Pew found that 31 percent of private-sector employees it surveyed were not at all familiar with their retirement plan's fees. (Photo: Shutterstock)

American workers on the whole tend to be overwhelmed with the whole notion of retirement responsibility, in that they don’t know how much they should save, don’t necessarily understand (or want to understand) investing and the choices involved, and have more immediate needs to see to than a retirement that seems forever away.

But another thing they don’t really seem to grasp is the effect—or, for that matter, the amount—of fees on investments that their plans charge.

And that’s a shame, since the fees can add up to a retirement that’s poorer than it needs to be, says a Pew Charitable Trusts report.

Employees don’t necessarily realize that even small increases in investment fees can significantly reduce their overall savings at retirement.

And it’s not as if they’re getting any more bang for those lost bucks; analyses have shown that investments with higher fees do not typically perform better than those with lower fees.

In its survey of private-sector workers, Pew found that while nearly 7 in 10 respondents with retirement plans said they were at least somewhat familiar with their plan’s fees, 31 percent were not at all familiar with the fees.

Nor do they make much of an effort to learn about them, with roughly two thirds saying they had not read any investment fee disclosure in the previous year.

Even among those who said they were very familiar with their fees, 33 percent hadn’t read any fee disclosures in the past year.

Of the third who had, nearly 7 in 10 said they found the information understandable—but only a quarter of all respondents said they had read and understood a disclosure about retirement account fees.

And approximately 80 percent of workers said it would be at least somewhat useful to have additional information about investment fees.

Among workers, those already less likely than others to be financially literate or have experience with the financial system—Hispanics, women, younger workers, respondents with lower levels of education, and low-income workers—are also among the least likely to be familiar with the fees in their plans.

And naturally enough, workers who had engaged in retirement planning at some point were more likely than those who had not to be familiar with their retirement plan fees.

Those who were more confident about investing were also more likely to say that it would be helpful to have more information about fees.

In particular, older workers were more likely to have read a fee disclosure in the past year—but they weren’t any more likely than any other age group to say they understood what they read there.