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FITeacher

South Orange Maplewood Providers

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On 10/4/2019 at 3:17 PM, krow36 said:

 

Are you contributing $6000 per year to an IRA, either traditional or Roth? If not, I would do that before contributing to a 403b or 457 account.

Krow,

Thanks for the info. Thoughtful and well detailed. I am contributing to my Roth fully. We are doing well enough that I thought it might be good to look at 403b's and 457's. I didn't ask about the 457's cause the benefits officer did not highlight that in any of the information sent over. Would there be another person to talk to about getting access to that? OR should I email the benefits officer again asking about these other providers and whether at 457 is offered by the district?

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FITEACHER

Aspire offers self directing but they don't advertise it. All you need to do is write "self-direct this account, no advisor wanted or needed somewhere on the application form. I am sure it's a similiar situation with the others who offer it. i don't think adding security benefit or lincoln to your list is a good idea for the reasons I mentioned above. Push for Aspire. I think Fidelity or Vanguard might be more of a challenge but worth a try.

2 hours ago, FITeacher said:

I am hesitant to make waves.

Don't be. You are trying to improved retirement benefit choices for ALL your employees. Just be polite and respectful and say you want to improve choices away from insurance plans. I would not attack the other choices just show the benefits of adding these better mentioned products. The ptoblem you face is ignorance. You will have to get everyone past that.

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5 minutes ago, tony said:

 

Don't be. You are trying to improved retirement benefit choices for ALL your employees. Just be polite and respectful and say you want to improve choices away from insurance plans. I would not attack the other choices just show the benefits of adding these better mentioned products. The problem you face is ignorance. You will have to get everyone past that.

Is this something I am approaching my district benefits officer about changing?

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Your district benefits officer is probably your first stop. After that if things aren't  happening casually talk to the superintendent, school board member or personnel director.  Probably all three.You will be shocked how little they know about good choices vs bad choices. You will have to push politely but if you go on the premise that you want to improve the investing landscape for ALL employees you might be able to sway them. Aspire would be a good start as they are easy to add and are different than the other choices you currently have because its a non insurance product.

Thes second stage will have to be educating teachers. That can be a challenge as financial literacy is not strong in our culture and that is the exact reason these insurance companies get away with so much

I would call your state government concerning a state sponsored  457b plan and see if teachers qualify for it.  It would then be easy to add and they can help you.

It's good to do the legwork yourself instead of asking us because you will learn more  along the way doing things yourself. 

Please let us know what you find out. I really think you can do this.

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FITEACHER

I would like to add that teachers are in short supply these days and the turnover is high. You might approach improving retirement benefits as a plus to keeping employees happy and in place. 

 

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2 hours ago, FITeacher said:

Krow,

Thanks for the info. Thoughtful and well detailed. I am contributing to my Roth fully. We are doing well enough that I thought it might be good to look at 403b's and 457's. I didn't ask about the 457's cause the benefits officer did not highlight that in any of the information sent over. Would there be another person to talk to about getting access to that? OR should I email the benefits officer again asking about these other providers and whether at 457 is offered by the district?

Tony has given you some great advice. Your district benefits officer should be able to tell you if there’s a policy for adding a vendor. Sometimes all it takes is for an employee to ask, sometimes there’s a policy requiring some number of employees to commit to the new vendor. Sometimes the Third Party Administrator (TPA) resists, although it’s really a decision for the district. Does your district use a TPA? It often takes persistence and repeated calls or talks.

 

I suggest you read up on Aspire before you talk to anyone. They have an excellent FAQ:

https://www.aspireonline.com/resources/faqs/-in-category/categories/plan-types/403(b)-k-12

You have to set up the FAQ for “403b, K-12” and “employee”.

 

Points in favor of adding Aspire:

The district’s 403b vendor list does not include a vendor that has low-cost, index-based mutual funds. They are all (or mostly) vendors selling high-cost annuity-based 403b plans, rather than low-cost custodial account (403(b)7 plans.

Although Aspire allows advisors if desired by employees (add 0.6%), they allow self-directed accounts.

Aspire will not cost the district if added. The employees will pay any TPA fees through their Aspire $40 admin fee.

Are you familiar with the New York Times series of articles on the K-12 403b problem? It might be useful in informing others of the high cost of the annuity 403b plans and the unscrupulous behavior of some insurance reps. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/23/your-money/403-b-retirement-plans-fees-teachers.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

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FITeacher

Just a note. I read through the FAQ Krow posted and it says A district CAN limit your choices. I would make sure if that happens they include at minimum these funds

Vanguard or Fidelity Total Stock Market Index

Vanguard of Fidelity Total International index

Vanguard  of FidelityTotal Bond Index

a selection of Vanguard Target Retirement Funds

Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund

Hopefully your district will allow a total open platform. But these stated funds would be all you would really need.

You will need to educate others how self directing works but for shy folks Aspire does offer  Advisor  availability but that option will bump up your costs a bit.

 

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22 hours ago, tony said:

Just a note. I read through the FAQ Krow posted and it says A district CAN limit your choices. I would make sure if that happens they include at minimum these funds

Vanguard or Fidelity Total Stock Market Index

Vanguard of Fidelity Total International index

Vanguard  of FidelityTotal Bond Index

a selection of Vanguard Target Retirement Funds

Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund

Hopefully your district will allow a total open platform. But these stated funds would be all you would really need.

Thanks Tony!

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23 hours ago, krow36 said:

Points in favor of adding Aspire:

The district’s 403b vendor list does not include a vendor that has low-cost, index-based mutual funds. They are all (or mostly) vendors selling high-cost annuity-based 403b plans, rather than low-cost custodial account (403(b)7 plans.

Although Aspire allows advisors if desired by employees (add 0.6%), they allow self-directed accounts.

Aspire will not cost the district if added. The employees will pay any TPA fees through their Aspire $40 admin fee.

Are you familiar with the New York Times series of articles on the K-12 403b problem? It might be useful in informing others of the high cost of the annuity 403b plans and the unscrupulous behavior of some insurance reps. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/23/your-money/403-b-retirement-plans-fees-teachers.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

Krow,

Thank you! These are good to note. I have not read the article yet from the NYTimes, each time it comes up I hit the Sub Wall. I like the idea of having control over my own plan and access to low cost index funds for the 403b.

 

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1 hour ago, FITeacher said:

I did find out that we do have access to 457's through Valic and AXA. I am going to do a search on each but does anyone know these two products?

I think your 457b is not any better if its littered with insurance companies. Try to get Aspire

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Here is the article

 

Margaret Jusinski first got to know her investment broker through the breakfasts he provided when he visited her public school in the leafy suburbs of New Jersey, where she teaches middle-school children computer coding and how to build robots made of Legos.

After the bagels, muffins and coffee, the broker made his sales pitch — and Ms. Jusinski bought it. So did many of her colleagues.

The teachers only recently learned how much those meals actually cost them.

Had she been able to choose a simpler, less expensive plan instead of the broker’s costly offering, Ms. Jusinski would have approximately 20 percent more in savings, according to an analysis performed for The New York Times. One colleague would have a balance 50 percent fatter. The list goes on.

“It is a heartbreaking situation for everyone,” said Ms. Jusinski, a mother of two girls who turns 50 on Sunday. “Especially for the staff members who were looking to retire within the next few years.”

 

Most Americans who save for retirement at work have 401(k) plans, which are generally offered by companies and must by law provide a mix of prudent investment options. But millions of Americans — public school teachers, clergy members, employees of religious institutions or nonprofits, and some charities — are not offered 401(k)’s. Instead they typically must rely on what are known as 403(b) plans, many of which are more lightly regulated.

As a result, the people who do the most good in the world, spending their careers helping others in exchange for modest paychecks, often get the worst retirement plans. In fact, millions of people who save in 403(b) plans may be losing nearly $10 billion each year in excessive investment fees, according to a recent analysis by Aon, a retirement consultant.

“It’s a wealth transfer from those who don’t know any better — Main Street — to those who do: Wall Street,” said Scott Dauenhauer, a financial planner who works with public schoolteachers and as a consultant to school plans. “What makes me the most angry is that public school employees are not protected the same as their private sector counterparts.”

Named for a section of the tax code, many 403(b) accounts are riddled with complicated, expensive investment products that can cost their owners tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, over their careers. The 403(b) accounts that many workers contribute to are not subject to the more stringent federal rules and consumer protections that apply to 401(k) plans. In fact, of the $879 billion in total 403(b) assets, more than half is not subject to federal retirement plan rules, according to Cerulli Associates, a research firm.

 

Those assets also escaped tighter protections issued in April by the Obama administration, which will require brokers to put the interests of their customers first when handling retirement dollars. “There is very little, if any, oversight, so you often end up with conflicted advice, high fees and low service,” said Marcia Wagner, an employee benefits lawyer who has been practicing for more than 30 years.

While some school districts and states have begun vetting plans for public school employees, most teachers must still sort through a bewildering list on their own. Instead of just one provider offering a selected range of low-cost mutual funds — which is typical in a 401(k) plan — teachers and other public school workers might see options from several large providers, each with a dizzying array of prospective investments.

 
 
23retireteach-slide-QI0N-articleLarge.jp
ImageValarie Williams’s 27-year-old son, Antoine, who has Down syndrome. Ms. Williams, a speech pathologist at a high school in Copiague, N.Y., transferred about $170,000 in retirement savings to the Legend Group and said she saw her balance keep dropping even though she was making regular contributions to her account.
Valarie Williams’s 27-year-old son, Antoine, who has Down syndrome. Ms. Williams, a speech pathologist at a high school in Copiague, N.Y., transferred about $170,000 in retirement savings to the Legend Group and said she saw her balance keep dropping even though she was making regular contributions to her account.CreditSara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times

In some places, including California, Ohio, Texas and Washington, the lists may run much longer because of state laws that require it. Public school workers in California, for instance, have access to up to 59 providers and more than 220 investment products.

Often the providers are insurers like Valic, Voya, AXA and Lincoln Financial. And while a 401(k) plan might offer a small collection of plain-vanilla mutual funds that, say, track a major stock index or invest in bonds, the investments in many 403(b) plans are typically held inside annuities, which can be much more confusing.

For instance, many teachers are encouraged to invest in high-cost variable annuities, typically explained in thick instruction manuals filled with jargon. Buyers who later decide they want to move money into a lower-cost investment vehicle often learn their savings are being held hostage: Pay a surrender fee or the money must remain in the annuity.

Mark Eichenlaub, a seventh-grade language arts teacher who coaches cross-country track in Flossmoor, Ill., decided to pay the fee, about 5 percent of his balance, just so that he could extricate himself from a variable annuity sold by AXA, which subtracted more than 2.34 percent of his balance each year. In contrast, large 401(k) plans charge less than half a percent annually, according to BrightScope, a financial information company.

 

In a relatively short time, his costly switch “will pay for itself,” said Mr. Eichenlaub, who is 38. (After months of lobbying his district for a lower-cost option, he persuaded school authorities to add one to their lineup this year.)

 
 
23retireteach-slide-O9FB-articleLarge.jp
Image
Valarie Williams, center, helps her daughter, Jovanda, who is blind and severely disabled, into her minivan, with the aid of her mother, Shirley Washington, right. Ms. Williams said she was saving her money to buy a van that would make transporting her daughter easier.
Valarie Williams, center, helps her daughter, Jovanda, who is blind and severely disabled, into her minivan, with the aid of her mother, Shirley Washington, right. Ms. Williams said she was saving her money to buy a van that would make transporting her daughter easier.CreditSara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times

Despite the high cost of many 403(b) accounts, they are likely to play an increasingly important role paying for educators’ retirement. For one thing, teachers in about a dozen states may not qualify for Social Security. And while public schoolteachers often are offered decent pensions, many of them do not work for the decades required to qualify for a full payout. And pension formulas are becoming less generous for newer recruits.

The 64 million workers with 401(k) accounts are covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, overseen by the Labor Department. The law outlines minimum guidelines and protections for workers and requires employers or plan overseers to act in the best interests of participants.

But most assets in 403(b) accounts are invested in the murkier side of the market, which is not covered by the federal law, known as Erisa. Many hospitals and private colleges tend to hew more closely to Erisa standards, but a series of recent lawsuits against prominent universities argue there is still room for improvement.

New regulations from the Internal Revenue Service in 2009 helped tidy up some 403(b) administrative details. For instance, employers offering 403(b) plans were required to create a document detailing how the plan would be governed. But larger problems remained.

 

In many cases, basic information about costs isn’t readily available online, only through an agent, which can have its own problems.

Tracee Huffman, a 26-year-old who teaches seventh and eighth graders in Norfolk, Va., became so fed up waiting for the representative to get back to her — it took more than six months — that she educated herself about costs and decided her personal individual retirement account was a better deal. “I have emailed the other vendors, but they always refused to respond to my questions via email,” Ms. Huffman said. “They would prefer I drive to meet with them when my question is simple: ‘Do you have a 403(b) that has an expense ratio under 1.5 percent? If so, I’m yours.’”

The teachers at Ms. Jusinski’s school in New Jersey, which is in the affluent Bergen County town of Ho-Ho-Kus, recently learned they were paying more than that — sometimes much more.

Outside their school on a sunny afternoon in early June, parents picked up their children beneath a canopy of tall oak trees. And inside the school, half a dozen teachers gathered in a former kindergarten classroom that had a fireplace and bookcases with doors made of leaded glass.

Together, they assessed the collective damage to their 403(b) plans.

One of Ms. Jusinski’s colleagues, Karen S., is a 62-year-old widow nearing retirement who agreed to discuss her situation if her last name was not used to protect her family’s privacy. At the end of 2015 she would have had an additional $113,000 in savings — or nearly 50 percent more — had she not paid approximately $37,500 in commissions and various fees over the previous eight years and had instead invested in a simpler mix of low-cost stock and bond funds, according to an analysis performed by Mr. Dauenhauer, the 403(b) consultant.

“I am running around in my little Honda because someday I need to retire and there is no Plan B,” she said. Her husband died of brain cancer when their three boys were 3, 5 and 7, leaving her to raise the children on her own.

 
 
23retireteach-slide-GOW0-articleLarge.jp
Image
Valarie Williams with her 25-year-old daughter, Jovanda, who is severely disabled. Most mornings before work, Ms. Williams carries Jovanda to her mother’s house next door.
Valarie Williams with her 25-year-old daughter, Jovanda, who is severely disabled. Most mornings before work, Ms. Williams carries Jovanda to her mother’s house next door.CreditSara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times
 

(Mr. Dauenhauer, who reviewed both her account and Ms. Jusinski’s, had no business relationship with the plans the teachers choose from.)

Ms. Jusinski paid more than $15,000 in fees and commissions over the previous eight years on an $87,000 account. She would have had almost $105,000 at the end of 2015 if she had been invested in a standard mix of low-cost stock and bond funds, according to Mr. Dauenhauer’s analysis.

The teachers were each charged a fee of at least 2 percent of their savings to manage the money, in addition to sales charges of up to 6 percent each time they made a deposit, the analysis found. Moreover, the calculations didn’t include the expenses of the dozens of mutual funds they were invested in, some of which exceeded 1 percent.

The Legend Group, the provider of the investments all these teachers hold, last year fired Walter Marino, their broker, according to a spokesman for the firm, who said his departure was unrelated to the investment fees. Mr. Marino didn’t return calls seeking comment on his departure from Legend.

In August, after the teachers complained about their investments, Legend sent them letters stating that the charges “were consistent with the firm’s policies.” More recently, though, Legend met with them to seek more information about how much money they thought they lost.

 
 
23retireteach-slide-CR9O-articleLarge.jp
Image
Valarie Williams’s daughter, Jovanda, who is legally blind and believed to be deaf. Ms. Williams, a speech therapist at a high school in Copiague, N.Y., said she and some colleagues were working with a lawyer to resolve complaints about fees they paid to their retirement account management firm.
Valarie Williams’s daughter, Jovanda, who is legally blind and believed to be deaf. Ms. Williams, a speech therapist at a high school in Copiague, N.Y., said she and some colleagues were working with a lawyer to resolve complaints about fees they paid to their retirement account management firm.CreditSara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times

Diane Mardy, the Ho-Ho-Kus superintendent of schools, said she hoped “that a spotlight is put upon this issue so that more safeguards are put in place for us all.”

 

The same broker, Mr. Marino, is involved in a similar dispute about a 90-minute drive east, in Copiague, N.Y.

At the local high school there, Valarie Williams, a 51-year-old speech pathologist, met with Mr. Marino after receiving a notice in her school mailbox saying that his firm, Legend, would visit to help teachers analyze whether their retirement portfolios were on track. “They brought snacks and all of that,” she recalled. In the end, Ms. Williams, who is divorced, said she transferred about $170,000 to Legend in the spring of 2014.

Mr. Marino helped her fill out the paperwork at her home, where she lives with two of her grown children, both disabled: a 27-year-old son with Down syndrome and a 25-year-old daughter, blind and severely disabled, whom she carries to her mother’s house next door most mornings before work.

But within months, she said, she felt something wasn’t right, nor could she make sense of her “convoluted” statements. She was still making contributions, but her balance was always less than her original investment. “The market wasn’t that bad,” Ms. Williams said. “I expected normal fluctuations.”

 
 
23retireteach-slide-BKDN-articleLarge.jp
Image
From right: Valarie Williams with her cousin Veronica Early; Debra Lovett, her sister; and her daughter, Jovanda, seated, at a breast cancer walk on Long Island.
From right: Valarie Williams with her cousin Veronica Early; Debra Lovett, her sister; and her daughter, Jovanda, seated, at a breast cancer walk on Long Island.CreditSara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times

The broker told her that her account was “highly managed” and that she had to be patient.

One day, when pocopying her Legend statements at school, another teacher noticed and remarked, “Oh, you’re with Legend, too?” That teacher had a similar experience — and word spread beyond the copy room.

“That teacher told another teacher, then all of a sudden people started reaching out to me,” Ms. Williams said.

 

Two years after transferring her money, she, along with some current and former colleagues, are working with a lawyer to explore their options on how to resolve their situation with the brokerage firm. Ms. Williams’s lawyers said the teachers were charged multiple types of fees on their accounts, similar to what the teachers in New Jersey experienced.

“In cases like that, I call it using somebody’s money as the firm’s proprietary account,” said Jenice Malecki, Ms. Williams’s securities lawyer, who is also representing other employees at her school. “The firm takes all the profit and the customer gets nothing.”

Joseph Kuo, the Legend Group spokesman, declined to comment on whether it thought the teachers were charged excessive fees. 

 
 
23retireteach-slide-PUWG-articleLarge.jp
Image
Valarie Williams’s daughter, Jovanda. Ms. Williams, 51, is divorced and taking care of two disabled children on her salary as a high school speech pathologist.
Valarie Williams’s daughter, Jovanda. Ms. Williams, 51, is divorced and taking care of two disabled children on her salary as a high school speech pathologist.CreditSara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times

Legend was on both schools’ list of 403(b) providers, providing teachers with a sense of security. “When you tell your employees this is an approved product, they automatically assume the district did some due diligence on it,” said Barbara Healy, a 403(b) consultant based in Scottsdale, Ariz. “And for the most part, the district does not pay any attention.”

Participants in retirement plans covered by Erisa, the federal law, generally have the right to sue the plan overseer for failing to act in an employee’s best interest. But many public school teachers can typically resolve grievances only through arbitration, since most investment providers mandate that disputes be settled that way.

The New Jersey teachers also turned to their local union for help, hoping they could find a better program to put their money in. The union representative recommended a sales agent affiliated with the retirement program run by the National Education Association, a union with three million members.

 

But the union’s products weren’t much different from what the teachers already had.

The N.E.A.’s Member Benefits group, a subsidiary, exclusively endorses a set of products from Security Benefit, a financial services company with nearly $32 billion in total assets that creates fixed and variable annuities and offers mutual funds. (The union’s program for teachers receives at least $2.7 million from Security Benefit each year, according to regulatory filings, which it said it paid to operate the program.)

The products include an array of mutual funds, various annuities — and one lower-cost option in which investors can choose inexpensive index funds without a broker’s assistance. But most new money from school employees is invested in the mutual funds sold by brokers, according to Gary Phoebus, chief executive of N.E.A. Member Benefits.

Fees in that program range from 0.35 to 1.25 percent. But that doesn’t include another layer of expenses for the underlying investments, which run from 0.59 to 2.11 percent, according to Security Benefit, and in some cases additional sales or surrender charges

For comparison, total costs at a typical large 401(k) generally fall under 0.5 percent.

Mr. Phoebus defended the program, saying it offered a wide variety of options “to meet the diverse needs and comfort levels of members.” The goal, he explained, was to balance fees while providing access to advice.

However, some employees of the union itself, as opposed to its subsidiary, do receive a better deal. Many are offered a 401(k) retirement plan managed by Vanguard, a mutual fund company known for its low costs.

As for Ms. Jusinski, the technology teacher in New Jersey, she has wrested back control of her retirement account, investing in the union’s do-it-yourself option. But she worries about her fellow teachers all over the nation, still stuck in costly 403(b) plans.

“So many are mismanaged, shady operations,” she said. “It’s a crime.”

 

Susan Beachy contributed research.

A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 23, 2016, Section BU, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Reading, Writing and Rip-Offs. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
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Just an update:

I have been hitting a wall trying to get folks added for 457's in my district with no responses back from District representatives. I brought this up at a meeting and some other folks mentioned that Lincoln Financial is not on the list but they have come around and work with folks in the district already. I am looking to give them a call this week to see if I can get a look at what Self Directed 457 products they might have. I know I am looking for low fees, does anyone know what Lincoln Financial might offer? Thanks again for your wealth of knowledge!

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Thanks for giving us an update. Lincoln Financial may come around the school but if they are not on the current vendor lists, I don't think the district will allow them to be used for 403b or 457 contributions. Are you sure you have the current vendor list?

In any case, there seems to be a difference between Lincoln Financial and Lincoln Investment Group. According to  403bcompare.com, Lincoln Financial is an insurance company that sells expensive annuity-based 403b plans. Lincoln Investment Group offers mutual fund based custodial accounts and in NJ they offer the Participant Directed 403b/457 internet-based plan as well as more expensive local rep-based plans.

Unless the vendor list you posted is not complete, and Lincoln Investment Group is actually on the list, I think Aspire would be the easiest vendor to get added. That's because the employee rather than the district pays the TPA fee. That will make all the Vanguard low-cost index funds available. You only need the 3 basics funds to be completely diversified (either Vanguard's or Fidelity's): 

Total Stock Market Index

Total Int'l Stock Market Index

Total Bond Market Index

Of course if the district is willing to pay the TPA fee (around $20/yr/participant), then adding either Vanguard or Fidelity would be the very best outcome. But Aspire is definitely low-cost enough to be a very good option for you.

Adding a vendor to either of the lists will probably involve talking to the business department head for the district, maybe a school board member, your district's TPA, your union? Face to face is probably more effective than email or phone. Other posters on this forum can give you first-hand advice for adding a vendor. 

 

 

 

 

 

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13 hours ago, FITeacher said:

Just an update:

I have been hitting a wall trying to get folks added for 457's in my district with no responses back from District representatives. I brought this up at a meeting and some other folks mentioned that Lincoln Financial is not on the list but they have come around and work with folks in the district already. I am looking to give them a call this week to see if I can get a look at what Self Directed 457 products they might have. I know I am looking for low fees, does anyone know what Lincoln Financial might offer? Thanks again for your wealth of knowledge!

As Krow mentioned, Lincoln Financial and Lincoln Investment are two completely different companies.  

I would email your business administrator directly.  Doesn’t sound like your benefits officer has answers for your questions.

In my district the vendor list was not up to date.  It wasn’t until I started emailing the BA that I was able to get an updated list of vendors.

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