Why brokers are clamoring for your IRA money

Don't look now, but there are a lot of people out there hungering for your IRA. Your IRA business, that is.

This time of year, with the deadline for IRA contributions looming, investors have a heightened awareness of these retirement accounts. And brokers are seizing the moment to offer promotions designed to convince savers to transfer their IRA accounts.

Fidelity on Thursday became the latest entrant in the IRA promotion arena when it launched a program called IRA Match. For investors who transfer at least $10,000 in IRA assets to Fidelity, the firm will match their contributions for the next three years up to 10 percent. (A transfer of $10,000 gets you a 1 percent match rate, while $100,000 gets you 2.5 percent and $500,000 gets you 10 percent.)

Incentive to save

Pedestrians pass a Fidelity Investments office in Boston.
JB Reed | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Pedestrians pass a Fidelity Investments office in Boston.

The incentives apply well above the average size of a Fidelity IRA. The firm saw a 4 percent increase in its average IRA account size in 2014, to $92,200, and the average IRA contribution was $4,325.

The maximum an investor could receive under the new promotion is $1,950—if that investor transfers $500,000 and makes the maximum $6,500 annual contribution for savers over 50 years old for three years.

But Lauren Brouhard, senior vice president for retirement at Fidelity, believes the numbers will be appealing to consumers. She contends that the Fidelity program goes a step further than most IRA promotions since it encourages more saving. "Incentives such as the company match in the 401(k) have been a really powerful tool for overcoming inertia. We wanted to take the concept and bring it to the IRA," she said. "We think this is very different in terms of how we are looking to drive the right behaviors."

IRA promotion season

Fidelity is joining a crowded field of IRA promotions, though the firms' offers vary. For example, E–Trade is offering a cash credit of up to $600 for investors who open or transfer an IRA account. Scottrade is offering to reimburse up to $100 in transfer fees if you move an account worth $10,000 or more to the firm.

TD Ameritrade, meanwhile, is offering up to $2,500 to existing customers who transfer $1 million or more. New customers can get up to $600 for transfers of at least $250,000. Other firms are offering promotions on IRA CDs.

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Investors in mutual funds through 401(k) accounts do tend to pay lower fees than investors on average, according to Investment Company Institute data. For example, in 2013, 401(k) investors in equity mutual funds paid an average expense ratio of 0.58 percent, compared to 0.74 percent for all investors.

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Generally, though, the Consumer Federation of America is not concerned about the type of promotions being offered for IRA asset transfers, said Micah Hauptman, financial services counsel at the federation. "We don't have a problem with inducements per se," he said, provided they are not coupled with recommendations for investments that are not in customers' best interest.

Hauptman added that promotions for rollovers of 401(k)s to IRAs could be more concerning because of the cost differences and because assets in 401(k) plans are subject to the fiduciary duty standard.

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Contribution deadline ahead

Brouhard is optimistic that the time is right for an offer like Fidelity's. "People have tax returns on their minds, important deadlines for making contributions to accounts are looming, and it's a great time to be engaging with consumers," she said.

The deadline for 2014 IRA contributions is April 15. You can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA ($6,500 if you're 50 or older).

Investors would do well to carefully measure the real benefits of these promotions before moving accounts. But for people considering moving IRA accounts, the promotions can offer an extra motivation to get going.