Saving for retirement is critically important — we all know that. But sometimes, the confusing details can throw us off course or prevent us from doing all we can to properly grow our nest egg.
Education is the best tool when it comes to most matters of personal finance. And for retirement planning, there are some facts everyone should know. It’s time to ask yourself these questions and brush up on the basics of retirement savings.
1. When can I start contributing to a retirement account?
With a traditional or Roth IRA, you can generally start contributing funds as soon as the account has been set up. However, rules can vary for employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Some 401(k) plans may have a waiting period ranging from six to 12 months to make your first contribution, while others may allow you to contribute immediately. It’s a good practice to check all applicable rules for your workplace retirement plan at the time of sign-up and again during every open enrollment period. (See also: 8 Critical 401(k) Questions You Need to Ask Your Employer)
2. How much can I save in each type of account?
You can sock away the most money per year in a 401(k). In 2018, you can contribute up to $18,500 to a 401(k), and an additional $6,000 in catch-up contributions if you’re over age 50. By comparison, you can only contribute up to $5,550 to an IRA ($6,500 if over age 50). Due to its higher contribution limits, a 401(k) is a very beneficial account for those trying to make up for low savings in previous years or those close to retirement age. However, if possible, having both types of accounts is the even better option. (See also: 401(k) or IRA? You Need Both)
3. Am I taking advantage of the company match?
If you’re offered a company match, you must take advantage of it. And since 94 percent of Vanguard 401(k) plans provide employer contributions, chances are that you have access to a workplace savings plan with a matching formula.
A common formula for matching is $0.50 per dollar that you contribute up to 6 percent of your annual pay. This means that a worker making $50,000 per year could receive an extra $3,000 in employer matching contributions by contributing $6,000 of their annual salary into a 401(k). Some might say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but an employer match on your 401(k) truly is a freebie. (See also: 7 Things You Should Know About Your 401(k) Match)
4. What happens if I change jobs?
From the date that you separate from your employer, you should aim to decide what to do with your 401(k) balance within 60 days. The reason for 60 days is that this is the deadline to complete an indirect rollover into a new retirement account (if your employer were to cash out your entire balance and hand you a check) and pay back any outstanding loans on your 401(k) (if not paid, they become taxable income and may even trigger penalties).
Under most scenarios, you have six rollover options for your total vested account balance:
Keep your account.
Rollover account into a new or existing IRA.
Rollover account into a new or existing qualified plan.
Do an indirect rollover.
Request a full cash-out of your account.
Do a mix of the above five options.
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