Don’t Let Employer Matching Cutbacks Hurt Your Nest Egg

There is some good news – and bad news – on the 401k retirement front these days.

The good news:  Total U.S. retirement assets reached $23.0 trillion as of December 31, 2013, according to the Investment Company Institute.

That’s up 15.6 percent from year-end 2012. Retirement savings accounted for 34 percent of all household financial assets in the United States at the end of 2013.

The ICI also reports that Americans held $5.9 trillion in all employer-based DC retirement plans on December 31, 2013, of which $4.2 trillion was held in 401k plans. Those figures are up from $5.6 trillion and $4.0 trillion, respectively, as of September 30, 2013. Mutual funds managed $3.5 trillion, or 60 percent, of assets held in 401k, 403b, and other DC plans at the end of December, the Institute said.

The bad news: More U.S. companies are cutting back on — or cutting out — programs in which employers “match” an employee’s 401k contribution up to a certain dollar amount or percentage of annual, work-related income.

A recent survey from American Investment Planners reported that the number of employer 401(k) matching programs has decreased by 7 percent. And another recent survey by consultant Towers Watson reported that 18 percent of 334 companies surveyed have suspended or reduced contributions to conserve cash. And 23 percent of companies that reinstated matches offered less generous contributions than before the recession

Those are trends industry professionals say will continue, given the soft economy.

Said Brett Goldstein, director of retirement planning at American Investment Planner:  “Clearly, as businesses look for ways to lower expenses and improve bottom lines, it is not surprising that businesses have stopped matching. We don’t see the trend abating any time soon.”

What’s more alarming to workers is the growing number of companies cutting 401(k) plans altogether.

Since 2009 approximately 6 percent of 401(k) plans have been terminated. To make matters worse, the number of traditional defined-benefit pension plans decreased by 15 percent in 2011, Goldstein says.

Goldstein attributes that to the weak, post-recession business climate, along with significantly higher health insurance premiums, which cuts into company profits.

What can workers do to mitigate lost income from 401(k) matching decreases?

401k Millionaires should check with their employer to make sure they’re getting every penny of any matching contributions, and to take steps to cut monthly spending by five percent, and use the proceeds to make up the difference of lagging 401k matching funds (or to beef up their 401k funding, even if they do receive matching contributions).

Also, there is no law that says you should take a raise or a bonus and spend it on a new car or a vacation to Hawaii. Instead, take the proceeds and plow them into your 401k fund.

Do that, and you’ll gain some much-needed momentum on your way to becoming a 401k Millionaire – on your terms, and no matter what your employer does.

As always, good luck, and good 401k savings – and I’ll see you next week.


Brian O’Connell is an investment analyst at Investing Daily, and the editor of the 401K Millionaire. An ex-Wall Street bond trader, he has appeared as an expert financial commentator on CNN, NPR, Fox News, Bloomberg, CNBC, C-Span, CBS Radio, and many other media broadcast outlets, and is the author of two best-selling books on retirement investing.






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