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Fool Poll: Are You Happy With Your 401(k) Plan?

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Social Security's not working. Pensions are practically extinct. Now 401(k)s are in jeopardy -- and it's up to us to save our retirement. Our special report shows you how.

As we look back on 2008, very few of us are likely to be happy with the performance of our 401(k) investments. Notwithstanding the 36% market drop, though, are you happy with your 401(k) plan?

That might seem like a tough question. 401(k)s are one of the major benefits that companies provide to employees, and they are now the standard means for employees to build retirement savings. Best of all, a 401(k) gives you the autonomy to choose the percentage of funds you allocate to the plan and the investments (mostly mutual funds) that make sense for your time horizon and risk tolerance.

But ...
But because the 401(k) is provided through a company, by nature, the company has some control over the 401(k) options, as well as any additional benefits such as an employee match.

And that means companies can revoke things like an employee match when times get tough. Recently, that's happened at General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) , Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) , and Dollar Thrifty Automotive (NYSE: DTG  ) , to name a few examples. (However, Dollar Thrifty announced this week that it was reinstating the match for 2009.) That's scary, but it's nothing new: During our last recession, El Paso (NYSE: EP  ) and Textron (NYSE: TXT  ) also eliminated their employee match, but later reinstated the match when market conditions improved.

While eliminating an employee match might seem troubling, many more people fall victim to other side effects of a company’s poor 401(k) plan -- high fees, poor plan options, and an overall lack of transparency may be literally stealing your retirement dollars!

Some of those blunders are self-inflicted, while some may be no fault of yours. The truth is, there are many poor 401(k) options out there, and a basic knowledge about how the plans work, how fees are structured, and how the various investment choices stack up can make a remarkable difference for your nest egg.

With that in mind, we want to poll Fools about their satisfaction with their 401(k) plan (again, we're assuming no one is happy with the 12-month performance of the plan!).

Make your 401(k) plan work for you. Learn how to agitate for change and avoid common 401(k) errors by reading our special report.

The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On December 17, 2008, at 6:31 PM, a65fc wrote:

    I'm very happy. I’m confident and knowledgeable about my plan options

    Yup, right up to the point of the memo received stating "Company contributions are suspended until further notice". I still have a good plan but losing that hurts results tremendously, compounded.

  • Report this Comment On December 18, 2008, at 8:04 AM, glongcih wrote:

    In general the plan is OK, but only offers one bond fund from which to choose. I raised this issue with the plan administrator, but the reply was that I could invest in the targeted retirement funds and they are not planning to add more.

    While I understand the targeted fund philosophy, the exposure to stocks is problematic given the dramatic swings we are experiencing.

  • Report this Comment On December 18, 2008, at 11:01 AM, mmwmmr wrote:

    As a federal employee, I participate in government's 401(k) - the thrift savings plan, and am very satisfied with the plan. While the options are somewhat limited, they are the basic types of investments that allow for diversification of investments: a bond index fund, an S&P 500 index fund, a DJW 4500 index fund, an EAFE index fund, and a government securities fund. Additionally, they offer lifecycle funds (target date funds) that include all of these index funds.

    The best part about it is the price--it is extremely cheap! The annual expense ratio for the lifecycle funds is only 1.5 bp (0.015%)! No wrap fee or any other additional fees.

  • Report this Comment On December 18, 2008, at 10:56 PM, Bookboy23 wrote:

    A correction to this story . . . Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group this week announced that it has reinstated its 401(k) match for employees beginning in January 2009. Dollar Thrifty will match employee contributions dollar-for-dollar up to 2 percent beginning in January 2009.

    President & CEO Scott L. Thompson said, "DTG’s Board of Directors and the management team feel strongly that reinstating the 401(k) match for employees is the right thing to do. While many companies are faced with economic uncertainty – and our own Company certainly continues to see its share of headwinds – it is tough for companies and employees alike. As we at DTG work together during these difficult times, it is important that employees be able to focus on their own future and that of their families. That’s why the DTG board, at management’s request, unanimously voted to reinstate the 401(k) match benefit for our employees.”

  • Report this Comment On December 19, 2008, at 3:52 PM, ThinkANDwork wrote:

    In general, the fees charged by plan admins/custodians are too high, the flexibility allowed and the range of investment choices are too limited. In addition to the fees within the funds, the employers are charged handsomely for the service. (layers & layers of fees)

    However, I can live with it, since it's the best option available - with or without matching funds (so far we still have a small match). So, in spite of needing some improvements, I'd say the 401(k) and the Roth programs are indeed most incredible!

    I've made extensive use of inverse mutual funds to protect in the recent market's slide. I don't believe in the sales pitch entitled "buy and hold".

  • Report this Comment On December 19, 2008, at 5:13 PM, Botout wrote:

    Since 401K plans are held thru the company that the employee works at, an employee's retirement funds can be very adversely affected by blackout periods during mergers, buyouts, changes in fund elections by the employer or if the company ceases its operations. In the recent market dive, the values of employee fund holdings have dropped in some cases in excess of 40%. If a company were to redirect where an employee's funds are placed to conservative investment options or now only offer safe 3 to 4% return elections, the employee would have no opportunity to recoup market losses. Somehow we need to eliminate the "company" from controlling the 401K election process.

  • Report this Comment On December 21, 2008, at 5:20 PM, 4thebird wrote:

    our 401k has a self directed portion. once that was enabled we sold all the funds and picked our own stocks. if we had stayed in the funds our value would be 20%, Right now we are at 40%. the difference is that we picked income producing stocks and those stocks pay out 30K a year with out having to sell one single stock. need less to say we have been having a feast buying preferred stocks this year with the dividends.

  • Report this Comment On December 21, 2008, at 6:08 PM, gogoau wrote:

    My 403B was good but I rolled over to an IRA with US Funds. It was at a peak in the UNWPX fund on December 31, 2007. Now it is down about 70% and I must take my RMD. That will descimate my retirement money. Perhaps, I should have left it in my 403B.

    Shouldn't the laws be modified to allow individuals to deduct more of a loss (more than $3000) this year. Industry is getting all the breaks. Why not a few for the seniors at least? We are trying to be independant.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2008, at 5:11 PM, tirerim wrote:

    No, I’m fed up with my company’s 401(k) plan and all of the options offered:

    The expense ratios of the available funds range from about 1.5% to about 2.3%. There are no index funds, and in order to keep diversified, I can't even just stick to the ones at the low end of that range. I've asked about other options, but I've been told that we're such a small company (only two full-time employees, and another two part-time) that the expense ratios are needed to cover the costs of the plan. Unfortunately, I'm already maxing out my IRA contributions, so it's the only way to contribute more money that will grow tax-free, and it's probably worth it to be able to eventually roll it over to something better when I leave my job (or we go under, which is very possible in the next year).

  • Report this Comment On June 19, 2010, at 1:03 PM, nesteacher wrote:

    I was able to change the percentage of each monthly investment to better choices in the market. One of the poorer performing stocks I chose to not invest more in during a low time... and now two years later my retirement account looks much healthier. The amount of money I was investing each month was to meet the cap on employer contribution for the year.

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