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AliFool asks:

Hi there. Can anyone tell me where and how to track my Merrill Lynch (and other) 401K mutual funds online? Thanks.

Also, I have one fund in my 401K which seems pretty attractive -- it is called the "Merrill Lynch Equity Index Trust," which they say is an S&P 500 Index Fund, but is "private." They told me that means it is only a ML thing, but how can I track it specifically, then? (I guess just right against the S&P 500?)

It's really too bad I can't see my ML 401K account balance online! What is the "ML Online" section of their website for, then? Everyone else who doesn't do 401K with them?

You know the "portfolio organizers" that a lot of sites have online? TMF has a beta, right? Well, I'd like to get all my investment information into one of those.

And Quicken -- how does it handle this sort of thing?

If - and only if - the funds used within your 401k are the same as ML offers the public will it be possible for you to track that fund's performance on a daily basis. You indicate the one you're interested in is a proprietary fund, or one not open to the general public. Generally, unless the fund manager chooses to publish such information you won't be able to track the performance of this kind of fund until you receive your 401k statements. That receipt may be quarterly, semi-annually or annually. Few 401k plans issue monthly statements. OTOH, if you use funds that are sold to the public, then you can use any portfolio tracker to check on them daily simply by entering their ticker symbol.

Be aware that when trying to track your 401k performance you will only be able to approximate that return within any given year for a number of reasons. First, public funds often have different expenses when available within a 401k. That difference will have an effect on the share prices within the 401k versus that published for the same fund in a public setting. Additionally, you will almost certainly have other administrative charges levied by the plan itself, which will reduce the value of your shares. These charges are not reflected in the public fund's numbers.

Next, any return is time-sensitive. You have to know the starting date to measure it. In a 401k, that means you have to know precisely when your contribution was deposited into the fund. It isn't the day the deduction was made from your paycheck because companies vary in when they remit that deduction to the plan. It can be up to the 15th business day of the month following the month the money was taken from your paycheck. Until you get that statement, you don't know when the money hit the account.

For these reasons, IMHO the best way to measure 401k performance for your particular account is once each year as of the date of a statement you receive. You know what the beginning balance was, you can account for the timing of deposits, and you know what the ending balance is. With that date you can compute an accurate return for you personally. Other calculations based on approximations are just guesses..

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