IT’S IMPORTANT to take a hard look at your company 401(k) at least once per year. A hands-off approach isn’t necessarily the best when it comes to retirement. Here are a few items to review:
First, are you participating? Save even if your company fails to match. You will still benefit from the pre-tax contribution and the tax deferral. Try to save extra to make up for the lack of a company match. Perhaps putting a portion of each pay increase away on top of your existing savings is an effective way to boost your contribution level. This is your retirement that we’re talking about.
Maximize your match. If your company does match, at a minimum contribute to maximize the match. The match is like getting free money.
Save while you wait to join a plan. If you have a new job with a waiting period before you can join the 401(k), save anyway in your personal accounts. Try a swap — build up funds in your personal account and use this money to live on later while making larger 401(k) contributions once eligible.
Contribute the maximum. Retirement is expensive. Remember, the contribution limits on retirement accounts can change each year. It is best to check how much the maximum is each year and make the upward adjustment.
Consider the options. Some plans will offer a Roth 401(k) choice. By using the Roth option, you will make contributions with after-tax money and receive no current tax deduction. But, if certain parameters are met, the distributions you take will be tax free. This could be a good choice if you think your retirement tax bracket could be higher than your current tax bracket.
Do your homework. Review your investment choices. Most companies offer an abundance of educational material to help you along. This could include tools not related to your 401(k) and investments. Some companies offer financial wellness and debt management tools, for example.
Diversify your investments. Consider your entire portfolio — both retirement and after-tax accounts should be viewed with the big picture in mind. Check that you have an allocation that meets your goals and tolerance for risk. If your spouse has a 401(k), be sure that both are in sync with your investment strategy. Bring your portfolio back to its target allocation at least annually.
Don’t overinvest in your company’s stock if available. If the company experiences a downturn, both your job and your 401(k) could be in jeopardy.
Consider expenses. It is worth the time to review the fees you are paying for investments in your 401(k). Some plans have lower cost fund options. If you are paying higher fees, make sure the performance you are receiving from the investment is worth the extra cost. A little saved in fees can add up over time.
Don’t borrow. You lose the tax deferral and could potentially be subject to income taxes and penalties if you don’t repay a loan from your retirement plan. Instead, build up an emergency reserve outside the plan for those unexpected expenses.
Don’t cash out. If you change jobs, keep the money in a retirement account.
Don’t lose track of your old 401(k)s. If you changed jobs several times, there may be smaller, older 401(k)s out there. Consider consolidating them into one retirement plan or IRA.
Don’t rely on 401(k) savings alone. A 401(k) alone may not give you the retirement you want. Outside savings may be required. In certain situations, even though you have a 401(k) you might be able to contribute to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, as well. You can also contribute to a taxable brokerage account.
Check your beneficiaries. As life changes, your beneficiary choices might change. Check who your account beneficiaries are and if they are still reflective of your wishes.