Monday, November 8, 2010

Is the Grass Grenner on the Other Side - 401(k) or Joint Account?

Q: Would it be better to invest my money with a wealth manager offering lower cost, passively managed funds or contribute to my 401(k), where I have expensive, actively managed funds?

The obvious advantage with the 401(k) is the tax-deferment of pre-tax contributions. If you choose to contribute to a Joint account rather than a 401(k), the Joint account would be funded with after-tax dollars, in which you would take quite a hit comparatively. I realize most 401(k)'s are poor, offering expensive, under-performing funds - along with high management fees. Unless the 401(k) has an outlandish wrapper/management fee of 5-6%, at which point your account would never grow, it would not be worth it to fund a Joint account as opposed to your 401(k).

Although the investment choices are most likely more prudent with your wealth manager, the performance may not overcome the taxation of these dollars once the account is contributed to. Eventually, providing the 401(k) fees are high enough and fund performance low enough, over the long-term the Joint account may overcome the 401(k) value. But this "strategy" would rely on superior investment performance, although this could happen, it is not a chance I would suggest taking given numerous other factors e.g., offering of a better 401(k), rise of taxes, etc.

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