If you’re starting a new job that offers a 401(k) plan as part of your benefits package, congratulations! According to the Census Bureau, you are one of about 35% of Americans who have access to pre-tax workplace pension plans.
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The key is to make the most of it and make the most of it with a few key strategic decisions. You can always make adjustments later, but you’ll be better off in the long run if you avoid common mistakes and start strong from the start.
Revise the basics
Even if this isn’t your first 401(k), you should start by brushing up on how they work and the rules that govern them. A 401(k) plan allows employers to withhold a predetermined portion of participating employees’ paychecks to invest in retirement funds before that income is taxed.
Remember that unlike Roth accounts, 401(k)s require you to pay taxes on every dollar you contribute when you start making withdrawals in retirement. You won’t be able to collect your 401(k) money until six months after you turn 59; and, if you do, you’ll have to pay taxes and a hefty early withdrawal penalty.
The maximum you can contribute in 2022 is $20,500, unless you are 50 or older. Then the IRS catch-up contribution rule allows you to contribute an additional $6,500.
These factors should guide your decision to participate, how much to contribute and how to manage your plan. But there are many other rules, regulations, and guidelines that could have major impacts on your money.
Visit the IRS’s 401(k) page to refresh yourself before doing anything in the new job.
Dive into the details of your business plan
After you’ve familiarized yourself with 401(ks) in general, it’s time to learn about your company’s specific plan on a granular basis. Your boss or human resources department will give you onboarding documents that outline the key provisions of their 401(k) plan. Read them all and ask questions about anything that is unclear, but pay particular attention to the following points:
Type of 401(k)
Most employers offer traditional 401(k) plans, but others have Safe Harbor 401(k) plans, SIMPLE 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, or Roth 401(k) plans. They are similar, but they all have important differences in how they are structured and the rules that govern them. This article assumes you’re starting a traditional 401(k), but make sure it’s the type your company offers.
Eligibility and automatic registration
To encourage participation, 401(k) administrators facilitate registration.
It’s so easy, in fact, that many plans come with auto-enrollment, which means new employees will be automatically enrolled unless they opt out. Even so, some employers have a waiting period of a few months or up to a year before their workers become eligible to register – automatically or otherwise.
Fund options and fees
Unlike personal brokerage accounts or IRAs — which allow you to invest in just about any type of fund or security — 401(k)s limit participants to a handful of offerings. Each comes with its own investment breakdown, fees, objectives, level of risk and performance history, all of which will be presented in its prospectus.
Typical offerings include index funds, target date funds, equity funds, and bond funds. Do your research and consider seeking professional help, but just make sure the decision is yours. If you wait for auto-enrollment, the plan will invest you in its default fund.
Most experts recommend diversifying your holdings across a mix of assets and taking more risk when you’re young and less risk as you get older.
The most important factor of all is your employer’s matching contributions. According to Motley Fool, the median company match is 4%, which means your employer will match your contributions up to 4% of your salary.
Some match dollar for dollar, some match 50%, and some offer a hybrid formula. For example, an employer may pay $1 for every dollar you contribute up to 3% of your salary, then pay $0.50 on the dollar up to 5% or 6%.
Whatever the structure, you should always contribute at least enough to maximize your employer’s matching contributions – that’s free money that will be worth much more in the long run than the take home pay you keep by under-contributing.
After the game, you might want to consider saving in another vehicle like a Roth IRA that provides after-tax savings or a brokerage account that gives you more investment options than your 401(k).
You still own your share of the contributions, but your employer may have a vesting period that requires you to stay with the company for a set period of time before taking on the company matching contributions.
Change job? You may be able to bring your old 401(k) with you
If you change jobs with a new 401(k), you can simply keep your old 401(k) with your old employer, where it will continue to grow – you will still retain full ownership. But you might also be able to transfer funds from your old plan directly to your new 401(k) without paying penalties or taxes. This is called a rollover, and some employers allow it and some don’t. Check with HR at your new job.
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 401(k) to a New Job: What’s the Best Approach?