Everything You Need To Know About 401(k) Plans

401K Loan Application with Pen and Glasses

Robert D. Barnes / Getty Images

When you are searching for a new job, one of the things you should be looking for in a company is whether or not they offer a 401(k) plan. Why? Because a 401(k) is one of the best ways to save for retirement. It is a qualified plan established by an employer that allows employees to make salary deferral contributions on a post or pre-tax basis. Many employers even match an employee’s contribution up to certain value, making it all the easier to save for the future.

It’s true that retirement plans may be the furthest thing from your mind. However, the bottom line is that if you start to invest in a 401(k) early, you could end up with two million or more dollars in the bank by the time you retire. Now do I have your attention?

How Does It All Work?

Usually, you can invest up to 15 percent of your salary into a 401(k) plan every month. However, keep in mind that the employer that set up the program does have a right to limit the amount as they see fit. Plus, the IRS limits your contribution as well. For the 2018 tax year, the limit is $18,500 for those under 50 and an additional $6,000 for age 50 and older.

What Happens to Your Money?

When you invest in a 401(k) plan, a third-party administrator will invest it in bonds, mutual funds, and money market accounts. All you have to do is pick from a list of investment vehicles that detail the level of risk your money is at. It may sound complicated, but it’s not — and that’s what makes 401(k) investing so safe.

Even if the company you are working for goes bankrupt, you are protected. Thanks to the Employment Retirement Income Security Act passed in 1974, your funds are held in custodial accounts in order to keep your money safe in the event that something happens to your employer. It also sets requirements that your employer must follow, such as:

  • Sending you regular account statements;
  • Providing easy access to your account, and;
  • Making it easy and fair for everyone to keep track of what is happening to their own money.

What If You Switch Jobs?

You can roll the money already invested into another 401(k) plan, as long as you do not write the check out to yourself. If you write the check to yourself, it will be just like cashing out early. Plus, if you do so before you are 59 years of age, you’ll end up paying taxes on all the money you have put into the 401(k), as well as a 10 percent penalty to the IRS.

In order to roll the funds over successfully from one 401(k) plan to another, you have to make the check out to the new account. In other words, it has to be written to the new company that you are moving your 401(k) to.

This is one of the biggest mistakes people make, and usually, they end up paying for it.

What Does the Future Hold?

There’s really no reason not to invest in your companies 401(k) plan. By doing so now, you’ll be saving yourself enough money to retire at a reasonable age. It’s safe, reliable, and you don’t even notice the money taken from your paycheck after a while. It’s also easy to keep track of thanks to employer statements. So, you’d be a fool not to take advantage of it — especially when you’re young.

Investing early means you’re getting a head start on the future. Retirement isn’t cheap, so you’ll need it to keep up with things like mortgage payments and bills. Not only that but hey, if you invest early and end up with two million or more by the time you retire, you can reward yourself of all those years of hard work by taking a truly memorable vacation.

401K Loan Application with Pen and Glasses

Robert D. Barnes / Getty Images

Joshua Williams

Joshua Williams

Joshua is a freelance writer with years of experience blogging about business and finance, and a whole host of other things too. When he's not writing, he enjoys camping with his dog, a golden retriever named Oakley.