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qualified retirement plan

Why You Should Participate in a 401(k)

We all know that we should save money for a rainy day, a message we’ve received since we were little ones, but this article covers some more reasons why you should participate in a 401(k) plan, if you have one available. It’s on you Back in the olden days when the earth was still cooling, employees could count on (or at least thought they could count on) a pension benefit from their employer upon retirement.  This pension plan provided a safety net that allowed the employee to go into retirement with relatively little concern about whether there would be enough money to live on.

Roth 401(k) In-Plan Conversions

As of the beginning of 2013, a new provision became available for participants in 401(k), 403(b) and 457 deferred compensation retirement plans: the Roth 401(k) In-Plan Conversion.  This provision allows current employees participating in one of these Qualified Retirement Plans to convert funds from the traditional 401(k) (or other) account into the Designated Roth Account (DRAC) that is part of the plan. This is new and different because previously the only way to convert funds from the 401(k) plan to a Roth-like account was to have left employment by the sponsoring employer.

Roth 401(k) Rules

If your employer has a 401(k) plan available for you to participate in, you may also have a Roth 401(k) option available as a part of the plan. (We’re referring to 401(k) plans by name here, but unless noted the rules we’re discussing also apply to other Qualified Retirement Plans (QRPs) such as 403(b) or 457 plans.)  Roth 401(k) plans are not required when a 401(k) plan is offered, but many employers offer this option these days. The Roth 401(k) option, also known as a Designated Roth Account or DRAC, first became available with the passage of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) of 2001, with the first accounts available effective January 1, 2006.  The Roth 401(k) was designed to provide similar features present in a Roth IRA to the employer-provided 401(k)-type plans. Similar to traditional 401(k) Certain features of the Roth 401(k) are similar to the traditional […]

Investment Allocation in Your 401(k) Plan

When you participate in your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan (or any type of Qualified Retirement Plan, including 403(b), 457, etc.), the first step is to determine how much money you will defer into the plan.  We discussed this previously in an article about contributions to your 401(k) plan. Once you’ve determined the amount you’ll contribute, the next step is to allocate your funds within the account.  This starts with an overall plan for your investment allocation – which you should take time to plan in advance.  For the purposes of our illustration here, we’ll say that you have a plan to split your account 75% to stocks and 25% to bonds.  Within the stock allocation, you want to split this as 1/3 each to large cap stock, small cap stock, and international stock.  In the bond category you want to split this to 80% domestic bonds and 20% international bonds. Now […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Loans

Continuing our series of articles on the mechanics of 401(k) plans, today we’ll talk about loans from the account.  As with all of these articles, we’ll refer generically to the plans as 401(k) plans, although they could be just about any Qualified Retirement Plans (QRPs), including 403(b), 457, and other plans. Unlike IRAs, 401(k) plans allow for the employee-participant to take a loan from the plan.  There are restrictions on these loans, but they can be useful if you need funds for a short-term period and have no other sources. 401(k) Loans If you have a balance in your 401(k) account, often your plan administrator will have a provision allowing you to take a loan of some of the funds in the account. (Not all plans allow loans – this is an optional provision, not a requirement.)  Sometimes the plan administrator will place restrictions on the use of the loan […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Distribution

For the next in our series of articles regarding the mechanics of 401(k) plans, we’ll review distributions from the plan.  As with our other articles in this series, we’re referring to all sorts of qualified retirement plans (QRPs) – including 401(k), 403(b), 457, and others – generically as 401(k) plans throughout. There are several types of distributions from 401(k) plans to consider.  Distributions before retirement age and after retirement age are the two primary categories which we’ll review below.  Another type of distribution is a loan – which will be covered in a subsequent article. But first, we need to define retirement age.  Generally speaking, retirement age for your 401(k) plan is 59½, just the same as with an IRA.  However, if you leave employment at or after age 55, the operative age is 55.  If you have left employment before age 55, retirement age is 59½. This means that […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Vesting

In this article in our series on the mechanics of 401(k) plans, we’ll be covering the concept of vesting.  As with the other articles in the series, we’ll refer specifically to 401(k) plans throughout, but most of the provisions apply to all types of Qualified Retirement Plans (QRPs), which go by many names: 401(k), 403(b), 457, etc.. Vesting refers to the process by which the employer-contributed amounts in the 401(k) plan become the unencumbered property of the employee-participant in the plan.  Vesting is based upon the tenure of the participant as an employee of the employer-sponsor of the plan. Generally, when an employee first begins employment there is a period of time when the employer wishes to protect itself from the circumstance of the new employee’s leaving employment within a relatively short period of time.  Vesting is one way that the employer can protect itself from handing over employer-matching funds […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Employer Contributions

This is the second post in a series of posts that explain the mechanics of a 401(k) plan.  As mentioned previously, there are many types of Qualified Retirement Plans (collectively called QRPs) that share common characteristics.  Some of these plans are called 401(k), 403(b), and 457.  In these articles we’ll simply refer to 401(k) plans to address common characteristics of all of these QRPs. Employer Contributions Many companies provide a matching contribution to the 401(k) plan – and sometimes there is a contribution made to a QRP on your behalf no matter if you have contributed your own deferred salary or not. Most of the time these matching contributions are stated as x% of the first y% of contributions to the account.  An example would be “50% of the first 6%”, meaning if you contribute 6% of your salary to the plan, the company will match that contribution with 3% […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Saving/Contributing

Many folks have a 401(k) plan or other similar Qualified Retirement Plan (QRP) available from their employer.  These plans have many names, including 403(b), 457, and other plans, but for clarity’s sake we’ll refer to them all as 401(k) plans in this article.  This sort of retirement savings plan can be very confusing if you’re unfamiliar, but it’s a relatively straightforward savings vehicle. This is the first in a series of articles about the mechanics of your 401(k) plan – Saving/Contributing. Saving/Contributing You are allowed to make contributions to the 401(k) plan, primarily in the form of pre-tax salary deferrals.  You fill out a form (online most of the time these days) to designate a particular portion of your salary to be deferred into the 401(k) plan.  Then, each payday you’ll see a deduction from your paycheck showing the 401(k) plan contribution.  The deduction is before income tax withholding is […]

Illinois Pension Reform

In recent news the state of Illinois introduced their Pension Reform Bill and as of this writing Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has yet to sign the bill which he said he would. After reading through the bill as well as some other readers’ interpretations of the bill it’s my opinion that it could be much, much worse. Let me put it this way; if I’m a current or retired state worker, I’m not upset. I may be a little inconvenienced, but certainly not angry. Dave Grant, CFP® and founder of Finance for Teachers wrote a very succinct and informational summary of the bill some of which I’ll highlight in this post. Some of the more notable changes include the removal of the 3% compound COLA increase and is now being replaced and calculated by years of service and current inflation rates. Other changes include any new employees hired after the […]

C’mon America! Increase your savings rate by 1% more!

This November we’re encouraging folks to increase their retirement savings rate by at least 1% more than the current rate.  It’s a small step, but it will pay off for you in the long run. Below is the list of my fellow bloggers who have written articles showing ways that you can start to increase your savings rate, as well as showing what the benefits can be.  Thanks to everyone who has participated so far – and watch for more articles in the weeks to come! THE 1% MORE BLOGGING PROJECT by Robert Flach, @rdftaxpro A Simple Strategy to Maximize Open Enrollment by Jacob Kuebler, @Jakekuebler Take a Small Step: Increase Your Savings by 1% by Jim Blankenship, @BlankenshipFP

Retirement Plan Contribution Limits for 2014

The IRS recently published the new contribution limits for various retirement plans for 2014.  These limits are indexed to inflation, and as such sometimes they do not increase much year over year, and sometimes they don’t increase at all. This year we saw virtually no increases for most all contribution amounts, but as usual the income limits increased for most types of account. IRAs The annual contribution limit for IRAs (both traditional and Roth) remains at $5,500 for 2014.  The “catch up” contribution amount, for folks age 50 or over, also remains at $1,000. The income limits for traditional (deductible) IRAs increased slightly from last year: for singles covered by a retirement plan, your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) must be less than $60,000 for a full deduction; phased deduction is allowed up to an AGI of $70,000.  This is an increase of $1,000 over the limits for last year.  For […]

What You Can Do If Your 401(k) Has High Fees

Now that we’ve all been receiving 401(k) plan statements that include information about the fees associated with our accounts, what should you do with that information?  Some 401(k) plans have fees that are upwards of 2% annually, and these fees can introduce a tremendous drag on your investment returns over a long period of time. There are two components to the overall cost of your 401(k) plan.  The first, and the easiest to find, is the internal expense ratios of the investments in the plan.  Recent information shows that, on average, these investment fees are something on the order of 1% to 1.4% or more.  The second part of the costs is the part that has recently begun to be disclosed: the plan-level fees.  These are the fees that the plan administrator has negotiated with the brokerage or third-party administrator to manage the plan.  These fees can average from 1% […]

Did the Advent of 401(k) Plans Hurt Americans?

There’s been quite a bit of press lately about the recent Economic Policy Institute study (see this article “Rise of 401(k)s Hurt More Americans Than It Helped” for more), which indicates that the 401(k) plan itself is the cause of American’s lack of retirement resources.  I think it has more to do with the fact that the 401(k) plan (and other defined contribution plans) were expected to be a replacement for the old-style defined benefit pension plans, and the fact that those administering the retirement plans did little to ensure success for the employees. Traditional defined benefit pension plans didn’t ask the employee to make a decision about how much to set aside – this was determined by actuaries.  Then the company made sure that the money was set aside (in most cases) so that the promised benefit would be there when the employee retires.  In the world of 401(k) […]

5 Essential Financial Planning Steps for Your 30s and 40s

(jb note: the article below is from my friend Roger Wohlner, who blogs at The Chicago Financial Planner.) Many of the calls that I receive are from folks in their 50s or 60s who are either within sight of retirement or already retired.  Many of these callers are pretty well-prepared for retirement and are seeking my help to fine-tune their situation and/or to help them through this next phase of life.  This type of financial readiness doesn’t just happen it takes planning and preparation.  Here are 5 essential financial planning steps for those of you in your 30s and 40s to help you reach your retirement goals and more importantly to help you achieve financial independence. Get started  If for whatever reason you haven’t done much of anything to ensure your financial future it’s time to get going.  Today is the best day to get started, tomorrow is the second best […]

Book Review: A Random Walk Down Wall Street

Right from the start this book will be an excellent read for both financial advisors as well as their clients. Dr. Malkiel provides academic insight on the reasons why passive management works and some great commentary on the use of index funds as part of someone’s overall portfolio. This was the second time I read this book and certainly not the last. It’s great reinforcement on why we invest our clients’ money the way we do and provides solid academic evidence that doing anything to the contrary is counterproductive, more expensive and simply playing a loser’s game. Some of the bigger takeaways from the book are Dr. Malkiel’s thoughts and research on the different part of the Efficient Market Hypothesis or EMH. The EMH consists of three parts – the strong form, the semi-strong form and the weak form. The EMH essential admits that markets are efficient – meaning that current […]

Don’t Just Walk by That Dime on the Ground!

Have you ever been walking along the street and saw a dime on the ground?  Did you just walk right by, or did you stop to pick it up?  Heck, it’s only a dime, it’s not hardly worth the effort to bend over, right?  But what if it was a dollar?  Or a hundred dollars?  You wouldn’t just walk by that, would you?  What about $1,200? Unfortunately, many folks do this very thing with their 401(k) plan employer matching funds.  Most employers that sponsor 401(k) plans provide a matching contribution when you defer money into the plan.  Often this is expressed as a certain percentage of your own contribution, such as 50% of your first 6% of contributions to the plan. So if you make $40,000 a year and you contribute 6% to the 401(k) plan, that means you’ll be contributing $2,400 to the plan from your own funds, pre-tax.  […]

Exceptions to the 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty from IRAs and 401(k)s

When you take money out of your IRA or 401(k) plan (or other qualified retirement plan, such as a 403(b) plan), if you’re under age 59½ in most cases your withdrawal will be subject to a penalty of 10%, in addition to any taxes owed on the distribution.  There are many exceptions to this rule though, and the exceptions are not the same for all types of plans.  IRAs have one set of rules, and 401(k)s have another set of rules. The exceptions are always related to the purpose for which the money was withdrawn.  The exact same dollars withdrawn do not have to be used for the excepted purpose, just that the excepted expense was incurred. IRA Exceptions It is important to know that all distributions from your traditional IRA are subject to ordinary income tax, but some distributions are not subject to the early withdrawal penalty.  The list […]