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Rekenthaler Report

Pound Wise

Helaine Olen's Pound Foolish is worth the read.

Hold Your Wallet
I wasn't fond of Helaine Olen's Salon article on the 401(k) industry. It required too many asterisks. For example, she writes that target-date funds have an average annual expense ratio of 1.08%. Yes, but most target-date investors pay less, because the biggest target-date funds are cheaper than most. She writes that "the 401(k) industry serves a captive audience." Yes, participants cannot choose a different 401(k) provider--but plan sponsors can and do. She writes that Legg Mason's Target Retirement Series of funds costs 1.47% in expenses. Yes, but nobody owns those funds.

In contrast, I quite like her book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, which I read this past weekend. There were some questionable passages, such as the 401(k) section (the Salon article turned out to be almost entirely a book excerpt). Pound Foolish is not nuanced. However, Olen has been watching the personal-finance business for nearly 20 years now, she is a keen observer, and she has the interest of investors at heart. She also tells great stories. At its best, Pound Foolish is a lot of fun.