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FRONTLINE: The Retirement Gamble

Airs Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Gambling with chips and a deck of cards. Whether your IRA or 401K will assure a safe retirement is largely a gamble. Building off reporting from the groundbreaking special "Money, Power and Wall Street," FRONTLINE’s "The Retirement Gamble" raises troubling questions about how America’s financial institutions protect our savings.

For most Americans, traditional retirement is now a pipe dream: Six in 10 people believe they’ll have to delay retirement, just 14 percent are very confident they'll be able to live comfortably once they stop working, and 17 percent believe they’ll never retire at all. Who is to blame? "The Retirement Gamble" is an eye-opening investigation of a financial services industry that may be draining your retirement savings with every passing year.

“This FRONTLINE film speaks directly to you, the consumer,” says FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith ("The Untouchables"; "Money, Power and Wall Street"). “It will help you understand both what is happening to your retirement money, and, most importantly, the questions you should be asking before investing it.”

Using his own retirement fund as a case study, Smith undertakes an investigation that has implications for every working American. Through interviews with Wall Street executives at the helm of the mutual fund industry, professionals of all ages who are trying to navigate the retirement crisis, and current and former financial advisers who may or may not have their clients’ best interests at heart, he investigates the rise of the 401(k)—a product Americans buy without knowing its true cost.

FRONTLINE’s Investigation Reveals:

• On any given street, one household may be paying 10 times as much to invest in a 401(k) as the household next door;

• Over the course of a lifetime, a seemingly low annual fee of 2 percent can reduce what your balance would have been by more than 60 percent—potentially adding years to your working life;

• Popular 401(k) providers often charge a plethora of hidden fees, burying them under opaque names like “Expense Ratio”;

• Many financial advisers are not required to provide advice that is in their clients’ best interest; they are only obligated to give advice that is “suitable”; and

• The best way to maximize your return might be to cut Wall Street out of the equation and invest in low-cost, unmanaged index funds.

Whether you’re just starting your professional career, or nearing what you hope will be your golden years, "The Retirement Gamble" is essential viewing if you hope to one day retire.

Past episodes of FRONTLINE are available for online viewing. FRONTLINE is on Facebook, and follow @frontlinepbs on Twitter.

The Retirement Gamble Preview

Ten trillion dollars in Americans' retirement savings are invested in large and small accounts managed by banks, brokerages, mutual funds, and insurance companies. The Retirement Gamble raises troubling questions about how America's financial institutions protect our savings, and asks whether there is a better way to manage our retirements.