When was the last time you really looked at your 401(k)? Not just the balance, but a good hard look at the actual investments and the performance. For most people, the answer is ‘not recently!’ It’s not necessarily because we don’t care. On the contrary, if you are reading this, you obviously do, but there’s confusion about what’s in our 401(k), how it works and what questions to ask.
We’ll tackle those topics in simple terms so you can confidently make that phone call and get the specific answers you need to Conquer Your 401(k). Before we get into the questions for your 401(k) provider, let’s start with the basics.
What is a 401(k)?
Many companies offer employees a retirement benefit plan, typically a 401(k) plan or a 403(b) (not-for-profit) plan. These are simply tax-advantaged retirement accounts which are managed by your employer. Both you and your employer can contribute a percentage of your paycheck to the plan. The money can be invested in the stock market (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.) to grow and compound for the purpose of income in retirement. Starting as early as possible and investing consistently is the best approach in building a solid retirement nest egg.
Who is your service provider?
Often, these companies are referred to as the Plan Administrator (e.g. Fidelity, Vanguard, TIAA, Mass Mutual, Principal). This is the company that is facilitating the 401(k) plan on behalf of your employer. You’ll likely receive statements from them or have to log into their website to get your balance. This is also the company that you’re going to call to get specific answers about your plan.
Okay, so we got the basics down, we know what the 401(k) is and who our service provider is, now let’s get you prepared to ask the questions to Conquer Your 401(k).
Preparing For The Call
Find your service provider’s phone number. It may be specific for your company, so whether it’s a quarterly statement, an email you receive, the service provider’s website, or through your HR department, you should be able to find a toll-free number for your 401(k) service provider. It’s actually important to call because your 401(k) isn’t an easy topic and the rules of your plan can change, so you want to make sure you’re getting the most up-to-date information about your specific plan. Plus, it’s your money, you deserve to talk to a human!
Our 9 questions about your 401(k) are covered three major topics:
- Current 401(k) Account Status
- Investment Risk and Performance
- Additional Benefits and Tools.
We’ll cover three questions of the first topic in this post and you can find the remaining six questions in our FREE guide Conquer Your 401(k).
Current 401(k) Status
Question #1: What is the current balance in my account?
Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know the current balance of your 401(k). It’s not uncommon to be automatically enrolled into your 401(k) plan. If you don’t have a login for the website, you can register online and/or answer security questions over the phone.
Question #2: What is my contribution percentage?
This is the percentage of your paycheck that is being invested in your 401(k). Ideally, you would want to contribute in order to maximize your employer match. So if your employer matches at 5%, you would contribute 5% of each paycheck and your employer match would total of 10%. We recommend working up to 15% (combined employee and employer contribution) over time.
Question #3: What am I currently invested in?
Now we get into a little more complexity. It’s important to understand which investments are part of your 401(k). If you were automatically enrolled in your plan and did not choose your investments it’s likely you would be invested in a Target Date Fund:
Target Date Funds are collections of investments designed to manage risk for a particular retirement date. The closer the fund is to the retirement date, the less risk in the portfolio. This is a one-stop-shop option for those not interested in creating a diversified portfolio on their own. One would select the Target Date investment that matches closest to the year they would turn 65 years old. (i.e. 2050 Retirement Fund)
Target Date Funds are quality options for beginner investors, particularly if you are less interested in following and updating your investments quarterly. If you’re not invested in a Target Date Fund, you’ll need to assess your current investments. You want to determine whether you have adequately diversified your investments and whether the amount of risk is adequate for your situation.
In Questions 4 – 9, we cover risk, performance, and additional benefits to inquire about. We want to our guide to be your cliff notes to prepare you for that phone call. All 9 questions are covered in our FREE Guide Conquer Your 401(k).