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Investing Guide for the Mercedes-Benz 401(k) Plan


Strengths

  • Match on contributions. Any match provides a fantastic boost to investment returns.

  • Roth 401(k) option. Especially when beginning to save the Roth option provides an opportunity to minimize your future tax burden. A Roth is also beneficial for those who have pensions in retirement. Often, savers mistakenly save to pre-tax accounts and pay similar or higher rates in retirement, where the would have benefited from having more in Roth savings.

Weaknesses

Unfortunately, the 401(k) has very limited strengths in our opinion. An investor should weigh the risks and returns of saving to this plan versus saving on your own.

  • Limited opportunities to diversify without using active, gambling managers. Unless you choose to research funds and utilize the self-managed account, the options for diversification requires use of high cost, active managers. While this is a common feature of most retirement plans, most plans have more market-based funds to select.

  • SSgA Russell 1000 is a poor index choice. While the Russell 1000 is a common fund, it is not our preferred choice (for more information, see our chapter on Small-Cap active management in Clear Investing, Intentional Investing).

  • Several asset classes missing. See our list below of areas to consider diversifying in other accounts.

  • The bond funds are lacking. Your choice is between an active fund that has been more volatile than the index (which we feel is too volatile for a core bond option to begin with), and a money market fund that has earned nothing. Our investment philosophy places a premium on stability for this portion of the portfolio, and

  • Target Retirement Date Funds. The Russell Target Retirement Date Funds are meant to be a managed portfolio based around an expected retirement date. Russell's Target Date mutual funds have extremely poor ratings. As of March, 2015 Morningstar has their funds listing as a Negative selection for future performance.

Strategically, the weighting of the Russell underlying fund choices is less than desirable. A more diversified mix across stock asset classes with a tilt toward value stocks may improve results for the long-term investor.

Overall, the funds have little to offer the serious long-term investor.

Strategies

One of the ways to invest in plans like the Mercedes-Benz plans that have very few desireable holdings is to use only a few options, starting with the very best funds in the plan, and complement those investments outside of the plan.

By utilizing a companion IRA, Roth IRA, or taxable account, one can take advantage of the few low-cost core investment options in the Mercedes-Benz plan, and supplement them with independent savings.

If you are saving at a rate above the Mercedes-Benz match, consider your other options for transferring that additional savings to other tax advantaged accounts outside of the Mercedes-Benz plan. Depending on the particulars of your tax and investment situation you may be eligible for and benefit from:

  • A deduction for your own IRA contributions

  • A Roth IRA

  • A non-deductible IRA conversion strategy

It may also be in your benefit to invest in a taxable account. There are significant benefits to the current and future diversification of holding a combination of taxable, tax-deferred (pre-tax), and tax-free (Roth) accounts.

You may also take advantage of the benefits available within a spouse or partner’s plan to achieve greater diversification and create a holistic investment strategy over the best options available to you over all of your plans.

Asset Classes to Complement Your Mercedes-Benz 401(k) in an Integrated IRA / Roth / Taxable Strategy

It is important to not minimize the fact that the investment options provided do not cover the world of available options. By not being able to participate in markets, you may reduce return potential and increase volatility. See our Forbes post on how a retirement plan with basic options can cost a saver millions of dollars over their lifetime.

Below is a list of asset classes to utilize in your own accounts that complement our model recommendations:

  • Domestic Marketwide Value

  • Domestic Mid-Cap Market Funds

  • Domestic Small-Cap Market Funds

  • International Marketwide Value

  • International Small-Cap

  • Emerging Markets Core

  • Emerging Markets Marketwide Value

  • Emerging Markets Small-Cap

  • Diversified, short-term bonds

  • Foreign Bonds

  • Inflation-protected bonds

  • Real assets including real estate, commodities, and precious metals

Using an effective combination of the above investment categories in combination with your Mercedes-Benz plan can improve your investment experience. The benefits of increased diversification can result in a less volatile portfolio.

For more information on the above strategies and other investment ideas linked here is a complementary PDF version (Password = clearandfree) of our book Clear Investing, Intentional Investing.

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Clear Financial Advisors, LLC

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