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Retirement Plan Matches Have Declined for Small Businesses, Data Shows

By Maurie Backman – Jul 19, 2020 at 9:03AM

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Many companies are cutting corners -- but that's not the only reason employer contributions have been reduced.

Saving for retirement is important. Without independent savings, seniors risk struggling financially when they attempt to live on Social Security alone, especially when we consider that the average recipient today collects just around $1,500 a month, or $18,000 a year, in benefits.

But many people get help with retirement savings -- namely in the form of an employer match. That match can vary from company to company, but retirement plan matches are a common workplace benefit that employees are encouraged to take advantage of. Yet recent data from Ascensus reveals that among companies with up to 500 employees, employer retirement plan contributions decreased 11.4% overall from March through May of this year.

Why the decline? Some smaller companies have discontinued their retirement plan matches in an effort to cut costs. For others, though, it's a matter of having less money in contributions to match in the first place.

401(k) statement showing matching contribution and total contribution

Image source: Getty Images.

In the course of the pandemic, millions of Americans have lost their jobs. When smaller businesses don't have as many people on their payroll, they have less retirement plan matching to do -- hence the aforementioned decline.

Interestingly enough, smaller companies were even more likely to have paused or cut back on retirement plan contributions than larger ones. Plans with 25 or fewer participants stopped contributions at five times the rate of companies with 100 participants or more.

What to do if your retirement plan match is taken away

While some companies are spending less on retirement plan matches because there's been a reduction in either headcount or participation rates, others are halting or reducing matches in an effort to conserve funds and, perhaps, prevent layoffs. But still, that puts you, as a saver, in a tough position, especially if you typically rely on your employer match to meet your annual retirement savings goal.

If you've lost your employer match, your best bet in this scenario is to ramp up your own contributions temporarily to compensate, assuming you can swing that financially. If your paycheck has held steady, you may be able to take the money you're not spending commuting or going on vacation and instead use it to fund your 401(k).

If you're not able to compensate for a lost employer match with higher out-of-pocket contributions, let yourself off the hook this year, but pledge to ramp up once the pandemic ends and your income situation looks better. Incidentally, once the economy improves, there's a good chance your employer will restore that match anyway, so you may have less work to do than expected.

Employer matching dollars are an important benefit that many savers tend to fall back on, and that's not a bad thing. If your match has gone away, it may be a harsh blow. But remember, there's a good chance your employer is cutting corners not out of spite, but in an effort to keep people like you on its payroll, and while it may not be an ideal situation, it's one that you're certainly not alone in, especially if you work for a small business.

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