Last August, Congress passed the Pension Protection Act. It encourages companies to sign up employees automatically for 401(k) plans.
Previously, only a third of eligible employees participated, but the new rules are changing that. The 401(k) plans have three compelling benefits:
- Investments are made with pre-tax dollars. Investments and interest earned are not taxed until you withdraw your money at age 59-1/2 through age 70.
- You get “free money.” Employers can match contributions dollar for dollar. Typically, however, they match 50 cents on the dollar up to 6 percent of your salary, according to Fortune. Some match 25 cents on the dollar.
- The federal limit on your contributions is $15,000 per year or $20,000 for those age 50 or older. The minimum contribution is set by the plan.
A plan generally has a set of default options for investing your money. They are primarily balanced mutual funds and investment pools that include a mix of stocks and bonds. Some companies include target-date or lifecycle funds, which change the mix of stocks and bonds according to how long it will be before you retire.
Fund tracker Morning Star reports that balanced funds returned an average of 9.7 percent a year since 2004, making them a good choice.
Most 401(k) participants depend on the plan to make their investment choices. Participants who feel knowledgeable about investments, however, can make or change their own choices from various investments available within the plan.
Advisors at Fortune say letting your investments grow on “autopilot” with the plan’s choices has paid off for most people over time.