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Is there a way to search 401-k plans by things like state, number of participants and performance?

Jan 09, 2014 by Michael from New York, NY in  |  Flag
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Peter C. Karp Level 20

Michael,

The answer to your question depends on whether you are just an individual looking for information or if you are a financial professional. 401(k) tax filings referred to as Form 5500 are available to the general public at www.efast.dol.gov however you will need to know the name of the plan or the employer. The Form 5500 does not provide investment performance information If you are trying to obtain information for prospecting purposes there are a number of searchable databases that you could subscribe to, for a fee, such as Larkspur Data Resources, Judy Diamond , Brightscope, etc. in order to refine your search using specific criteria. Hope this is helpful.

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Comment   |  Flag   |  Jan 09, 2014 from San Francisco, CA

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Herbert N Glass Level 18

Michael,

Smart thinking! You can do what you are asking because the information you need to search through to get what you want is all public information. And as such, unless you want to build your own data base of info that you get from the government and then setup a filter so that just the info you want drops out to give you the info you need, then I suggest that you loo for the website of "Free ERISA, or "Judy Diamond" or even call Brightscope and see if they can give you the info you need.

Now with respect to getting performance numbers easily, you would have to take information from the information you get and use the raw numbers you get on a plan basis to calculate performance for the plan. However, if you are able to find out the specific funds that these 401(k) plans are using, then you would have to look up the performance numbers on the internet by finding that info from the fund families website. Unfortunately, if you wanted to calculate the participants actual returns for the funds they are in, you would have to know the annual history of each months contribution deposit into each fund and then calculate the participants performance based on their own investment history with the funds.

Remember, just because a fund shows published great performance, that doesn't mean that the participants that invested in such fund actually experienced the same performance. Some of the readers of this may remember a great statistic about the Fidelity Fund called "Magellan." It was touted as the biggest and best performing fund of all funds for many years, at one time. However, there were many quoted writers that stated that in spite of the fact that the fund as a whole had done so well, more than 50% of the individual investors actually lost money by investing in "Magellan." I guess the simplest explanation I can give you , if you are scratching your head wondering "How is that possible?" is this:

View all 5 Comments   |  Flag   |  Jan 09, 2014 from Franklin, MI
Herbert N Glass

Michael, sorry, I got cut off before finishing my answer above. so let's continue.

Flag |  Jan 09, 2014 near Franklin, MI
Herbert N Glass

Michael, sorry, I got cut off before finishing my answer above. so let's continue. "How is that possible?": If you simply think of a mutual fund like a stock, that is it is just one investment that someone can buy and sell a particular number of shares from time to time. So using for my explanation example an investor who just happen to be buying and selling a particular stock that if one were to look at it's price and dividend history over a long period of time, the growth of that stock price would have been very low at the beginning of the performance studies price history, and then as of now, maybe years later, the price used for the long term performance history study is much higher that it was at the beginning of the period years ago. Well of course, it is clear that if one bought that stock at the beginning date and held it over the years, they would have had the performance that would be close to the published history. However, every investor doesn't necessarily buy a stock (or fund) a long time ago and then holds it for a long time as the market and the stock usually goes up and down between the beginning date and the ending date - because you probably have noticed that no security just goes up all the time and it doesn't go down all the time. Most publicly traded securities go up and down constantly. There in lies the investors challenge to follow the old adage of the "secret" to always make make money on your investments is to "Buy low and Sell high." But, most all investors know that that old adage is easier said than done. Why is that? It is because the investors get frightened when they see that their investment is going down in value. and when that happens, many investors can not handle the discomfort of the prospect that they may lose even more money if the stock goes down more. So their emotions cause them to "chicken out" or panic, and the thought of holding on and facing the prospect of losing even more money causes them to sell their position at a low point in the stock price history. Said another way, from a Behavioral Economic standpoint, most investors brains are "wired " to think wrong when being in such a situation and most of those investors are going to make the same wrong decisions given the same set of circumstances. So, without going into more psychology about portfolio construction and how to design a portfolio for an investor and the benefit of the professional services that only a professional investment advisor can provide, you can probably see now that if a fund or stock is more volatile than an investor can stand, and/or the investor is over-deployed in any one security that is volatile or even if they are over deployed in having too great a percentage of their portfolio in equities, the volatility that is going to occur in the individual position or to the markets as a whole will cause most investors to sell and lock in their losses at that time. And quite often, even if they buy the security again, it will be at a much higher price than they sold at. This is called being "whipsawed." Because in most cases the investor would have been better off never selling. But to be in that type of position mentally to "hold on" while the surity goes up and down, the portfolio has to be contructed for the investor "just right." I am sorry to give you such a long explanation of the difficulty you will have doing a meaning performance review for each participant in a 401(k) plan, but that is the reality of that specific desire for you to do. However, everything else you want is easily obtainable as I indicated way above here. On a side note, I do like what I described aat the end of my answer about the challenge to the individual investor and the fact that ehuman emotion has so much to do with whether a person makes money investing regardless of whether they pick themselves or are guided by an Advisor that does not take into consideration the "behaviorial finance" issues I have tried to explain here.How is that possible?": If you simply think of a mutual fund like a stock, that is it is just one investment that someone can buy and sell a particular number of shares from time to time. So using for my explanation example an investor who just happen to be buying and selling a particular stock that if one were to look at it's price and dividend history over a long period of time, the growth of that stock price would have been very low at the beginning of the performance studies price history, and then as of now, maybe years later, the price used for the long term performance history study is much higher that it was at the beginning of the perios years ago. Well of course, it is clear that if one bought that stock at the beginning date and held it over the years, they would have had the performance that would be close to the published history. But we all know that that is just not generally true for the average investor.

Flag |  Jan 09, 2014 near Franklin, MI

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1 vote

Hi Michael! I'm not aware of a search mechanism for the mass public based on your criteria, but BrightScope offers professional search capabilities for planners. If you are interested, you can contact their product group.

1 Comment   |  Flag   |  Jan 09, 2014 from River Hills, SC
Michael

Thank you Pam!

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Flag |  Jan 09, 2014 near New York, NY

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George Cones, JD Level 20

There are some free services, like BrightScope and free ERISA, which have a lot of the information you seek. Performance is another, more complicated matter. That would require looking at the fund holdings and model portfolios, if any. Beware of anyone talking about performance of a 401(k) plan if they can not provide you with all of the detailed information.

1 Comment   |  Flag   |  Jan 09, 2014 from Wilmington, DE
Michael

Thanks George.

Flag |  Jan 09, 2014 near New York, NY

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