‘Frontline’ report takes a withering look at retirement plans

04/22/2013 8:00 PM

04/22/2013 2:54 PM

Optimism is scarce in “The Retirement Gamble,“ “Frontline’s” look at the life stage once known as the golden years.

“I’m a survivor,” says one retiree, “and if I have to downsize to living in a tent, I will.”

That passes for hopeful these days.

Correspondent Martin Smith wades through the almost indecipherable fine print of his own retirement plan in an effort to grasp what lies ahead.

“Over the past couple of decades,” Smith narrates, “we’ve handed over more than $10 trillion of our retirement money to the financial services industry.

“They’ve built a pretty good business out of it, but how well is it working for you and me?”

Not well, “Frontline” suggests.

The documentary includes interviews with various middle-income workers whose post-career lives are tenuous at best. Half of Americans, Frontline reports, say they can’t afford to save anything for retirement, and one-third have “next to no” savings.

Management fees charged by financial advisers come under particular scrutiny. “It doesn’t take a genius to know that the bigger the profit of the management company, the smaller the profits that investors get,” says John Bogle, founder and retired CEO of the Vanguard Group.

Bogle favors investing in diversified portfolios of low- cost, unmanaged index funds rather than the riskier actively managed funds. Even a seemingly small management fee of 2 percent on a mutual fund, he says, can add up to big bucks over a working life.

“Frontline’s” Smith fact-checks Bogle’s claims, and confirms that an investment of $100,000 can shrink by $63,000 over 50 years with that 2 percent fee.

“I will keep working,” Smith concludes.

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