It began with all the excitement of a three-ring circus (almost literally, you can read about it in "How Investment Theory Explains 401(k) Plan Sponsors' Evolving Fiduciary Duties,", Sept. 17, 2013). At the outset, 401(k) plans generally had just the minimum three options required to meet 404(c) standards. This seemed like a lot compared to the usual profit sharing plans offered then. It was enough to give us the control we thought we needed. We didn't need to change our allocations more than once a quarter. We didn't need to see our valuation more than once a year. 401(k) plans were easy. We went to bed happy.

What made 401(k) plans get so hard? I blame three things (and I know a lot of people – including some of my close friends – will get angry at me for saying this, but…): Employees, mutual funds and the Morningstar style box.

First, employees. For the vast bulk of employees, the original set-up of 401(k) plans was just fine, thank you very much. It was a simple savings vehicle that gave us the best shot to retirement comfortably without a pension and without Social Security. (Let's be honest. I know that wasn't the official line, but that's what we were all thinking.) For those few, however, who wanted more control, who were more interested in investing than saving for retirement, the original 401(k) came up short. 

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Christopher Carosa

Chris Carosa has been writing a weekly article and monthly column for BenefitsPRO online and BenefitsPRO Magazine since 2011 and is a nationally recognized award-winning writer, researcher and speaker. He’s written seven books, including From Cradle to Retire: The Child IRA; Hey! What’s My Number? – How to Increase the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort; A Pizza The Action: Everything I Ever Learned About Business I Learned By Working in a Pizza Stand at the Erie County Fair; and the widely acclaimed 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions. Carosa is also Chief Contributing Editor of the authoritative trade journal and publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper he founded in 1989. Currently serving as President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and with more than 1,000 articles published in various publications, he appears regularly in the national media. A “parallel” entrepreneur, he actively runs a handful of businesses, including a small boutique investment adviser, providing hands-on experience for his writing. A trained astrophysicist, he also holds an MBA and has been designated a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Share your thoughts and story ideas with him through Facebook ( Twitter (