How To Maximize the Potential of Your 401(k) Plan

Maximize 401(k), Maximize 401kOne of the easiest ways to save for retirement is to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. You simply select a percentage of your paycheck that you would like transferred to your 401(k) (or similar) account. Not only does your employer make the transfer for you, but it comes out of your paycheck before income taxes are taken out. This way, you avoid paying taxes on that income from each paycheck, and those taxes are not due until you withdraw the money from your retirement plan. This usually happens once people retire and enter a lower tax bracket.

That’s the simple beauty of investing in a 401(k) plan. However, with a little more effort, you can do a better job of maximizing its potential. The following are strategies to consider.

Take Advantage of an Employer Match

Most employers offer to match your 401(k) contribution up to a certain percentage. For example, an employer might contribute an additional dollar for every dollar you contribute, up to 3 percent of your pay. Although the plan may allow you to defer more than 3 percent, it’s always a good idea to contribute at least the same percentage as your employer agrees to match. After all, the employer contribution is basically free money. Be aware, however, that your contributions, employer matches and all interest, dividends and capital gains earnings in the account will eventually be taxed as income when distributed. If your employer offers a matching contribution to your 401(k) plan, try to defer at least the percentage of your income required to take full advantage of that match.

Contribute More Each Paycheck

The best way to maximize your 401(k) is to deter the maximum amount of income you can from each paycheck. Remember, it comes out of your income before it ever hits your bank account, so you can learn to live on less while building up your retirement savings. In 2022, employees may contribute up to $20,500 for the year; those age 50 and older can save up to $27,000 (an increase for each group of $1,000 versus 2021). Another benefit is that employer matches do not count toward that contribution limit.

If you are not currently maxing out your 401(k) plan contribution, consider these tactics to help you get there.

  • Increase your deferral rate gradually, such as once a year or each time you receive a raise, promotion or bonus. This will enable you save more without changing your take-home pay. Just be sure that increasing your deferral rate does not cause you to exceed the annual contribution limit.
  • Some companies implement an automatic escalation feature, such as increasing your deferral rate by one percentage point each year – unless you opt out. If this is the case, don’t opt out of the automatic increase.
  • A good time to increase your deferral rate is during the annual enrollment period when you are thinking about the cost of other benefits and how they will impact your household budget.

Consider an Annuity Option

The SECURE Act of 2019 included a provision that limits employers’ liability when they offer an insurer-issued retirement annuity option. A 401(k) annuity option typically offers the ability to convert that portion of your retirement account into a stream of income guaranteed (by the issuing company) for a certain period, or even for as long as you live. It’s usually recommended to put only a portion of your 401(k) savings into an annuity, as it has higher expenses and might have growth potential limitations. However, the annuity option is appealing because it can continue paying out income after your other investment options have dwindled, which ironically works much the same as a traditional pension (which the 401(k) was designed to replace). Not every employer offers an annuity option in their 401(k) plan, but thanks to the new legislation it could become more prevalent.

Invest More Aggressively

Americans are currently seeing the dramatic impact that a rise in inflation can have on their household budget. Now imagine that impact when you’re in retirement and living on a fixed income. One way to increase your potential earnings for a larger retirement nest egg is to invest in more growth-oriented assets now, while you’re still working. That generally means a higher allocation to stocks to help your 401(k) investment surpass the growth of inflation. In fact, many stocks are issued by companies that tend to increase revenues as inflation rises.

With additional effort and strategic planning, it’s not that difficult to get your 401(k) to work harder to help you save more for a long, fulfilling retirement.