While people have different ideas of what they want their golden years to look like, nearly everyone has a goal of retiring at some point in the future. If you plan on a traditional retirement and want to maintain the same standard of living, it’s essential to save and invest with a high-quality retirement plan.
Many people invest primarily for retirement, with both employer-sponsored retirement plans and self-directed retirement plans playing an important role. While you probably don’t have as much say in your employer-based 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan, you should have plenty of freedom with self-directed individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Learn more about the best retirement plans available this year and for expert tips on how to pick and manage your retirement plan.
|Broker||Why We Chose It||Management Fees|
|Vanguard||Best for Mutual Funds||0.10% for mutual funds|
|Betterment||Best Robo Advisor||0.25% or 0.40%|
|ForUsAll||Best for Small Business||$0|
|TIAA||Best for Teachers||$0|
Fidelity: Best Overall
Fidelity stands out as a top provider of retirement plans to large companies, small companies, and individuals. Fidelity offers 401(k) plans for large and small businesses; SEP-IRA, SIMPLE IRA, and Self-Employed 401(k) for small businesses; and individual retirement accounts including traditional, Roth, and rollover IRAs. While most people will probably manage their accounts online, Fidelity offers more than 190 retail locations for in-person help.
Unique retirement-focused offerings from Fidelity include its suite of retirement planning calculators and tools including the useful Fidelity Retirement Score, which helps you assess your retirement preparedness, and four mutual funds with no fees at all. For individual account holders, you generally won’t pay any recurring account fees or have to worry about account minimums.
Stock and ETF trades are commission-free at Fidelity as well as more than 3,400 mutual funds with no transaction fees.
Putting it all together, Fidelity offers an excellent package of retirement accounts that can help you achieve your long-term retirement investing goals.
Wide variety of retirement accounts
Helpful planning tools
Monthly fee for robo advisor
Fee for bonds and CD trades
Charles Schwab: Runner-Up
Charles Schwab is another major provider of corporate, small business, and individual retirement plans. Schwab offers online investment tools for both passive and active investors. That is likely to improve with the upcoming acquisition of TD Ameritrade, which will add to the suite of investment tools with the popular thinkorswim platform. If you need help in person, Schwab operates more than 360 branch locations.
Schwab accounts include commission-free online stock and ETF trades and give you access to more than 4,200 mutual funds with no transaction fees. Most self-directed retirement accounts have no minimum balance requirements and no recurring fees. Schwab also offers a robo advisor, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, that can pick and manage your retirement account investments for you.
Schwab is best for retirement investors who want to keep fees low and either want to manage their own investments or go completely hands-off with the robo advising option.
Full suite of retirement products
More than 300 branches
Low fees for most retirement products
IRA account transfers cost up to $50
Vanguard offers full corporate, small business, and individual retirement plans. A key reason for picking Vanguard over another brokerage for your retirement plan is its family of mutual funds (and ETFs). Vanguard is the second-largest asset manager worldwide, too, thanks, in large part, to its robust selection of retirement funds.
Vanguard is well-known as a pioneer in index funds, which are a type of mutual fund or ETF that mimics the performance of a major index. Because they don’t employ teams of expensive stock pickers, this type of fund generally comes with a very low cost. Vanguard charges an average 0.10% fee for mutual funds compared to an average of 0.63% industry-wide.
Vanguard charges no fees to buy or sell its own mutual funds in a Vanguard account, so fans of Vanguard funds may get the best deal holding their retirement account at Vanguard as well.
Excellent track record with index funds
Low fee for mutual funds
Possible $20 account fee for IRAs
Robo advisor isn't as flexible and feature-rich as competitors
As we briefly touched on above, a robo advisor is a type of investment account where a computer allocates your funds based on a professionally-designed portfolio. Betterment created the modern robo advisor as we know it today and remains a well-known platform in the industry. For retirement, Betterment offers IRA accounts as well as 401(k) plans for businesses.
When you sign up for a new account at Betterment, you’ll fill out a short survey answering questions about your age, finances, and retirement goals. Based on those results, Betterment will assign you to a portfolio made up of low-cost ETFs. Betterment will keep your investments in balance with your goals and investment plan automatically whether you make regular contributions or not.
For individual IRA accounts, Betterment charges a 0.25% annual management for regular accounts ($0 minimum balance) or 0.40% for a premium account ($100,000 minimum) that includes access to a human financial advisor.
Robust, well-known robo advisor platform
Easy to set up an investment strategy
Advisor access for accounts with at least $100,000
Fees charged on all balances
Best for Small Businesses: ForUsAll
ForUsAll is a retirement plan provider that is also a newcomer to the industry. But they came in with fresh ideas and aggressive pricing to undercut the typical small and midsize 401(k) provider with low-fee investment choices. Advisory fees range from 0.35% of assets to 0.20% based on the size of the employer’s plan.
For employers, ForUsAll is a bargain. Businesses pay just $200 per month for plans up to $250,000 in assets and no fees for larger plans. This friendly and low-cost provider is great for independent businesses that don’t want the costs or hassles of the giant providers. And employees will be thrilled with the low fees and risk-sensitive investment options.
Specializes in 401(k) plans
Suite of services makes plan administration easy
Limited scope of retirement products
TIAA: Best for Teachers
Teachers often have somewhat unique retirement needs compared to other professions. Their needs may include a pension plan, 403(b) or 457 plan. TIAA has worked with educators on retirement planning for more than 100 years. And while the company has grown in recent years to include non-retirement products and accounts outside of education, TIAA has maintained its educator-friendly plans for teachers, universities, and other schools looking for retirement options.
Employees with TIAA employer-sponsored retirement plans can choose between different investment options, which may include annuities. Small businesses and self-employed business owners can look to SEP or SIMPLE IRAs at TIAA. If you’re on your own, a TIAA IRA includes online commission-free stock and ETF trades in addition to a list of mutual funds with no transaction fees if you hold them for at least six months. If you like keeping your money in-house, TIAA also runs its own family of mutual funds.
Long history of working with teachers
No transaction fees on many mutual funds if held for six months
Retirement options include annuities and other guaranteed-income products
No robo advisor
Retirement Plan Definitions
All of these retirement plan acronyms and tax talk is enough to make nearly any new investor’s head spin. Here’s a brief rundown on the most common types of retirement plans and their most important tax-friendly features.
401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans
401(k) plans are employer-sponsored retirement plans. That means you can’t get one outside of a job. They typically take pre-tax contributions, which means you won’t pay income taxes on the income you contribute but will pay taxes on withdrawals in the future. 403(b) and 457 plans are very similar but come from government or nonprofit organizations.
A traditional IRA is a self-directed retirement account that takes pre-tax contributions.
A Roth IRA is a self-directed retirement account that uses after-tax deductions. That means you pay taxes on the income you contribute but don’t pay taxes on capital gains when you withdraw in the future.
A rollover IRA is used to combine older retirement accounts. You can merge old 401(k), 403(b), 457, and IRA accounts in one rollover IRA so you have fewer accounts to manage.
A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA is a retirement account that’s ideal for small business owners. With a SEP-IRA, you can fund a retirement account for yourself as a self-employed business owner and fund retirement savings for employees.
SIMPLE IRAs, short for “Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees,” are a small business retirement plan for companies that, in most cases, have 100 or fewer employees.
A solo 401(k) is a self-employed 401(k) savings plan. It offers more flexibility than a SEP-IRA, which makes it a good choice for some small business owners.
How to Choose the Right Retirement Plan Brokerage
When picking a retirement plan for your small business or choosing an individual retirement account for yourself, there are a few areas that are most important to focus on. Here are the main areas of importance when picking the best retirement plan:
Pricing and Fees
Fees can take a noticeable chunk out of your nest egg. It’s important to choose a retirement plan with very low fees. The best retirement plans have no minimum balance requirement and no recurring fees for plan participants or account holders.
Many employer-sponsored retirement plans offer only a limited menu of mutual funds, ETFs, and maybe the company’s stock. The best plans give you access to the entire market of mutual funds, ETFs, stocks, bonds, and more.
While retirement investing tends to be passive, it’s important to have quality tools to measure your portfolio performance and choose new investments. Some brokerages offer exceptional web interfaces, mobile apps, and even desktop-based platforms. Others leave investors wanting more. If you care about a high-tech investing experience, make sure to look at the platforms offered when picking your retirement plan account.
Fidelity. "About Fidelity - Our Company." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
Fidelity. "Mutual Fund Results - Mutual Fund Research." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
About Schwab. "What We Do." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
Charles Schwab. "Mutual Funds." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
Thinking Ahead Institute. "The World's Largest Fund Mangers - 2019." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
Vanguard. "Vanguard Mutual Fund Fees and Minimums." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
Betterment. "Our Pricing." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
SEC.gov. "A Guide for Teachers: Planning for Retirement." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
TIAA. "Who We Are and How We Make a Difference." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.