least a significant percentage of the world’s elderly population is inevitable.

Those who are counting upon the few remaining corporate pensions for their retirement security can be sure that the company sponsoring the plan—their past or present employer—is consulting with experts, plotting how to screw workers out of the benefits they mistakenly think they are entitled to and save the corporation money. Any so-called “promises” an employer may have made are, at best shaky, or even illusory—worthless.

What exactly is in your 401(K)?

Recently, I met a young woman in her early twenties who had just landed her first big job right out of college. She told me excitedly about her salary, her signing bonus, and her 401(k).

“So what exactly is in your 401(k)?” I asked.

She looked a little confused. “Well, it’s a standard 401(k). My employer matches my contributions.”

“Yes, but what exactly goes into your 401(k)?”

She had no answer. I didn’t expect her to. Very few people know exactly what they’re getting in their 401(k) or how much it’s actually going to cost them.

Millennials especially have little understanding of their retirement plan at the beginning of their work life. To them, retirement is decades away, something to worry about when their knees start aching and their kids go to college.

They have some idea of how they will pay for retirement but aren’t taking active steps to put a plan in place. Many of them see investing in a 401(k) as a solid plan for right now until they can earn enough money to invest more substantially. But what they don’t realize is that what goes into these plans is a recipe for disaster.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: A 401(k) is the single worst way to invest your retirement savings.

Thousands of Americans rely on employer-sponsored retirement plans, but they have no idea what they’re paying for or where their money is going. They sign away control over their retirement and don’t think about trying to get it back until it’s too late.

The 401(k) has become less of a retirement “plan” and more of a retirement “cross your fingers” recipe, with lots of unhealthy ingredients thrown in. With a lack of financial understanding and some strong misunderstandings about where they’re money is going, Americans have relinquished control over their future, leaving them with an absolute mess.

Which leads me to my question…

Do you know what’s really in your 401(k) “plan”? 

Let’s walk through some ingredients you didn’t know were packed into your retirement plan.

1) Hidden fees

The first thing you should know is that your 401(k) is sprinkled with hidden fees that are buried in pages of legal paperwork. Legal fees, transaction fees, bookkeeping fees, and more. Plus, the mutual funds in the 401(k) often take 2% off the top.

These fees may not seem like a lot when you sign on the dotted line, but over time, compounding cuts down your returns substantially. Jack Bogle, the Founder of Vanguard, puts it like this: “Do you really want to invest in a system where you put up 100 percent of the capital, you take 100 percent of the risk, and you get 30 percent of the return?”

The worst part? Most Americans are completely unaware that there are any fees on their 401(k). These hidden fees water down the returns, destroying all your well-intentioned saving and investing. If you don’t know about these fees, you’re putting your money (not to mention your future) on the line.

2) No knowledge or control

The worst part of the 401(k) recipe is that you aren’t even the chef in this game. Instead, you’re sidelined, watching other people prepare your retirement buffet for you.

As an employee, you have absolutely no control over your investment. If you were to take your money and invest in the same mutual funds and stocks as the 401(k), but on your own terms, you would already have 100% more control over your money than an employee who goes with the employer-sponsored program.

That’s because most employees don’t get to opt-out of the 401(k). And when they invest, they have no voice in which mutual funds they put their money into.

Would you ever make a purchase where you don’t know everything you’re paying for? When you buy a house, a car, even a shirt at the mall, do you just blindly hand your money over, hoping for the best? Of course not! But that’s what happens with a 401(k) plan.

Unconscious investing? It sounds more like gambling to me. When you put your money in a 401(k) you rely on other people to conduct due diligence and invest in quality funds that uphold your philosophies and produce a return. But you will never meet the people investing your money. You’ll never have a conversation about your financial goals or your retirement plans. You’ll never look them in the eye, instead, you’ll just hand over your money and hope for the best.

That’s not a retirement plan. That’s jumping off a cliff without a parachute.

3) External factors

When you cook a recipe, there are lots of things that can go wrong. Your oven could overheat or your ingredients could be out of season. In the same way, the 401(k) relies on and is governed by multiple external factors, reducing your control over your investment even more.

For example, the 401(k) depends on the stock market. Whether the market rises or falls, your money pays the price. As most people saw in March, you could lose half of what you’ve put away overnight if the markets fail. Your retirement hangs in the balance and you have absolutely no control.

Add it up

Hidden fees + No knowledge/control + External factors = Your Retirement

It only validates my strong opinions against the 401(k) when you look at it all together. That’s because the 401(k) leaves you powerless, subject to hidden costs and the tides of the stock market, with no say in anything but your contribution amount. If you follow this recipe exactly, you’ll end up with a mess for a retirement.


Robert Kiyosaki

Robert Kiyosaki
Editor, Rich Dad Poor Dad Daily

You May Also Be Interested In:

Transitory, Like Tectonic Plates

Happy Friday! We’re finally here, thank heavens. My class ends today, and I can just concentrate on writing for the next few weeks.  I always send my invoice on the morning of my last day of class to give me an extra boost. Well, it looks like I was right about the Fed – as...

Robert Kiyosaki

Robert Kiyosaki, author of bestseller Rich Dad Poor Dad as well as 25 others financial guide books, has spent his career working as a financial educator, entrepreneur, successful investor, real estate mogul, and motivational speaker, all while running the Rich Dad Company.

View More By Robert Kiyosaki