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Why Your Employer May Be (Partly) to Blame for Your Lack of Retirement Savings

By Katie Brockman – Apr 15, 2018 at 4:47AM

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If your savings are suffering, your employer may have something to do with it.

One in three American employees has nothing at all saved for retirement, and just over half (56%) have less than $10,000 in their retirement funds, according to a 2016 survey from GoBankingRates.

There are several reasons why your retirement savings may be falling short -- perhaps you're struggling to pay down debt, save for a child's college tuition, or just make it from paycheck to paycheck. But if your savings aren't quite where you'd like them to be, your employer may be at least partially to blame, too.

Man and woman looking over financial documents

Image source: Getty Images.

Gone are the days when employees could expect pensions plans from their employers. Now, only 59% of workers even have access to basic 401(k) plans, a 2017 survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed. That means the remaining workers are left to set up and fund their own retirement plans.

But the problem isn't just the fact that too many employers don't offer 401(k)s: Over half (51%) of employees who have access to a 401(k) aren't actively contributing to it, according to a 2018 study from Edward Jones. So not only do employers need to offer retirement plans for employees, but they should also emphasize the importance of regularly contributing.

Even small 401(k) contributions make a big difference

When you're struggling to save any money at all, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that socking away a few dollars here and there won't make much of a difference, so it's not worth contributing anything.

However, because of the power of compound interest and matching contributions from your employer, even small contributions add up over time.

Let's say you're just starting to contribute to a 401(k) plan, you're contributing $100 per month (or $1,200 per year), and your employer is matching 100% of your contributions. Between your own contributions and your employer match, you'll be saving $2,400 per year. If you're earning a 7% annual rate of return on your investments, here's what your savings would look like after 10, 20, and 40 years:

Years Total Savings With Employer Match
10 $34,404
20 $102,081
40 $497,102

In other words, just $100 per month -- or around $3 per day -- could get you to nearly half a million dollars in savings after a few decades.

What if your employer doesn't offer a 401(k)?

If you're one of those workers who don't have access to a 401(k), all is not lost. Although you won't be able to reap the rewards of employer matching contributions, you do have other options to help you save.

A traditional IRA is similar to a 401(k) in that your annual contributions are tax-deductible (assuming you meet certain requirements), though you'll pay taxes on any funds you withdraw. A Roth IRA is another option, and your contributions are taxed up front, but you can make tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Both traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs have lower yearly contribution limits than 401(k)s, allowing savers to contribute $5,500 in 2018 (or $6,500 if you're aged 50 or older), compared to $18,500 per year for 401(k)s (or $24,500 for 50-and-up workers).

That doesn't you can't rack up some serious savings with an IRA. For example, say you're contributing $100 per month and earning a 7% annual rate of return on your investments. After 40 years, you'd have roughly $248,552 saved. While it's considerably less than what you'd earn if you had the benefit of employer matching contributions, a quarter of a million dollars is not bad at all. And if you were to contribute the full $5,500 per year you're allowed (which comes down to about $458 per month), you'd have about $1.2 million after 40 years. Not too shabby.

There's also a major perk to using an IRA in place of a 401(k): a much wider array of investing options. With a 401(k), you're typically limited to a small menu of investments that are pre-selected by your employer. Your options are usually limited to a selection of mutual funds. With an IRA, however, you can open an account at nearly any financial institution, and you can choose from a practically limitless selection of stocks, funds, bonds, and many other assets. This allows you to craft a more personalized retirement plan that fits your needs and risk tolerance.

Saving for retirement isn't easy, but some employers make it harder than others. If you're fortunate enough to have access to a 401(k) with matching contributions, take full advantage of it -- not contributing to it means you're leaving free money on the table. But even if you don't have a 401(k) to help with your retirement savings, that doesn't mean you have an excuse not to build your nest egg. There are plenty of options out there -- the most important step is to just get started.

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