Year-End Review: How to Evaluate Your Retirement Accounts in 15 Minutes or Less

Use these three simple steps, and you can check the performance, fees and asset allocation of your IRA, 401(k) and other investments during commercial breaks.

Better Investing

Do you know how hard your money worked for you in 2014?

If not, it’s time to do a 15-minute checkup of your investments and make some plans for 2015.

Check out the video below as Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains the easy way to do an annual investment review. Then, keep reading for more details on each step.

Step 1: Check your performance

The first thing to do is pull out recent statements for all your investments, including retirement plans such as IRAs and 401(k)s, or check them online. If you don’t have a recent paper statement or online access to your accounts, you may have to wait until the year-end statement arrives in the mail.

From our Solutions Center: Find a better online brokerage

But let’s assume you have your statements in front of you. The important number you are searching for is your fund performance. Once you find that number, your next question should be: “Is that good?”

To find an answer, you’ll need to compare your funds with indexes that include similar investments.

For example, if your funds are invested in large-company stocks, you might compare your performance with the S&P 500. (As I write this, it’s up about 9 percent this year.)

If you have a small cap fund, look to the Russell 2000 for guidance. For more tech-heavy investments, the Nasdaq might be the best comparison.

I know it would be easier if I could simply tell you that if you hit a certain percentage, your investments had a great year. However, anyone who boils your fund performance down to such basic terms is doing you a disservice. You need to have an apples-to-apples comparison. That means comparing bond funds to bond funds, balanced funds to balanced funds and so on.

In addition to indexes, you can also see how your funds performed by comparing them with funds offered by such well-established fund companies as Vanguard, American Funds or Fidelity.

Don’t freak if your fund is a few percentage points off the returns offered by indexes or similar funds, but if your large-cap fund earned 5 percent this year when the S&P 500 earned 28 percent, that should be a red flag. (See: “Why You’re Stressed About Your 401(k) and How to Get Over It.”)

Step 2: Review the fees

After you check out fund performance, the next step is to look at what you paid to achieve it. In other words, fees. If you’re investing in mutual funds, this should be listed on your statements as the expense ratio. If for some reason you don’t find it on your 401(k) paperwork, you may need to call your employer’s HR office and ask.

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  • transmitterguy

    There is only one kind of retirement you can count on:SUICIDE!

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