BOSTON (TheStreet) — The stock-market crash swiftly dragged down Americans' retirement plans, but fees paid year after year may be more of a drain.
A new service from BrightScope, a year-old site that provides retirement-plan ratings and research, lets plan participants easily figure out how much they're paying in administration and management fees, and the total cost over a lifetime of investing.
BrightScope rates more than 30,000 401(k) plans, spanning 30 million workers with $1.9 trillion in assets. The most highly rated 401(k) plans are offered by United Airlines (Stock Quote: UAUA), Southwest Airlines (Stock Quote: LUV), Charles Schwab (Stock Quote: SCHW), ConocoPhillips (Stock Quote: COP), Chevron (Stock Quote: CVX) and Exxon Mobil (Stock Quote: XOM).
Still, highly regarded plans have fees that could bear scrutiny.
"It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue in the industry," says Mike Alfred, founder and chief executive officer of BrightScope.
The focus on fees is likely to intensify in the coming months. Congress and the U.S. Department of Labor have been working on regulations that would require employers to disclose detailed data about administration and management fees.
Meanwhile, lawsuits are challenging fees charged by plan administrators and mutual-fund companies. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal of a dismissal of a lawsuit against Deere & Co. (Stock Quote: DE). The initial suit claimed that "unreasonable fees" were charged for investments in the company's $3.1 billion 401(k) plan.
"A lot of people might think, 'Hey, it is only 2% — that is a small amount,' " says Ryan Alfred, co-founder and president of BrightScope. "'But if your expected rate of return is 8%, and inflation is 3%, you've only got 5% of real return for yourself every year, and you are giving up 2% of that. You are giving up 40% of your return every year."