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Proposed fiduciary rule won’t limit access to advice, says DOL

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Owners of small IRAs, you might think, are low- or middle-income workers. But you’d be wrong, according to the Department of Labor.

Instead, DOL said in a report, more than two thirds of the owners of small IRAs are wealthy and upper-middle-class households.

What’s more, those small IRAs usually only account for a single component of a larger financial portfolio.

Why does this matter? Because small-IRA owners as a group aren’t seeking out expensive advice on investments from a broker.

And the people who would be most prone to getting advice subject to conflicts of interest are those who can least afford the consequences.

Approximately 70 percent of all nonelderly households owning small IRAs — those worth less than $25,000 — are in the top half of income distribution, said the report.

Further, almost 38 percent are in the top quarter. This category of small-IRA owners “generally own their own homes as well as other types of financial assets such as job-based defined-contribution plans, stocks, and mutual funds,” said the report.

But that other third of small-IRA owners, those who are low- and middle-income workers, is particularly vulnerable to conflicts of interest in the advice they receive on what to do with those small IRAs.

Particularly because they find it so hard to save, and because they get advice on what to do with IRAs when they’re rolling over funds from job-based plans, they’re “most at risk from conflicts of interest due to their reduced ability to absorb financial losses.”

In fact, the report said that “low- and middle-income small savers generally do not receive the types of detailed personalized advice that many envision when they think of financial advice.”

Even the higher-net-worth owners of small IRAs don’t generally seek out financial advice from brokers, with the total percentage of all small-IRA owners who do so only totaling 15 percent.

That means, the report said, that “the limited number of small savers that do participate in the IRA marketplace are generally turning to other lower-cost options for guidance on what to do with their investments.”

As a result, the DOL said that the proposed fiduciary rule “clearly allows for all savers to still be provided retirement and investment education and will not limit the amount of education available. The additional clarity the rule brings to the distinctions between education and advice will help improve the quality of the advice that savers receive.”


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