Millions of Americans are having difficulty saving for retirement. Student loan debt, increased food and housing costs, and stagnant wages are contributing factors.
If you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, there are several steps you can take to boost your 401K.
1. Maximize Your Contributions
Once you establish your 401K account, you may want to increase your contributions. Usually the default contribution rate is between 3% and 5%. It is recommended that you should save at least 10% of your income. If you can afford to do so, I would recommend maximizing your contributions. In 2016, you can make a maximum contribution of $18,000. If you are 50 or older, the IRS allows you to make a catch-up contribution of $6,000 for a total of $24,000.
2. Take Advantage of Your Employer Match
Many employers offer to match your 401K contributions by a percentage or dollar amount. An employer may offer a 100% match up to 5% of your contribution. For example, if you contribute 5% of your salary to your 401K, the employer will match your 5% for a total of 10%. The employer may or may not offer additional matching beyond this 5% but it is an incentive for you to save. If you do not take advantage of the match, it is money that you are leaving on the table.
3. Minimize Expenses
While a 401K plan allows you to defer taxes, there may be fees associated with the investment vehicles offered by the plan. Choosing an index fund or an exchange-traded fund with low expense ratios will minimize your expenses while adding to your long-term returns. Sales loads can also take a bite out of your returns. Sales charges are paid to the broker who sold you the mutual fund. Consider choosing a no-load mutual fund as an alternative. Another set of fees that you may notice are commissions or transaction fees. If your plan offers a brokerage account, you may be paying a commission on each trade.
4. Consolidate Your 401K Plans
Nowadays, it is not uncommon for someone to have had several jobs. We may have contributed to several different 401K plans with our former employers. Rolling over these balances into your existing employer’s plan would give you full control over your retirement assets. If you are in transition or self-employed, you can consolidate your retirement plans at a brokerage firm or a bank.
The federal government has developed a retirement vehicle, myRA, to help people without a retirement plan save for their future. Several states are planning or implementing their own retirement plans. Although these efforts are commendable, they are limited in their scope. Ultimately, we must be responsible for our own retirement planning.