End of 401(k) Match Sparks New Strategies


More than 80 companies, including Ford (Stock Quote: F) , Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX, and FedEx (Stock Quote: FDX, have reduced or eliminated matching contributions to employees' 401(k)s plans since June 2008, according to the Pension Rights Center. And that list gets longer every day. In one week in February alone, it grew by more than 15 companies.

That's causing a lot of anxiety, as hundreds of thousands of workers take a hard look at their 401(k)s and re-evaluate their retirement saving strategies. So what should you do if your employer cuts its matching contributions? Here are six points to keep in mind.

1. Remember the goal: First, it's important to remember that you're saving for the long term, not the short term. A 401(k) is a retirement-savings program, and your goal is to ensure your retirement security. That hasn't changed. Your first instinct may be to stop making contributions to your 401(k), but that would be the wrong approach. Even without an employer's contributions, a 401(k) has a number of benefits that continue to make it a viable savings plan and an important part of your financial future.

2. Don't forget the tax benefits: If you stop making contributions to your 401(k), you'll lose valuable tax benefits. For starters, 401(k)s allow you to contribute pre-tax income, and you don't pay taxes until you withdraw the money. That means your money can continue to grow and compound without being bitten by taxes each year. What's more, because you don't pay taxes on the amount that goes into your 401(k), your contributions reduce your taxable income, saving you money come tax time.

3. Save more if you can: Instead of ending your involvement in your company's 401(k), consider increasing your contribution to make up for the loss of your employer's contribution. For many workers this will be difficult, but if it's within your financial capability, it's a smart move. For 2009, you can contribute up to $16,500 to your 401(k), with an additional "catch-up" contribution of $5,500 for workers 50 and over. You may want to consult with a CPA or financial analyst, or use a retirement calculator to determine how much more you'll need to save to meet your goals.

4. Re-evaluate your 401(k) investment mix: Of course, most 401(k)s have taken a beating over the past year or so. That's why it's important to regularly review your investment mix. Older workers may want to reduce their higher-risk investments if they're seeing losses that are too high, while younger workers may want to remain in higher-risk, higher-yield investments that can contribute bigger returns over time.

5. Open a Roth IRA: Consider adding to your retirement savings with a Roth IRA. Although you won't gain any tax benefits on the amount you save -- contributions are made after taxes are paid -- your withdrawals in retirement will be tax-free. However, there are limits to how much you can contribute to a Roth IRA -- $5,000 this year or $6,000 if you're over 50. This is why many experts recommend saving for retirement with both a Roth IRA and a 401(k).

6. Don't lose faith: Finally, all financial markets are cyclical, and eventually the economy will improve, so stick with your current retirement plan. With a little luck, your company will reinstate its matching contributions once the economy turns around. And if you work for certain companies, you've already heard good news: Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group (Stock Quote: DTG), for instance, reinstated its matching contributions for 2009 after suspending them for last year because "it's the right thing to do," according to Dollar CEO Scott Thompson. And other companies, like the Republic Bank of Louisville, Kentucky, are actually increasing their 401(k) contributions for 2009. That's a little bit of a silver lining in a very dark cloud.

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