I keep hearing about how it's really important to use low fee funds (especially those from Vanguard) in your 401(k) to avoid high fees, especially over the years.

I just have no idea how to identify and evaluate alternatives from funds with low fees. How do you find a Vanguard (for instance) fund to match a much higher fee fund in one's 401(k)? Are there tools that can analyze a fund and find the Vanguard fund that shares most characteristics with it (minus the fees)

As you can see, Betterment tools have shown me that most of my funds have high to extremely high fees.

fees out the wazoo

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  • 1
    Why not just put most of your 401(k) money in the -- by design, diversified -- VINIX? – RonJohn Oct 30 '17 at 3:23
  • Because not knowing how to research it, I didn't know about it! Thanks for the tip. I will look into it. – Matt Oct 30 '17 at 3:34
  • Google engineers must have specifically programmed its search engine to recognize mutual fund and ETF codes. (Or it's learned my search habits a bit too well.) Just type one into a search bar, and you'll find all the links you need for researching it. – RonJohn Oct 30 '17 at 3:46
  • Be aware that expensive is relative. Your listed funds are not so expensive compared to others in the market, they are mid-range. – Aganju Oct 31 '17 at 1:58

First, figure out what you are doing. If you are looking for alternatives with lower fees, you first have to have an idea of the purpose of your existing funds. An alternative should address the same purpose--capture the same portion of the market (asset class).

In your case you have a lot of redundant funds. Your funds:

  • Total equity (Value+Growth): VINIX, JMUEX, FCNKX
  • Value: ABLYX
  • Growth: MLAIX, RSSYX
  • Bonds: DODIX

There is no reason for redundancy in your portfolio. You don't need any growth funds nor value funds because you have both in your total equity funds. You only need one total equity fund. So your existing portfolio can be replaced by two funds: a total equity fund and a bond fund. If you want to diversify further, consider getting an international equity fund and maybe an emerging markets and/or real estate fund.

Then, look for index funds with the same purpose. For each asset class, choose an "index fund" from one of the large providers. These will be the cheapest and best way to get your allocation. It sounds like you have been listening to indexers and Vanguard lovers. The center of activity for that school of thought is bogleheads.org. Take a look at their three fund portfolio page. It discusses a portfolio allocation that is simpler, cheaper, and more diversified than yours and lists the options from each of the major fund families.

Evaluate Fees and Costs. You don't need a special tool to evaluate the costs of various funds--it's not that hard. For each asset class, you can just look at the "expense ratios" of the 2 or 3 good options (Vanguard, Fidelity, Schwab, normally). The "gross expense ratio" is what the fund is permitted to charge per year and the "net expense ratio" is what it charged last year (it's common for competitive funds to temporarily lower fees). That's pretty much it if you are using index funds. Expect expense ratios of .15% per year or lower in any decent index fund.

Other fees. Index funds basically never have the following, but in generally you should also look at the "front end load" (a percent you must pay when buying the fund) and "deferred sales charge" or "back end load" (the amount you must pay when selling the fund) and lastly the 12(b)-1 fee, which is basically a fee that acts as a kickback to your financial advisor or broker. You definitely do not want any fund that has a nonzero 12(b)-1 fee. Also, double check that your provider allows free purchasing of the funds you want to get into. If your broker is Vanguard and you want to buy a Fidelity fund, they will charge you a transaction fee. Not so with a general discount broker.

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