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A Retirement Plan Horror Story

Schoolteachers often have poor choices for retirement investing. While some are lucky enough to have low-cost plans from providers like TIAA-CREF, Fidelity, or Vanguard, others don't have great options for their tax-deferred retirement savings.

We've called out plan providers like AIG (NYSE: AIG  ) before for their high expenses and lack of good choices. But things can get worse, as some Colorado teachers discovered recently.

So bad, it's criminal
The horrendous surrender charges and obscenely high management and investment expenses that you'll find in many 403(b) plans -- the nonprofit and educational equivalent of 401(k) plans -- technically are not crimes. But one investment advisor found a way to raise the bar rather dramatically.

Gordon Robert Moore, 30, of Longmont, Colo., a former investment advisor for AXA Equitable (NYSE: AXA  ) , pleaded guilty to felony theft, felony securities fraud, and felony computer crime, according to the Colorado Attorney General's Office, in a scheme where $1.7 million was transferred out of the Public Employee Retirement Accounts of 141 Colorado schoolteachers. Moore forged documents that allowed funds to be shifted from Public Employee Retirement Accounts to accounts that he managed at AXA Equitable, according to the AG. He garnered $100,000 in management fees, according to media reports. That sounds like a motive to me.

Amazingly, Moore will likely face only probation. Why? Because, according to Nate Strauch, spokesman for the Colorado AG's Office, "He didn't steal the money. He transferred it."

I bet that made the teachers -- whose accounts might well have suffered trading losses on top of paying those fees -- feel a lot better.

Stay out of the game
That's an extreme example, but it should get us all thinking about our financial retirement plans. If you qualify, a Roth IRA may be a better option for teachers and other workers stuck in bad 403(b) plans. By directly investing in a Roth, you control the investment choices -- which can dramatically lower your annual costs versus a 403(b) plan. And don't forget to keep an eye on your nest egg.

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