5 'Real Money' Tips on How to Choose the Best Retirement Fund

VIDEO: Cutting fees and keeping your money in your pocket and in your future.

ABC News' Paula Faris reports:

Graeme Gibson, a small-business owner in Seattle, recently started saving for his family's retirement, but he and his wife, Kate Gibson, admitted that they have no idea whether or not their retirement plan is getting the most bang for its buck.

Get more tips on what you can do to avoid a lousy 401(k).

When Graeme Gibson, the owner of Queen Anne Chiropractic Center, gets his account statement, he doesn't understand all the verbiage and is unsure how much he's being charged in fees, he told ABC News. Like many Americans, the Gibsons did not know where to look for answers to their questions.

Joanna Pratt, the president of investing at NerdWallet.com, is answering your questions on Facebook.com/WorldNews at 7 p.m. EST.

The "Real Money" team brought in Joanna Pratt, president of investing at NerdWallet.com, to help. After Pratt looked at Gibson's plan, she said it was, indeed, in need of a major adjustment.

In the end, if he switches providers and reduces fees to less than 1 percent, Gibson could save $500,000 in fees over the course of his career.

"I think we're both really surprised at the amount," Graeme Gibson said. "The $500,000 is more than I think we even thought we'd end up saving."

Following are tips from NerdWallet.com's Pratt:

1. Find what fees you're paying by looking for these two key phrases: administrative expenses and expense ratio. If you dig way back in the prospectus and look at the expense ratio, you'll see numbers like 1.6, 1.8, or 1.4. That is the percentage of your assets that 401(k) providers will take from you yearly.

2. Use personalcapital.com and nerdwallet.com to compare fees and find out how much you're being charged in the long term. Even with fee-free plans, you might find hidden expenses - such as commissions - and they can be expensive.

Gibson was paying upward of 1.8 percent yearly. Pratt said if you're looking at the expense ratio and it says 1 point anything, you're paying too much and should talk to your 401(k) administrator.

These are the questions you should ask:

  • What fees you are paying?
  • How much goes to you?
  • How much goes to the 401k administrator?
  • How much goes to the fund?

While the answers to these questions are in the fine print, there is so much fine print. It's best to get somebody you trust and ask them.

3. Switch 401(k) providers. Because Gibson's 401(k) provider charged fees that would cost his family $541,000 by the time he retired, Pratt recommended he and his wife switch to a lower cost provider.

4. Contribute to an IRA. Pratt also recommended that if Gibson can't switch 401(k) providers, he should consider contributing only enough to get the employer match and then contribute to an IRA. This small change could save him $100,000 during the course of his career.

5. Choose better funds . Gibson's choice of mutual funds was disproportionately in foreign funds, which is unnecessarily risky. Because foreign markets have underperformed the U.S. market recently, this mistake had cost him approximately $429 per year. Pratt advised Gibson to change his allocation to better fit his age and risk tolerance.

ABC News' Eric Noll contributed to this story.

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