Once you start living off your savings, high investment fees make it more likely you'll deplete your retirement stash.
Once you determine how much of a saver you are, you have several more decisions to make -- including whether you should pay for the advice of a financial planner.
Decision No. 3: How much help do you really need?
The decision: As you get deeper into retirement investing, you may find yourself at a crossroads: Should you go it alone -- set your own asset allocation, choose funds, monitor your progress, make adjustments -- or do you need professional input? In retirement, can you tackle the tricky drawdown solo?
There's no one right answer. The decision comes down to your comfort level and confidence, plus your ease with the online tools that make a DIY approach easier.
Why it's important: You can pay the skimpiest fees possible by picking index funds yourself.
If you prefer giving your money to an active fund manager in hopes of beating the market, you'll pay another half a percentage point or more a year. And turning your money over to an adviser can add 1% a year to your costs.
The benefit of holding the line on expenses is pretty intuitive when you're saving for retirement. The less you spend on fees, the more of your gains you get to keep. Over a 35-year career, paying one percentage point less annually can mean a 20% larger nest egg.
Keeping a lid on expenses after you've retired is equally important. By reining in costs you may be able of reduce the chances of running out of money. And you'll be able to draw more from your portfolio every year.
Best move: Take advantage of free asset allocation and investment selection tools in your company's retirement plan or at fund company sites.
Last year the Department of Labor began requiring employers to be more transparent about 401(k) fees, which should make it easier for you to home in on the lowest-cost investments in your plain.
Outside your plan, you can turn to online tools like Morningstar's Fund Screener, which allows you to sort funds by their expense ratios. And our MONEY 70 includes ETFs that charge as little as 0.05%.
When you do need help, say as you're ready to retire or retired, an alternative to paying a pro 1% of your assets a year is to periodically have a planner evaluate your progress. You'll pay $150 to $200 an hour, or about $1,000, assuming about five hours for the checkup.
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