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5 Ways to Squeeze Every Last Penny Out of Your 401(k)

By Katie Brockman - Jun 19, 2021 at 10:00AM

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These strategies can help make the most of your money.

When it comes to saving for retirement, the 401(k) is a fantastic option. Not everyone has access to a 401(k), but if your employer offers this type of account, it's wise to take advantage of it.

Contributing to a 401(k) can help you save a lot of money for retirement, but it can be tricky to make sure you're getting as much out of your account as possible. With these five strategies, you can squeeze every last penny out of your 401(k).

1. Earn your full employer match

Matching contributions give 401(k)s a serious advantage over other retirement accounts like IRAs because they're essentially free money. For every dollar you contribute to your 401(k) up to a certain limit, your employer will match it.

This can amount to thousands of dollars per year in free money from your employer. For example, if you're earning $60,000 per year and your employer will match up to 3% of your salary, that's $1,800 per year in free money. If you're not already contributing enough to earn the full match, you're leaving money on the table.

An older gentleman is consulting with a younger man, possibly a financial adviser.

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Max out your contribution limits

Another advantage of the 401(k) is that it has higher contribution limits than many other accounts. For 2021, the maximum amount you can contribute to your 401(k) is $19,500 per year (or $26,000 per year for those age 50 or older). By comparison, IRAs have annual contribution limits of just $6,000 per year, or $7,000 per year for those 50 or older.

Not everyone can afford to max out their 401(k), but try to contribute as much as possible. The more you're able to save now, the better off you'll be in retirement.

3. Set up automatic transfers

Because your 401(k) is tied to your employer, many plans allow you to transfer a portion of each paycheck directly to your account.

By setting up automatic transfers, it may be easier to keep your savings on track. This money goes straight to your 401(k) without ever reaching your bank account, which can make it easier to save before you have the chance to spend it.

Also, automatic transfers can help make saving part of your monthly budget. When you know that a certain amount of money is going to your 401(k) each month, it's easier to build those savings into your budget rather than simply investing whatever money you have leftover at the end of the month.

4. Make sure you're investing your money

Simply opening a 401(k) account is only the first step of the process, and it's important to make sure your money is actually being invested.

Investing in the stock market can be intimidating, but it's one of the best ways to generate wealth over a lifetime. If you're parking your cash in your 401(k) account without investing it, you're missing out on a valuable opportunity to help your money grow.

It's also not as difficult as it may sound to get started investing. When you open your account, you'll generally have a list of investment options to choose from. Most 401(k) plans offer a variety of mutual funds or target date funds, which are hands-off investments. In other words, you don't need to worry about picking stocks, or buying or selling investments when you contribute to your 401(k).

5. See if you can lower your fees

All retirement accounts charge fees. However, some plans charge higher fees than others, and it's worthwhile to see whether you can lower those fees.

To see how much you're paying, check your plan statements or talk to your plan administrator. The average 401(k) charges fees of around 1% of total assets under management, according to research from the Center for American Progress. So, for instance, if you have $100,000 in your 401(k), you'd pay $1,000 per year in fees.

Different investments may charge more or less, so consider whether switching to a different fund within your 401(k) might lower your fees. If you're paying higher-than-average fees and can't lower them, think about whether it may be worth it to move to an IRA. Just make sure you're still contributing enough to your 401(k) to earn your full employer match because that free money will outweigh any fees.

Your 401(k) is a powerful tool when it comes to saving for retirement. By taking full advantage of it, you can make the most of your money.

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