What is a 401(k) plan?
A 401(k) plan is a company-sponsored retirement plan that allows eligible employees to contribute a portion of their salary to a variety of investment options. 401(k) contributions are typically “before tax” money, meaning the amount you choose to contribute is deducted from your paycheck before taxes are taken out and you are paying taxes on a smaller portion of your salary.
Many plans also offer options for employees to make post-tax ROTH 401(k) contributions from their paychecks. Post-tax ROTH contributions do not lower an employee’s taxable income, but they do grow tax-free and aren’t taxed upon withdrawal.
An additional benefit of a 401(k) plan is that when you finally pay the taxes on your 401(k) contributions, you may be at a lower rate. Typically, you begin withdrawing money from your 401(k) when you retire and you may very well be in a lower tax bracket at that time; thus you could end up paying less tax on your savings when you do eventually withdraw funds.
If your company offers a 401(k) plan and you are not participating, you may want to revisit your decision as they are a great opportunity and an easy way to save for the future. If you have just entered the workforce, retirement may be the last thing on your mind. Or if you are an older employee nearing retirement, you might be thinking it is too late. At any stage of life, 401(k)s can offer specific advantages that make them a great option for investing and saving.
Making the Most of Your 401(k) Contributions
Many employers offer matching contributions to 401(k)s. For example, your employer may offer a 4 percent match, where they will contribute the same amount you do, up to 4 percent. While this is their limit, you can personally contribute more. If you are not contributing to your company’s 401(k) plan and they have a match, you are leaving money on the table! Don’t be concerned if you cannot contribute the maximum amount to your retirement plan. Simply participating in an employer-sponsored plan puts you in a great position for a successful retirement, especially if you start early. If you are unsure about the specifics of your company’s plan, take the time to read over it thoroughly, perhaps with your financial advisor, so you can make the most of your money.
Combined Savings Strategy
A large number of people find success in a combined savings strategy using both a 401(k) and an IRA to truly maximize their retirement funds. A study conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (2020) found that, on average, individuals who owned both a 401(k) and an IRA at some point during the six years of the survey had combined balances about 2.5 times higher than those who owned only a 401(k) or an IRA. People who owned both types of accounts consistently over the period had even higher balances. Talk to a financial advisor to explore your options and decide which is best for you based on your own income and circumstances.
A Few Key Points to Remember about 401(k)s
- It is a retirement savings plan, so once you put money in it is best to leave it in.
- There are penalties if you take the money out before retirement age.
- If you change employers you can roll your vested balance into your new employer’s 401(k) plan or into another qualifying retirement account such as an IRA.
No matter what, take advantage of any type of savings plan your current employer offers as the earlier and more aggressive you are, the closer you will come to achieving your financial goals. If you have questions, it is always a great idea to call a financial advisor for guidance. Contact the Blakely Financial team today to get started saving for your future.