Finance lessons you can take to the bank

It’s not always easy to save and invest – it takes time, effort and education. Do you know how much you need to save for retirement? Do you know where your money should be invested for your future?

Even with the myriad things you need to take into consideration, one thing should be an easy decision – if your employer offers a 401(k) program, and especially if they offer a matching contribution – you should sign up as soon as possible. According to a study by Financial Engineers in the NY Times blog, close to 40% of individuals don’t take advantage of participation in an employer provided 401(k) programs. While it may seem invisible, if your employer matches a contribution into a 401(k) program, it’s like getting a raise. If you earn $1,000 and your company will match up to $.50 per $1.00, up to 6% of your own 401 (k) contribution, that means if you contribute $60, they will add $30. That’s like getting a 3% raise.

If you keep up with recent news reports, you know that Social Security recipients are likely not seeing a raise in their benefits in 2011 and amid fears that Social Security benefits will run out soon, you need to prepare for your own financial future.

Here are some poor reasons for you to not take advantage of your 401(k) program and take advantage of an employer match:

  1. You don’t want to lose money in the market. True, investing is not a guarantee but just think how hard you’d have to try to lose the money you gained from your employer’s financial contribution to your 401(k). Remember it’s like a raise and you generally have options of where to place your investment within the plan.
  2. You want freedom to invest. Okay so you don’t like your employer’s 401(k) plan because you don’t agree with their investment strategies so you decide to not take advantage of the program because of philosophical differences. You’ve also shunned a 3% “raise” from the employer’s contribution on pre-tax income. To make up for that you’d need to find an investment that would pay you 114% on your $60 investment.
  3. I want access to my money. You don’t want to sock money away in a 401(k) because if you want your money you want to be able to get to it when you need it, right? It’s true you will be hit with penalties and interest if you try to withdraw money from the 401(k) prior to retirement, but, again that’s no reason to shun your employer’s contribution to your retirement, is it? There are 401(k) plans that allow you to withdraw from your plan in the event of a true emergency and may even let you pay it back without penalties.
  4. You don’t have that much spare money lying around. You can’t afford to contribute the maximum amount so you probably shouldn’t participate at all, right? Wrong. If you’re not accustomed to having the money in your pocket, it’s likely you haven’t allocated it toward your living expenses, right? You aren’t lowering your income by contributing to a 401(k),  you’re actually increasing your income in the long term because of the employer match.

If you aren’t taking advantage of the 401(k) program, you really should consider it during the next open sign up season. Depending on what you envision your retirement to be you may want to look into other savings plans, contributing to an employer matched 401(k) makes great financial sense.

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