When 401(k) portfolios were shooting up by double digits every year, neither plan sponsors nor participants were expending much energy asking questions about investment and administrative fees. Sure, it was a nagging concern, but it wasn't worth the time to read the fine print.

After the market took a header, the concern became apprehension. And now, with the mutual fund industry embroiled in scandals that suggest that some fund companies might not be dealing off the top of the deck on portfolio management practices, that tiny little worry has blossomed into full-fledged alarm.

It was none too soon. Investment consultants assert that both sponsors and participants remain unacceptably uninformed about how much in fees is being paid on the $1.5 trillion in 401(k) plans. "There's a problem with transparency in the entire market," says Fred Barstein, CEO of 401kExchange.com, which consults with plan sponsors and investment brokers. "Most plan sponsors don't really understand what they're paying."

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