Are you in the practice of benchmarking your retirement plan on a regular basis? Have you ever benchmarked your 401(k) plan? Here's why you should this year:

1. It's free. More than likely your investment adviser can either create the benchmarking report himself/herself or can use a third party to get the report done for you without charge. The providers involved in the process (your recordkeeper, trustee, custodian and investment adviser) should not charge you to share the data from which the benchmarking report will be created.

2. It's required. The Department of Labor expects you to monitor the costs of your 401(k) program. How can you determine the reasonableness of the fees you are paying without the ability to compare them to something? Using a benchmarking report allows you to view all of your fees in one convenient report and also compare them to market norms.

3. It's educational. Most benchmarking reports, especially those produced by objective third party firms, do a nice job not only presenting and comparing your fees but also assessing things like plan complexity, participant success measures and participant fees. You will get more than just a look at employer fees when you review one of these reports.

4. It's proper due diligence. Having a benchmarking report in your plan files is an excellent way of demonstrating effective due diligence. Should you ever be questioned about your diligence with regard to monitoring fees (via a lawsuit or audit) I can think of no better way of demonstrating compliance than a recent benchmarking report in your plan file.

5. It's becoming standard practice. Large plan sponsors now benchmark their plans each year. The retirement plan business, especially with regard to fees, has become incredibly dynamic. As a result, many plan sponsors feel reviewing an annual benchmarking report is time well-spent.

How often should you benchmark your 401(k) plan? Plan sponsors who have 401(k) plans with hundreds of employees or less should probably benchmark their plans every other year. Large plan sponsors, those with thousands of employees, should get into the habit of benchmarking their plans each year. Not sure how to start this process? Talk to your investment adviser.

Robert C. Lawton is president of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC a Registered Investment Advisory firm helping retirement plan sponsors with their investment, fiduciary, employee education and compliance responsibilities. He can be reached at

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