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Problems With TIAA-Cref

This article was written by in Investing. 1,494 comments.

Apparently I was not the only person having problems with TIAA-Cref.

When I contacted the company to report my missing contribution, the customer service representative was very helpful and assured me the account would be adjusted. I had complete confidence, and when I checked my account yesterday, the deposit had been made and backdated. My minor situation was resolved to my satisfaction.

Do you have any thoughts about TIAA-Cref? Read the over 400 comments below and leave your own if you have an experience with TIAA-Cref to share.

Updated October 15, 2015 and originally published January 11, 2006. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 1494 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Swanson May 20, 2015 at 6:55 pm

When you deal with a Tiaa-Cref Wealth Management Advisor you deal with the following:

Very generous commission grid. If you are willing to focus on pushing clients into Tiaa-Crefs proprietary managed products you can make a tremendous amount of money.

External assets placed into Tiaa-Crefs proprietary managed products pay the following commission:

0 to 19.9 million in proprietary product placements pays .25% of the dollars placed in the proprietary product.

20 to 39.9 million in proprietary product placements pays .30% of the dollars placed in the proprietary product.

40 to 59.9 million in proprietary product placements pays .35% of the dollars placed in the proprietary product.

60 plus million in proprietary product placements pays .40% of the dollars placed in the proprietary product.

If you convince a client to move assets from their existing, low cost institutional defined contribution plan and place those assets into a proprietary managed solution, you will only receive .10% of the assets placed into the product as commission.

If you can convince a client to bring in outside assets to Tiaa-Cref but they want to self-direct, you will only receive .06% of the asset value transferred in.

Base salary plus very generous commissions on proprietary products.

Very top management at Tiaa-Cref has no idea how the heads of Tiaa-Cref Wealth Management is running the department. Morale is atrocious, Directors with little or no experience, retaliatory firings if you are not pushing enough proprietary products. Bad job for those who want to do the right thing by their customers.

Cull the entire Wealth Management Department from top to bottom. Many of the Directors are very complicit in unethical behavior.

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avatar Peggy S. June 4, 2015 at 12:32 pm

I had the experience of dealing with one of their Wealth Management Advisors. They contacted me because I hit the point of being identified as a “whale” (i.e. someone who has $500K or more in T-C). I agreed for them to do an analysis of my assets along with the projection though my life expectation – which was to about age 95 in their analysis. The result was that I would still have a sizable balance if I died at 95. I have a Financial Advisor at the firm where I have an IRA, a Roth, and a personal investment account. I had her do the same analysis and the results were the same. OK so good.

But the big difference is what the T-C person recommended I do. She said I needed REITs. That investment is NOT an available option in my plan (please note, the Real Estate fund that is available in not a REIT). Next she said I needed annuities. I only have less than $30K tied up in the TIAA Traditional, but I can deal with that. However, she pushed and pushed for annuities.

In contrast, my private Advisor – who did not know the T-C analysis results nor recommendations until after she presented her analysis and recommendations – said “what? No way do you need or want annuities. You are and active, informed, educated investor who is not dependent on having a check for a specific amount each month”.

So now I ask you. Do I believe the T-C person who is pushing the products for a nice commission? Or do I believe the private advisor who makes a commission based on MY decision? The answer is obvious to me. How about you?

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avatar Dinamarie June 8, 2015 at 12:31 am

It seems wise to generate and compare reports from different (competing) advisors like you’ve done. However, the wealth management report and investment allocation that my TIAA-Cref advisor provided me (Sept 2014) was prepared by Ibbotson Associates, an independent company that is a subsidiary of Morningstar. I’d like to believe that provides a bit of neutrality. Of course, all recommendations are limited to funds that T-C has access to within each separate plan. For example, recommendations within my university sponsored plan were almost all within T-C because the policy is restricted to those funds. However, recommendations within my 403(b) allocated a lot of my money to products that are not direct T-C funds. Am I wrong to think that Ibbotson Associates lends a bit of objectivity to the investment strategy report?

By the way, there are different ways to think about TIAA Traditional. Though it technically is an annuity and T-C would like you to treat it as such, you can also view it as a relatively secure savings account. Within my 403(b), money in TIAA Traditional is earning 3% guaranteed and I can move or withdraw money whenever I want. In my strategy, I keep 2+ years’ living expenses in this fund so my immediate future is not at the mercy of the market. I never intend to annuitize it even though this fund is called an annuity.

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avatar anonymous June 8, 2015 at 4:01 am

I concur with the above statement. This place has gotten so corrupt in the past few years. They are losing market share left and right and have to create ways to push all of us into expensive, low quality accounts. I was talked into moving my account into one that was 10 times more expensive. I have a university plan and demanded to know why I was being sold on something heavily in the past few years. It took a little digging, but happy I found out the good ole financial guys are now just as corrupt as these larger companies.
I have kept my university account in tact and as soon as I retire, I plan on moving it out ASAP to someone who has MY, yes MMMYYYY best interest in mind. Maybe that will be me.

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avatar Peggy S. June 8, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Dinamarie, lucky you. Your analysis was done but an outside of T-C source. Mine wasn’t. All 4 of the bound booklets say “Prepared by: name, CFP, Wealth Management Advisor. From the recommendations that Ibbotson Associates gave you it does sound like you got some very objective advise for your 403(b) …SRA?. However, I will give you a word of advice. If you chose to implement any of their recommendations for investment in sources outside of T-C, you will have to roll-over the amount(s). That will not be the easiest thing to do (see my reply to Wizard below as well as the numerous earlier comments).
As for your funds in Traditional in your SRA account. True. They are not restricted in terms of withdrawing rate. Yes, 2 years of living/unexpected expenses in that account, given the interest rate, is not a bad way to go. However, you will still have to jump through hoops to get any money. So if your roof blows in a tornado and you need the $ NOW to replace it, don’t hold your breath for getting a check in a month. JMHO.

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avatar Dinamarie June 8, 2015 at 2:32 pm

I know I sound more defensive about T-C than I really am, and I’m constantly prepared to learn that I’ve misunderstood how my funds operate. However, I’ve had no problems phoning the “helper” who works with my Wealth Advisor and requesting a change in the amount of my systematic withdrawals. I also have a small amount of money in a T-C Money Market account (zilch interest) which I can access through checks; that’s my backup when the roof blows off in a tornado.

Regarding the Retirement Advisor Action Plan (suggested allocations), the report itself said it was prepared by my TIAA-Cref Wealth Management Advisor but the small print on the last pages states: “We have partnered with an independent financial expert, Ibbotson Associates, Inc., who has provided an investment methodology that is the basis for the advice supplied by the TIAA-Cref Retirement Advisor.” My wealth advisor pointed that out and said they turned my data over to Ibbotson who crunched the numbers and provided the proposed allocations. This was from an analysis done Sept 2014; I looked at my spiral booklets from earlier reports and I don’t see the same claim in those. Maybe this is relatively new? Or maybe I am idealistically misinterpreting how they use Ibbotson.

avatar The Wizard June 8, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Hi Peggy,
I’m also a Whale at TC for the last few decades or so. Fun isn’t it?
Sounds like that other advisor may not be familiar with TC’s terminology and details. In addition to Trad and TREA, the CREF side has several Variable Annuity accounts. But none of them REQUIRE one to “annuitize” for monthly income at retirement. That’s an optional step depending on your total financial picture.
So yes, I’d trust you WMA to be better informed about your TC portfolio…

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avatar Peggy S. June 8, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Sorry, Wizard. My other advisor has been in the business for 25+ years. She is very familiar with T-C. In contrast the T-C advisor is quite young (she could easily be my daughter or even granddaughter). The “check a month” was just an example. The point is that I do not need nor do I want annuities of any kind. When I met with the T-C advisor I specifically requested on advice on how to “spend down” my account (i.e. take a little from each of the funds, take all from a specific fund with a list/considerations as to the priority of funds to take from, etc). But to this date which is now 9 months later, I still have not had my request addressed. All I got was annuities, annuities, annuities!
So I have made my decision. I am stuck with the TIAA Traditional for 10 years for only about $30K so that is no big deal. Everything else will be rolled over to my outside IRA. On Friday I contacted them to request the forms for roll-over. You can’t download them. You have to phone the number listed on the site. Just to get the 2 forms (one for the employer contributions account and one for my SRA account) it took 1 hour. Yes the forms were sent/posted to my secure messages on the site, but interestingly I was told the messages would remain for just 30 days and then vanish (at least the guy told me that). But I did ask/comment about why/how it took one full hour just to get 2 forms. This is clearly an example of how they try to delay so I am glad I have started early.
In one of your earlier posts you said something to the extent that you may roll-over some funds to your IRA and that will be a breeze. Well, don’t count on it.

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avatar The Wizard June 8, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Too bad they gave you a newbie for a WMA. A really independent financial advisor might be your best bet if you can get one without paying a lot, year after year.
But your WMA and his/her team is the best starting point for initiating anything daring within T-C. I always do this via email so I have a written record of thing.
My WMA usually hands me off to Brad in Charlotte and that’s fine.

Attempting to do a transfer of some sort via phone call to some unnamed TC person is doomed to fail.

My most recent thing was to set up a recurring monthly transfer from my GSRA to a Roth IRA, all at TC. It took a few weeks to get this up and running but they got it right on the first try.
The same twelve page form they sent me allows for external transfers as well. I have good confidence in my ability to move funds from my GSRAs and even my GRAs, excepting Trad, to my Vanguard tIRA or Roth IRA…

avatar Peggy S. June 8, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Interesting addition here. As I said, I contacted T-C for the forms for roll-over on Friday. Today is Monday and I just hung up the phone from a call from T-C. He said he wanted to make sure everything was okey dokey with my latest contacts. He claimed he was with “quality control”. What? Never in the 20 years that I have been with T-C has anyone from “quality control” contacted me to determine if everything worked right. When I mentioned to him that my WMA has never addressed my request for advice/direction in the “spend down”, he suggested assigning me a different WMA. I said NO. I don’t need it or want it – just like the annuities!
While at no time in the conversation did he try to really talk me out of a roll-over to my IRA, he did push the issue that my employer pays the “fees” for my T-C accounts. And he further said that if I moved my $, I would be paying $X for someone to manage my account. (However, he said $X which was 10% not the typical 1%). That is very deceptive for the uninformed and is a real shocker number. I guess that is how T-C keeps you with them. They move the decimal point and then you are aghast.
Furthermore, he spoke about T-C was so good in investing/allocating my money. I told him that I make the decision of how my money is invested NOT T-C. He kept on going about how T-C makes the decision of what/whom to invest in and therefore they make the decision. He didn’t like it when I told him that if an investment fund is not performing as I think it should then I change my allocation to something else.
So there you go. T-C at it’s finest attempt to keep control of your money.

avatar Linda June 9, 2015 at 9:09 am

Peggy S.
When I read about the TIAA Institute’s co-authorship of a paper with the anti-pension Arnold Foundation, I did an internet review of the company. IMO, the company Board of Overseers, did not direct the company in a manner consistent with its prescribed mission. The controversial pension activities were not isolated to one paper. There was, at least one other paper endorsing defined contribution plans, co-written with a person from Ohio University TIAA officials were quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education and, if documents on the internet are correct, visits were made to state capitols. I brought the matter to the attention of more than 10 individuals in the company, I received one direct TIAA response, about the issue. It did not reassure me they planned to act in the best interest of pensioners who also had 403 b’s so, I moved my money out of TIAA to a local private financial advisor, registered with the SEC only. He selects stocks, which are in a TD Ameritrade account (I could have chosen a different brokerage firm), set up so that the advisor can not make withdrawals. If I see a stock I want him to buy, he does it. I get monthly statements from TD Ameritrade. For the amount I have, I pay a 1% fee to the advisor and amount less than 1% to TD Ameritrade. At a higher amount invested, the advisor fee would be less.
I’m not clear what fees I paid to TIAA and the plan administrator (my employer), during my tenure as an investor.
The more information I found about the company, for example, the President of the David Koch Theater is on the Board, the less I thought it was a good fit for me.

avatar Linda June 8, 2015 at 2:09 pm

In Peter Mallouk’s book on investing, he explains the reason an investor should choose an advisor who is registered only with the SEC, not with FINRA, and not by both.

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avatar Peggy S. June 8, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Interesting………..could you give us a synopsis of his reasons? I would think that registered with both is a good thing.

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avatar Linda June 8, 2015 at 3:22 pm

As I recall, Mallouk said the SEC registration carried with it, the regulatory requirement that the advisor act first, in the client’s interests. The other registrations had the effect of not protecting/voiding that regulatory mandate. But, to prevent any unintentional misquote on my part, I recommend reading his book. The book’s short, very readable and singularly, the best book I’ve read on investing.
(I receive no benefit from the recommendation and hadn’t heard of Mallouk until I came across his book at my library.)

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avatar Peggy S. June 8, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Thanks Linda….that is helpful.

avatar Arlene Andrew June 22, 2015 at 5:50 pm

I agree, It’s the best, clearest book I’ve ever read on investing and summarizes nearly every major investment issue I’ve read about elsewhere, including market timing, aversion to loss, index investing vs active management, and importance of fees.

I am trying to figure out whether to advise my adult kids to roll of their non-spousal T-C inheritances into an inherited IRA. They now receive small amounts of RMDs each year. Their accounts consist mainly of CREF stock and very little TIAA.

avatar pat July 14, 2015 at 6:25 pm

I am sure you are familiar with the esteemed SEC’s complicity in the 2008 saga. I would use 3 sources.

avatar soontobeformeremployee May 25, 2015 at 2:08 pm

There are 2 MAIN reasons for funds not being distributed in an easy fashion. The first being the common factor in this thread, they are tied up in the TIAA Traditional fund. The second is some Plans actually have rules in place that restrict certain withdrawals or have several hoops to jump through. There is nothing that can be done to go around them, though TIAA-CREF has to be the one to take the brunt of the anger, as many institutions don’t want their employees coming back to them because of it.

However, there are several instances that where it is TIAA-CREFs own need to save money that creates delays or hold ups on having distributions done from accounts.

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avatar Peggy S. July 15, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Yo,soontobeformeremployee, your name says it all. You must be a T-C troll on this site. I am NOT caught up in the Traditional Fund – only miniscule in it. Same as other former co-workers who have retired. The problem is getting out your totally vested funds.

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avatar Dennis Guilliams May 28, 2015 at 11:24 am

I have a self managed brokerage account with TIAA CREF. Unlike Charles Schwab and other brokerage firms I am unable to transfer money from my TIAA account directly to my financial institution on record, nor can am I allowed to transfer money from my bank to my TIAA account. I am required to download and sign forms.

In addition I use my Yahoo Finance Portfolio to learn how my TIAA CREF Mutual funds perform on any given day. TIAA CREF doesn’t provide this information until long after it is available on other sites.

I tried to use the “send an email” link to contact my advisors that are listed on my home page, and the links are not operational.

If you send an email with a question about your accounts, 90% of the time the email response you receive is “Call our brokerage office”.


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avatar The Wizard June 2, 2015 at 12:41 pm

It’s best to initiate transfers like this though your local WMA.
I’ve done it and yes, there are forms, but it works…

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avatar Peggy S. June 8, 2015 at 2:31 pm

What about people who are not “whales” and thus do not have a WMA?

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avatar The Wizard June 8, 2015 at 4:42 pm

I’m not sure, but from what I’ve seen, it could be a lot more difficult doing certain transactions even IF one is fully aware of applicable rules (and many seem not to be)…

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avatar Dinamarie June 2, 2015 at 1:24 pm

It strikes me that many of the complaints in this discussion have to do with frustration over FEDERAL regulations about retirement accounts. It doesn’t do any good to get mad at TIAA-Cref because you can’t access your money before you retire; you’d face the same problems with Valic or any other financial company. Likewise, the minimum 5-year payout for money in TIAA Traditional (when it’s part of a sponsored plan) is clearly stated in descriptions of that fund; shame on you if you put all of your money into a fund without understanding what it was. If you like TIAA Traditional but don’t want your money to be tied up, open a 403(b) and invest in TIAA Traditional there. You won’t face that 5-year payout restriction but the tradeoff is getting a lower interest rate.

However, there are some legitimate problems with TIAA-Cref especially when you begin making withdrawals from your accounts. I qualify for a wealth management advisor but they are under so much pressure they have no time for effective advising; in my experience, they last 8-12 months before burning out and then clients get assigned to someone new. The best advice I’ve gotten has come from representatives who answer the 1-800 number. It helps to do your research first and have specific questions in mind. “Do your research first” is the key component of that sentence.

For me, transitioning into retirement was incredibly stressful because finances were turned inside out; I was forced to confront how little I understood about investments, retirement funds, and taxes. Unless you are incredibly lucky and already have a trusted financial advisor, the only way through that maze is to educate yourself. I studied the TIAA-Cref website for hours until I was comfortable in my understanding of payout options. I researched all advice regarding investment strategies regardless of where it came from, and in doing so I exposed some incredibly stupid suggestions that were not in my best interest. Believe me, I started from total ignorance but was determined to understand the basics of how it works.

It should NOT be this complicated, but it is. I wanted to believe there was a system–a person–who would watch out for me but that just ain’t the case. In the long run, you are your own best advocate. Read, study, and do research to prepare yourself for that responsibility. Once you understand what’s going on, your frustration will decrease and you’ll be more effective at managing your money the way you want.

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avatar Linda June 3, 2015 at 8:49 am

“Research yourself”……..my experience
The fees charged by my retirement plan administrator (employer), despite requests, were not disclosed. Public universities are excluded from requirements to be transparent about the fees they charge to manage retiree plans like TIAA’s, (info. from the NLRB). I don’t know if this has a wider application to other employers.
As a 30 year TIAA investor, I was unpleasantly surprised when TIAA referred me back to the university for an answer to my question. At the bargaining table for fees, based on my experience, there is no investor representation and TIAA, for reasons I can speculate, was unwilling to disclose plan administrator costs that are passed on to investors.
Read back through the conversation threads to learn about a fine imposed on TIAA-CREF, a settled lawsuit, and the firm’s investing and political activities.

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avatar Patty O'Chair June 9, 2015 at 11:10 pm

I’m a former TIAA WM advisor. What you need to know about all the turnover at TIAA is this:
TIAA is using their institutional platform to generate individual retirement accounts in a managed platform that generates an extra level of fees and mitigates the companies risk of losing large institutional accounts. Regardless of how experienced or skilled they are, any advisor who doesn’t go along with this practice or suggests it might not be a good exercise of their fiduciary obligation is targeted. Their leads will dry up and if they don’t leave voluntarily, they will eventually be terminated for lack of production. If an advisor makes a more public display of their concerns in front of any managers, they are at serious risk of being ambushed with termination over some issue that has been quickly manufactured. In these cases the company typically lies or exagerates on the advisor’s U5 form, making them less employable and therefore, less of a competitive risk. It is pure evil what they do. The stories are legion and I know they are true because I know people who can no longer find work in the industry because they complained to management about having to cover up a previous advisor’s forgeries. As easy as it may be to dismiss what I’m telling you, I swear on everything I hold holy that this company is exploiting advisors and clients alike and ruining the careers of any advisor who tries to voice their ethical qualms. If you even follow their “values” and report the unethical practices or processes with which you are not comfortable, they will ruin you. And if you get caught pulling back the curtain….they will pay any amount in legal fees to silence it.

Someday, case studies will be written about the persistent and insidious exploitation of clients and employees at this firm. Until then, ask them why there is ONE page in their Portfolio Advisor presentation that is left loose while every other page is bound? That one page just happens to be the page describing the extra layer of fees of 75 to 180 basis points. They leave it loose because they know the advisors are under such pressure to hit quotas to avoid a Performance Improvement Plan that most of them will throw that page away and the company can then have both plausible deniability as well as incriminating evidence they may need to use to terminate the advisor in the future if that advisor’s conscience starts to bother them.

All my life in the industry, I have taken the role of fiduciary very seriously. My reputation and integrity are worth more to me than any amount of money. I do not bear false witness. I speak the truth and I do not rationalize what I know is a breach of trust. I was shocked to find what I found was common practice at TIAA and they came after me when I raised my concerns. They tried to ruin my reputation and my professional future. I know 12 other people just like me….they are simply too petrified about what they’ve seen happen to others to speak up.

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avatar Peggy S. June 10, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Thank you for your honest report. You should know having been a T-C WMA. Basically what you are saying is confirming what has either been said on here or insinuated. As for the one loose leaf page……….hahahaha. Yep, I never got it. So someone “accidentally” lost it – right?

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avatar Linda June 10, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Thank you for sharing this information.
It is unfortunate that more employees planning for retirement, are unaware that TIAA–CREF’s mission and practice have substantially diverged.
The relatively recent change in culture is transparent, based on a great deal of info. available on the internet. In January, TIAA-CREF gave a “Samuelson” award, to a VP of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “Fix the Debt”, Peterson’s half-billion dollar campaign, has faced withering criticism that should, IMO, tarnish candidacy for an award, given by a non-profit, in the “public interest”.
A transmutation as substantial as TIAA’s can’t remain under the radar of progressive media indefinitely.

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avatar Peggy S. June 10, 2015 at 6:02 pm

I would absolutely love it if the media did pick this up. But T-C does advertise quite a bit. So various media (i.e. Television) may ignore it because of the advertising dollars.

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avatar Linda June 10, 2015 at 10:13 pm

At least two media picked up the Arnold/TIAA Institute anti-pension collaboration. One post was at Truthout and the other was at a nationally popular and respected industry website.
Exposing the impact of business decisions, by the 0.2% is, indeed, difficult. There is the issue of advertising dollars and also, vulture philanthropies, that co-opt media with donations.
Recent funding from Gates, Waltons et. al., created education “news” outlets, that a number of teachers think, reflect spin in favor of Common Core (Silicon Valley) and charter schools (hedge funds).
IMO, the non-profit TIAA-CREF should have a minimum of a 2% return advantage over firms that have to pay owners. Under those circumstances, it is impossible for me to reconcile their activities, in any light except the one you suggest.
There are reports on the internet that cite specific colleges that stopped TIAA participation in retirement plans, offered to employees. It would be instructive to know why.
It may surprise you that the Overseer Board’s mission is, “To forward the cause of education and promote the welfare of the teaching profession”.

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avatar Susan July 1, 2015 at 1:01 pm

This is very timely. I discovered that I could have had a tax advantage re: my scheduled necessary early withdrawals LAST YEAR because I was that “magic age.” When my withdrawals were set up in 2008, I could have scheduled it less than one month later and gotten a 10% State and City tax break (because of a $20,000 exclusion.) I won’t bore you with the quizzical remarks I got from TIAA-CREF when I asked why I wasn’t encouraged to set up the date a little later. (In fact, the NY office – where I live and where I have physically meet with TIAA-CREF reps in the past – has been forwarding their “overflow” calls to TX and NC, thereby disallowing any conversations about state taxes.)
Does anyone know what government agency regulates or deals with gaffs concerning TIAA-CREF accounts, please? (The SEC? https://www.sec.gov/divisions/marketreg/mr-noaction/2008/tiaa-cref050208.pdf and http://www.jta.org/2013/05/30/news-opinion/united-states/sec-permits-tiaa-cref-pension-fund-to-ignore-divestment-proposal ) I work in the legal field, and I believe that I should have been informed. This is hardly retail: TIAA-CREF accounts ARE for the long haul and the reps need to be responsible to their clients/customers.

avatar Linda Bricker July 9, 2015 at 10:09 pm

There’s FINRA, which fined TIAA-CREF for issues related to customers (referenced in earlier posts).
But, FINRA is funded by financial firms like TIAA-CREF, and they voluntarily belong to the group, if I understand correctly.

avatar frustrated June 11, 2015 at 10:54 pm

I sit and read this and have gone back and forth about posting, as I am an employee.

I understand everyone’s frustration, but imagine the frustration of an employee that is truly trying to help the participants, because after all…we are told to “Put Our Customer First”.

It is frustrating that we were lied to during the interview, while we are salaried and this is not a sales job, they are constantly on us about our dollars and numbers. I have seen 3 times in the last two days about our WMA not being there for our clients or only concerned about outside assets. Because of this, we have lost all 3 clients, who have taken a lot of money with them.

For me, it has gotten to the point that I will pay the money so that I can leave before my year is up. I came from another financial institutional who found ways to bend and help our customers, even if it meant that we had to eat the cost on wiring/overnighting funds.

Anyway, there are secrets and ways to get around certain rules and though, unfortunately, still creates a lot of frustration.

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avatar Linda June 24, 2015 at 9:49 pm

FT.com reports that “TIAA-CREF is a big backer of overpriced CEO’s, according to a shareholder advocacy group.” (Steve Johnson, May 10, 2015)

Evidence mounts that TIAA’s values are at odds with the investors, with whom the firm is most identified. The firm’s vestigial reputation won’t, indefinitely, protect it from blowback.

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avatar zkeith June 29, 2015 at 11:07 pm

I’m thinking of rolling over a 403(b) account I have at T/C into a self-directed brokerage IRA account at T/C. The advantage is that I will have access to a far greater number of investment possibilities than are available in my 403(b) account. Trades will cost $9.95. One disadvantage is that I’ll need to take out the remaining amount of 2015 RMD before the rollover can occur. I’m wondering what others’ experience has been with the self-directed brokerage IRA at T/C. Any and all feedback will be appreciated.

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avatar Peter-D-G June 30, 2015 at 12:43 am

I moved my wife’s 401K to T-C about two years ago and tried to use T-C’s self-directed brokerage IRA but gave up after a few months. Their website was just to awkward to navigate. I had my IRA at Schwab for many years and found that T-C’s web site is just a joke compared to Schwab’s. Also T-C’s commissions are just totally out of line. My advice is move the 403b to an IRA at Schwab or Vanguard, but don’t try to use T-C’s “brokerage.” I ended up moving my wife’s account to Vanguard since my plan was to mostly use Vanguard ETF’s. It turns out that Vanguard provides plenty of free trades so the few trades that I make in non-Vanguard ETF’s are all commission free also.

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avatar Diane June 30, 2015 at 3:49 pm

A few years ago, while I was still working, I was advised to put a large portion of my retirement into the safest investment funf -the TIAA CEFF “traditional”. Unfortunately, I was not properly advised (by their advisor) of the consequences of taking that action.

Three years ago my husband had open heart surgery and was told he would need a heart transplant. I retired in order to care for him sooner than I had planned. Now he is no longer considered a candidate for a transplant and we find ourselves trying to live on Social Security.

While traveling around the country to various hospitals in our efforts to find a hospital that would consider him for a transplant, we ran up large credit card bills. The tests involved would require our staying out of town sometimes for weeks.

I now find myself in the position of trying to pay these creditors on Social Security alone, having previously used all my “liquid” funds.

Long story short, TIAA-CREFF now holds over $25,000 of my money that I can’t get my hands on except for the once a year percentage payout. I’ve tried working with TC, but they won’t budge.

So, all I can say is be very careful and don’t just listen to their financial “advisors” about where to put your money. You could end up flipping burgers for money when you’re in your 70′s.

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avatar Peter-D-G July 1, 2015 at 12:13 am

Consider yourself fortunate. I have 20 times as much locked up in TIAA-Traditional and I’ve seen posts from people with as much as a million there. In general it’s a pretty good fund these days but TIAA is totally negligent in not warning people about the lock up period.

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avatar Diane July 1, 2015 at 11:22 am

I know…. Just feel like something should/could be done to hold them more accountable for this negligence. Maybe some sort of fine to opt out early?

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avatar Linda July 2, 2015 at 7:57 pm

The apparent friendly links between TIAA and Pete Peterson, a hedge funder who has, reportedly, spent $ I/2 billion to undermine Social Security, should be on the radar of people relying on S.S.

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avatar Diane July 2, 2015 at 9:38 pm

Thanks for your comments. I have filed a complaint with the SEC, because I truly believe the actions of T-C were not compliant with their fiduciary responsibilities, but I doubt it will make any difference.

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avatar Linda July 3, 2015 at 8:13 am

The SEC’s protection of Wall Street can be deduced from information about the revolving door between government and industry, exposed at SunlightFoundation.com.
Currently, many organizations are calling for the ouster of the head of the SEC, Mary Jo White, based on charges of Wall Street cronyism.
The wife of TIAA-CREF CEO , Roger Ferguson, is a former SEC Commissioner now working for a law firm with financial firm clients.
IMO, the future of American democracy rests on Americans abandoning big investment firms and banks, using credit unions and independent financial advisors, instead. It depends on people like those who write comments at this site, making their employers aware of the actions of the retirement investment firms, and asking for alternatives. It requires popular support for organizations like the Campaign for America’s Future and the Center for Media and Democracy.

avatar Diane August 3, 2015 at 10:31 pm

In looking further at the form I signed, it says that funds can be moved out of the traditional account over a 10 year period. It does NOT say that the maximum amount that can be transferred in a year is 10%. Therefore, is unreasonable to assume that one could transfer up to 90% one year and 1% the other 9 years? Just wondering…

avatar Linda July 6, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Yahoo Finance lists CREF as a “notable investor” in Pearson. Pearson is a backer of for-profit, “schools in a box”, along with Bill Gates and Zuckerberg. Bridge International Academies (the brand name for the schools in a box) were criticized in a letter from more than 100 international organizations (posted on-line). The organizations chastised the World Bank for promoting and funding a relatively expensive, for-profit product, to the poorest of the poor, while excluding public education from support. What a massive change for TIAA-CREF, from teacher welfare and historically, the public good, to its current mutation.
BTW, Bill Gates’ PR, as a great philanthropist, hides his controversial tax, pension and economic views which can be found at many sources, including the blog posts of Diane Ravitch. Microsoft and Pearson announced a deal to develop curriculum for Common Core, simultaneous with Gates’ philanthropic spending of $2 bil. to get support for the copyrighted Common Core standards, which would provide the market for the corporate product.

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avatar Larry H July 10, 2015 at 1:09 pm

I worked at a University 25 years ago and enrolled in TIAA-CREF for the two years that I was employed there. Getting that small amount of money out of TIAA is next to impossible. No other 401K that I have has put the onus on the employee to make all the contacts with the former employer, since TIAA is the one with the relationship with the University. I spent a career dealing with government employees and TIAA tops the states and Fed beaucracies at obfuscating, delaying obtructing and passing the buck without being helpful in the least. I refuse to just let them keep my money and am considering spending the entire amount that I have at TIAA for legal counsel to give them a dose of what they are giving to me.

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avatar Peggy S. July 14, 2015 at 3:20 pm

You go guy. Our hearts are with you…..as well as our wallets!

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avatar Steve July 14, 2015 at 5:31 pm


My situation was virtually identical to yours and although I used to post here for time, I stopped when I eventually did get my money. When i was posting I was called a troll by one of the posters, a term I found entertaining as I was able to document the names and contact dates which took place over at least a year. The fiasco has mercifully faded from my mind, although my financial planner still advises me of others who go through the same thing I did and now you are experiencing.

In comparison to my overall investments, the amount was incidental, but getting it became a matter of principle. Dealing with TIAA-CREF was, for me as a seasoned investor, beyond belief and way beyond my experience with any other investment firm. A clown show at best, duplicitous at worst!

I do feel genuine sorrow for those who have to rely on TIAA-CREF for their retirement. Hang in there!


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avatar Peggy S. July 15, 2015 at 1:35 pm

I can’t wait until it is a faded memory. My financial advisor has also said the same thing about other clients. We/they get their money from other “firms” but it is horrible to get your money from TIAA-CREF. I have more than a small amount in T-C. But I will be damned if they keep it or put me into one of their annuities. As for the “clown show”, if that were true we could all just have a good laugh. But alas, it is not funny.

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avatar Linda July 14, 2015 at 7:54 pm

Imagine if Social Security was handed over to Wall Street. The shams of financial firms are far worse than the worst government program. Last year, Daily Beast reported TIAA-CREF’s CEO was Wall Street’s fantasy pick for Federal Reserve chief, which is an indicator of where his allegiances are.
Is there evidence to refute an opinion that TIAA’s top board is phantom?

A bus tour (AROS), organized by professors, is moving through Pennsylvania this summer, visiting college campuses and urban areas to focus attention on the takeover of public education by Wall Street and Silicon Valley. How great it would be if there were two buses on the tour, the latter contrasting the stated mission of TIAA’s Board of Overseers with its practices.

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avatar Linda August 5, 2015 at 11:52 am

TIAA investors benefit from a strong SEC. The current SEC Chair is Mary Jo White, “By June 2, 2015, she had had to recuse herself in about 50 cases (due to the potential for lack of objectivity, based on her former employment or her husband’s current employment) …” The NYT continued their article, by writing that it “compromised the effectiveness of the SEC.”
There is a call for Americans to contact the U.S. President, at 202-456-1111, where volunteers record the opinions of the people, to convey to the President. Please call and ask the President to request White’s resignation.
The wife of TIAA President, Roger Ferguson was an SEC commissioner, who now works at a law firm that has financial clients.
The revolving door at federal agencies must be stopped. The agencies were created to prevent abuses that harm the interests of the nation’s citizens, not to grease the wheels for top industry managers.

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avatar Patricia August 13, 2015 at 10:54 am

My father died in 2001 and as the executor, I have been trying to close the accounts he had opened to the minor children. This has been going on for ten years. TEN. I have never gotten
such a run a round from any mutual fund company. I finally contacted the AG’s office in Mass,
which sent me a pile of paperwork an inch thick. Mind you, there was no trouble with other accounts with other companies. So now I find out that my niece has probably lost most of her $$
despite her calling the company, someone found the account and then they lost it. So it is now
worthless, in unclaimed property. And they are going to do the same with my kids, now 19 and 22.
My blood boils so I have been throwing everything in the trash, except now they are threatening
to send these accounts to the state. How do they stay in business?

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avatar Linda August 13, 2015 at 7:41 pm

I don’t know if FINRA would be helpful to you or not.

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avatar The Wizard August 13, 2015 at 9:49 pm

Sounds more like FOURTEEN years, not ten.
And they stay in business by steeling money from people who attempt to retire or die. Plenty of those each year, so the cash keeps piling up!!!

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avatar mike goff August 27, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Where can i find a lawyer who will help me with TIAA??

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avatar Lucy Skeen September 22, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Good Luck Getting Your Money
In mid August I called TIAA-CREF to withdrawal my piddling retirement account. (I am 66 ) they explained that I needed a Spousal Waiver form. So I asked them to mail it to me. 10 days later I received a cover letter, but no form. So I called again to request it be mailed. Once again, 8 days later I get another cover letter but no form. Very frustrated I found one on their website, had husband sign it and got it notarized and mailed it overnight. I then get an email saying they had everything needed. Another two weeks and no money! So I call to ask why and they said I had the wrong form. By this time the 30 days had expired and I had to reapply! Just unbelievable incompetence . 40 days and I still do not have my money.

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avatar The Wizard September 23, 2015 at 6:42 pm

This is understandable.
If they paid out money to everyone who asked for it, what would they be left with?
That’s right, NOTHING.

So they drag things our in the hope that you might DIE before they pay you, so they get to keep it all.
This is their standard way of steeling money from participants…

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avatar ethicwatch September 29, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Still snarky Wizard. It appears TiaaCref has been reorganizing its processes for at least 3 years. Participants can use their online secure accounts to withdraw funds. Participants need to read their plan document. Employers place restrictions on withdrawals of vested funds ie age restrictions. Some actions require employer representative signatures others do not. The two companies with shared employees definitely has communication issues. The information on the website is more for individuals than those in employer plans. The call center employees know more about individual accounts than employer plans. The employer is the policyholder for group plans which isn’t explained in any web based company documents. You access those documents through the SEC. The company should have explained the continuing process changes to employer plan participants through a secure email.

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avatar Peggy S. September 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Oh dear Lucy, you did all the right things but now T-C says old form. Once you finally get the right form, T-C will tell you another form is needed. As Wizard says T-C is “good at doing what they do” which is to readily accept your money and then hang on to it as long as possible. The hanging on part is accomplished by their not sending you the form as well as having old forms on their site. Or, as in my case, the site does not have the forms you need and they make you phone them to get the form. Then after spending at least one hour on the phone the form becomes available to you.
Good luck girl. A friend of mine finally got her $ when she said her attorney would file suit against T-C.

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avatar Unhappy Teacher September 30, 2015 at 12:13 pm

If you are a teacher do NOT select TIAA-CREF for your retirement plan. TIAA has the worst investment choices and products. PLEASE CHOOSE THE TEACHER RETIREMENT PLAN OFFERED BY YOUR STATE. If TIAA has monopolized teacher retirement in your state, you should encourage your teacher union and PTA to lobby against forcing teachers to invest with TIAA-CREF.

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