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How-To Guide: Stretch Your Employee Benefits

Think all your employer's good for is that twice-monthly paycheck? Think again, my friend. Participating in your company-sponsored retirement plan can help put you on the path to retirement bliss.

To help you make the most of all the benefits you receive from your employer, we've put together a number of helpful PDF worksheets. This four-step plan will have you taking control of your best employee benefits in no time.

1. Take it to the limit.
Do everything you can to hit each year's 401(k) or 403(b) contribution limit. Our PDF-format "Take It to the Limit" worksheet will help you find ways to cut down on expenses so you'll have more to save, but if you can't meet the maximum, at least contribute as much as your employer will match. Free money doesn't grow on trees, you know!

2. Make the right choice.
Company-sponsored retirement plans typically feature a fistful of mutual funds, and if you want to make informed decisions about which to choose (and you know you do, Fool), you're going to need data. We provide the "Make the Right Choice" worksheet PDF to help you zero in on four key points about funds. Use it, and you'll go a long way toward separating the plan's keepers from its duds.

3. Don't settle for less.
All too many retirement plans are put together by well-meaning folks who don't know the first thing about investing after a well-coiffed "vendor" wows them with a fancy PowerPoint presentation. If you find that your company's plan doesn't offer any compelling options, don't hesitate to voice your concern -- perhaps with the handy-dandy letter provided in the PDF-format "Don't Settle for Less" worksheet.

4. Build the perfect portfolio.
Build the perfect portfolio. Easier said than done, of course, and it's worth remembering that the "perfect" portfolio is a work in progress. You'll need to recalibrate as retirement time draws closer, and beyond that, you'll want to consider your retirement plan contributions in the context of your overall portfolio. To help you with this, use our PDF-format "Build the Perfect Portfolio" worksheet.

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