Getting Your 401(k) In Shape

If managed properly, this account should far exceed the monthly social security check as a source of retirement income

not appear to be accurate

  • Your employer fails to transmit your contribution to the plan on a timely basis
  • There is a significant drop in account balance that can’t be explained by normal market ups and downs
  • You receive account statements that do not show contributions from your paycheck that were made
  • Investments listed on your statement are not what you authorized
  • Former employees are having trouble getting their benefits paid on time or in the correct amounts
  • Your account statement or a letter from your employer reports an unusual transaction, such as a loan to the employer, a corporate officer, or a plan trustee
  • There are frequent and unexplained changes in investment managers or consultants
  • Your employer has recently experienced severe financial difficulty
  • What Sources of Advice Are Available on the Internet?
    Scores of Websites offer financial and retirement information today. The following is a short list of what’s available. Some require registration and/or fees depending on the specific information you are seeking.

    More than one hundred financial planning calculators, including many for retirement, are available at www .choosetosave.org, a Website developed by the American Savings Education Council and the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The education council also has the “Ballpark Estimate” retirement planning worksheet available at www.asec.org.

    The Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration, the Chamber of Commerce, and Merrill Lynch & Co. offer www.selectaretirementplan.org 

    401(k) Checklist
    Now you should know more than enough to get started. Here’s a quick checklist that summarizes what you’ve just read:

    • First and foremost, participate in your company’s 401(k) plan if one is offered.
    • Sign up as soon as you can, even if it’s your first job and you’re still in your twenties. The younger you are, the more time your savings have to compound, and the less you’ll have to contribute to reach your retirement goals.
    • Contribute as much as you can, but at least enough to get your company’s matching contribution.
    • Diversify among investments, but don’t be too conservative. To get the greatest returns and stay ahead of inflation, you need to have some exposure to stocks.
    • If your company requires you to accept its matching contribution in the form of company stock, do not invest your own contributions in company stock. If your company matches in cash and you want to own the stock, keep no more than 10 percent of your 401(k) assets in company stock.
    • Resist borrowing from your account. Although most plans allow you to take a loan from your 401(k), the money cannot grow if it’s not in your plan. Fees and penalties can make the cost higher than it might seem.
    • If you change jobs, don’t cash out your 401(k) plan. If you do, you’ll pay taxes and penalties, and have less money invested for your retirement. Instead, roll the money over into an Individual Retirement Account or into your new employer’s 401(k) plan.
    • If you chose a “lifestyle” or “life-cycle” fund, remember that it’s not simply another fund option, and that selecting it along with other investment choices can defeat the original purpose.
    • If you are automatically enrolled in a 401(k)
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