Companies are feeling the financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic as much as their employees, and for some, keeping their doors open and their employees on the payroll requires certain sacrifices, at least for the time being. One of the most unfortunate losses for workers is 401(k) matching.
If your company has temporarily done away with 401(k) matching, the full burden of saving for retirement now rests on your shoulders. This is doubly stressful given that many people are still out of work and struggling to pay their bills, let alone save for retirement. But by taking the following steps right now, you can prevent the loss of your 401(k) match from completely derailing your plans for your future.
1. Step up your contributions if possible
Check with your company's HR department or your 401(k) plan administrator to see how much your employer was contributing to your retirement account each paycheck. You may be able to find this in your online 401(k) account portal, or on a recent 401(k) summary if you have one of these at hand.
You must step up your personal contributions by this amount if you want to keep your savings rate the same as before. Try making small changes to your budget, like reducing discretionary purchases and using coupons when you buy essential items, to free up the extra cash you need to do this. If you're not able to save the full amount you were getting from your employer match, just save as much as you can and proceed to the next steps.
2. Consider moving your money
An employer match is a big incentive to use your 401(k) as your primary retirement savings vehicle, but if you're no longer getting that match, you should at least consider keeping your savings in an IRA instead. IRAs typically offer far more investment options than 401(k)s, and their fees can be much lower as well. That combination can help you grow your savings more quickly than you could by leaving them in your 401(k).
Of course, some people may still prefer a 401(k), and that's fine too. If your 401(k) contains low-cost investment options that suit your risk tolerance, moving your money may not make sense. But it doesn't hurt to weigh both options. You can always move your money to an IRA for the time being and then go back to contributing primarily to your 401(k) once your company brings back matching again.
3. Redo your retirement plan
Everyone should check over their retirement plan right now, and this is especially true if you have lost your 401(k) match and aren't able to make up for this with extra personal contributions. You'll have to alter your retirement plan going forward, otherwise you risk retiring without adequate savings.
Figure out roughly how much you need to save by multiplying your estimated annual retirement expenses by the number of years you believe your retirement will last, adding 3% annually for inflation. Then, subtract money you expect from a pension or Social Security to figure out what you must save on your own. A retirement calculator can help you figure out how much you must save per month to hit your goal. Plan for a 5% or 6% annual rate of return on your investments. Your savings may grow more quickly than this, but if they don't, you won't be thrown completely off track.
Try out a few different scenarios until you find a plan that works for you. You could try increasing your monthly retirement contributions, scaling back your travel plans and big-ticket purchases in retirement, or delaying retirement to give yourself more time to save. Or you could do a combination of all of the above.
Redo your retirement plan again if your company brings back 401(k) matching at some point, and at least once every year, even if you don't experience any major life or financial changes. If you find you're ahead of where you expected to be, you might be able to reduce your monthly savings amount, which will give you more money to spend now. But if you realize you're behind, you'll have a much better chance of catching up if you make small, annual changes than if you wait until you're on the verge of retirement.