Q: I started a new job and my employer will match 100% of my 401(k) contributions up to 5% of my salary. What should my contribution rate be?
You shouldn't contribute any less than what your employer is willing to match in your 401(k) plan. Doing so is literally turning down free money. If you make $75,000, this means that your employer will give you $3,750 this year to help save for retirement -- but only if you contribute the same amount or more.
Having said that, I'd suggest looking at 5% as a starting point, not as an ideal contribution rate.
Although there are some variables that come into play, most financial planners suggest that Americans should aim for a savings rate of at least 10% of income, not including employer contributions.
Now, you don't need to get there right away. One popular strategy is to start by contributing just enough to take full advantage of your employer's match, then increasing it by 1 percentage point each year until you're reached your target. In other words, contribute 5% this year, 6% next year, and so on. Or, try increasing your contribution rate every time you get a raise. With a gradual contribution strategy like one of these, you'll barely notice the increase.
This may sound like a big chunk of your paycheck, but it's a far better idea to forego some of your pay now than to reach retirement age without an adequate nest egg.