We asked Dan Maul, president of Retirement Planning Associates, in Kirkland, Wash., for some advice on how tocomparison shop for a retirement plan among insurance companies, mutual-fund houses, and other providers. Here'swhat he recommends:

  • Focus on choosing the right plan for your company. "Once you figure out the type of plan that works best and unbundle the services you're shopping for, it's remarkable how quickly everything else falls into place," concludes Maul.
  • Unbundle the services you need. "Companies basically require two types of services: the administrative ones--which include setting up the paperwork, filing taxes, and conducting compliance testing--and the investment services, which basically boil down to investing participants' savings," Maul explains. "Plenty of companies will offer to provide both services, but it's easier to compare costs and negotiate for lower prices when you've broken them down and shopped them separately."
  • Get tough on investment costs. "You need to compare investment options by breaking them down into three components: transaction costs, or what you'll be charged for buying and selling shares; ongoing operating costs, or the charge for servicing each account; and performance results."