Take Maximum Advantage of Your 401(k)

I always tell my clients not to leave money on the table, but according to a recent 401(k) study, many American employees are doing just that. In fact, of the 2.8 million 401(k) participants Financial Engines surveyed, 39 percent were not saving enough to receive their employer’s full matching contribution (or they weren’t saving at least 5 percent of salary in companies with no match). That figure is up from 33 percent in 2008. Younger workers (presumably with lower salaries) are most likely not to secure the free cash: 53 percent of participants under age 30 did not save enough to receive the full match. That percentage dropped to 47 percent for participants under age 40.

And while my standard advice for retirement saving is to max out your 401(k), only 6% are saving within $500 of their annual pre-tax IRS limits, down one percent from 2008.

According to Financial Engines, the key to participant savings comes from automatic escalation, where a participant’s savings rate is increased automatically on an annual basis to a pre-determined maximum. Sixty-seven percent of participants in plans with automatic escalation save enough to receive the full employer match, compared to just 52% of participants in plans without automatic escalation.

Remember, increasing your 401(k) contribution as your salary increases is especially important given the fact that many companies eliminated 401(k) matches during the recession. So you may have some catching up to do.

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