This is the first article in a series by my friend, Dr. Jeff Devens. He’s a humble, extremely knowledgeable advocate for overseas investors, with an impressive knowledge about investment fees, US taxes and Roth 401 plans for educators overseas.
"Fees, Glorious Fees..." so goes the refrain from a television commercial I recall from the late 80s. Or, maybe it was "Cheese glorious Cheese." Regardless, fees are indeed a glorious byproduct of the investment world. Writing this reminds me of a workout story about cheese, broccoli, and Andrew Hallam, but that's for another blog post.
Fees, like cheese, come in many varieties:
-3(16) Fiduciary (what?)
-3(38) Fiduciary (hun?)
-Admin Fees (Admin what?)
-Advisory Fees (who is this?)
-Custodian Fees (like cleaning?)
-Record-keeping Fees (I don't even have records!)
-Expense Ratio Fees (Ratios, like math?)
-Taxes (wait, what?)
Many fees are assessed quarterly, that's 4 times per year! And if this weren't stinky enough, many fees are assessed based on a glorious financial term known as Assets Under Management (AUM). Translation: The more you earn the more you pay! And, it does not matter if you had a good or bad quarter in the market, you still pay fees...every quarter.
In order to get out of many of these managed plans you will pay, you guessed it, fees! Often, the fees you pay are all clearly spelllllied out in fine print, using all sorts of numerical sleight of hand: ( 2.9%, .0065, .04, quarter, once per... Notice how I switched up percentages with decimal points. Neat, right?) Add to this interesting jargon such as Load, No Load, Capital, Termination, and Arbitration, and one has the making for financial confusion and paralysis. I am coming to believe with many financial products this is by design.
If you invest in managed plans, including school-sponsored plans, YOU ARE paying fees. Do you know what these fees are costing you? Have you done the math?
I didn't, at least not initially.
I didn't know how.
Furthermore, I didn't even know what questions to ask. I'm an educator or presume to be. One would think I would know what I was getting myself into before I began investing in my future self, but I didn't. I didn't know enough financial verbiage to fight my way out of a slice of swiss cheese let alone hold a conversation with someone with fancy financial slides highlighted with lines and numbers. So I said nothing, did nothing for many years fearing my secret would be revealed. I was financially illiterate.
Fast forward a few years and I'm no longer afraid to ask questions. Why? Kind-hearted colleagues, books, books, and more books, insightful podcasts, educational Youtube, enrolling in some finance courses, and working with a group of international educators in crisis. Their stories would be my story if I didn't make a change. And so I have, a little bit at a time.
I spent 13 years in post-secondary education preparing for a 30-year career in education. I figured it was worth devoting a few years in anticipation of the next 30. I still find this learning intimidating, but I'm not afraid anymore. How about you? Those of you reading this will realize my strength does not lie in discussing cheese, numbers, or even telling stories; however, I do hope you find my learning encouraging as you continue with your financial literacy journey.
In my next post, I will unpack some of the "costs" associated with these plans along with some of the terms (can you say SAT vocab?). Like cheese, if you eat too much in one setting it can wreak havoc on your body. So, I'll keep the examples "bit-size" by design.
P.S. What do cheese and fees have in common? - The more you have of both the more you and your investment returns stink.
*For the past 21 years, Jeff has served as an international school psychologist, counselor, and educator in Singapore. In partnership with human resources, finance, and the schools Working on Wellness Committee, Jeff shares his financial educational journey with faculty, providing workshops addressing a myriad of financial topics, with a specific interest in understanding taxation mitigation strategies for Americans. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org *