Have you noticed that it keeps costing your company more and more money to pay for the administration of its benefits plans? Here's why. "Insurance companies -- or whoever invests your plans' dollars -- charge both external fees, which are obvious and usually cover investment commissions, and internal fees, which cover the companies' management or operating expenses and are usually not as obvious. In fact, those fees are seldom spelled out clearly for business owners," warns Daniel Maul of Retirement Planning Associates, in Kirkland, Wash.

The odds are pretty strong that if you don't know what kind of internal fees the administrators are tacking onto your plan, you're paying more than necessary. "Fees can range from as low as 0.5% at a no-load-mutual-fund house, to 3%, typically at an insurance company," says Maul. "If your company is small or you've just introduced a benefits plan, that difference won't add up to much at first -- because the assets in your plans will also be small."

But as your benefits plan accumulates assets you'd better become more fee sensitive. After all, as Maul points out, shaving just one percentage point off your internal fees would reduce the annual administrative costs of a $500,000 plan by $5,000. He advises small businesses to "ask for a complete list of all fees that will be charged to your plan annually and a translation of what those fees will actually cost your company in dollars. And don't hesitate to comparison shop."

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