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Teachers: Who is Managing Your 403(b)?

teachers 403b

With autumn just around the corner, many teachers have returned to their classrooms. The end-of-summer teacher ritual of decorating, stapling and contacting parents has made its return. I know from personal experience, though, that teachers would be wise to use any spare time to investigate their retirement accounts and determine whether their money is being deployed as effectively as possible.

My mom was a public school teacher and single mother. You can imagine how slim her finances were. Still, she managed to save up some money despite her paltry salary. After a while, however, she found out that the managers of her 403(b) plan were not investing her money as effectively as they should have been. A lot of her savings were tied up in a high-cost annuity that could have been invested in much cheaper options. These people, who were employed by the county to help her money grow, were actually eroding her savings. (For related reading, see: Do You Need to Change Your Financial Advisor?)

Digging Deeper Into Your Retirement Account

My mom’s experience is what drove me to operate as an independent, fee-only, fiduciary advisor. Those words mean that a fiduciary will never do to clients what my mother’s managers did to her—we are legally obligated to act only in clients’ best interests. Most schools will offer a 403(b) plan for teachers. However, as with the custodians of my mom’s savings, these plans can often be managed by a third party, non-fiduciary advisor who may not act in clients’ best interests. Non-fiduciary advisors are held only to a suitability standard, which means that they are obligated only to make investments that are suitable for you.

These advisors can buy investment products that are the best for their own pockets, not yours. In fact, the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council is one of the many groups suing the Department of Labor over its new fiduciary rule. Additionally, several big insurance companies are projected to see reduced earnings as a result of a predicted decrease in annuity sales when the fiduciary rule takes effect. (For related reading, see: The Conflicts of Interest Around 401(k)s.)

By contrast, fee-only, fiduciary advisors make only the investments that are the most suitable. We aren’t looking for efficiencies or working for sales commissions on the products we recommend to you. Fiduciaries strive to provide the best advice to investors looking to build a strong foundation, like teachers. These advisors grow with you, not at your expense by profiting off the products assembled for you.

Teachers, we encourage you to spend some time finding out more about the practices of your retirement fund manager. It’s vital to find out whether they are a fiduciary, how they make money (fee-based or fee-only), and how personalized their investment strategy is.

READ MORE: Comedian John Oliver recently did a segment on the subject of retirement planning that addresses this. You can check out our 4 quick takeaways from the monologue.

This article was originally published on Investopedia.com

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Also published on Medium.