Last updated 6/02/2016.

It's no secret that when it comes to retirement, you're on your own, Fool. Traditional pensions -- where employers send retired employees a check every month for the rest of their lives -- are increasingly rare. As for Social Security, the average annual benefit is around $16,000, and we'll see what happens to that when the future funding problems become present funding problems.

No, Fool, if you want to retire, you're going to have to do all the saving and investing yourself. For many Americans, the best place to start is with the defined-contribution plan at work, whether it's called a 401(k), 403(b), 457, SEP, or SIMPLE IRA. Taking advantage of such accounts is a great way to sock away thousands of dollars, with all kinds of tax benefits to boot.

But just because your employer offers a retirement plan, that doesn't mean somebody in your office will tell you what to do with it.

Enter the Fools. We're happy to share our knowledge about employer-sponsored, self-directed retirement plans, and in this tidy little collection we very much believe you'll find out everything you need to know about yours. In fact, for the truly lazy, we've packed all the real information into the first 100 words of the first step. How's that for brevity?

But, hey, we realize that there may be some individual questions that aren't covered in this concise little package. So if you've read our whole collection here and still wonder, "Hey, what's up with my plan?" -- then give our Rule Your Retirement service a try free for 30 days. You'll get access to special retirement discussion boards, plenty of good advice about how to invest your money, and some cool, whizbang financial-planning tools.

In the spirit of the aforementioned brevity, we will henceforth use the term "401(k)" when discussing employer plans. However, we recognize that you may have a different type of plan. The vast majority of our advice will still apply to you, but check in with the HR guru in your office to find out the particulars (especially contribution limits and employer matching arrangements) of your plan.

And now it's time to learn how to use these accounts to improve your retirement prospects. Also, consider the opportunity to rule your 401(k): Check out The Motley Fool’s new guide to getting the most out of your workplace retirement account!

The $15,978 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known "Social Security secrets" could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. In fact, one MarketWatch reporter argues that if more Americans knew about this, the government would have to shell out an extra $10 billion annually. For example: one easy, 17-minute trick could pay you as much as $15,978 more... each year! Once you learn how to take advantage of all these loopholes, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after. Simply click here to discover how you can take advantage of these strategies.

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