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Give up or Give it up?

Audio Version

December 6, 2011

It is hard to keep track of all of the television news reports and newspaper, magazine and web articles about America's retirement savings crisis? Nearly every day someone is talking or writing about how the recent (current) recession has led more people to reduce or stop their retirement plan contributions, delay their retirement beyond normal retirement age, or throw their hands up in frustration over the stock market.

No doubt the fragile economy has forced us all to take a closer look at how much we spend and what we spend it on. Current or more immediate financial obligations in such uncertain times can make saving for a retirement that may never happen or may not happen for 20 years or more seem unimportant or unnecessary. However, saving money in uncertain times may provide us with that feeling of control over our lives and our futures that we have not felt for a long time.

If you are eligible to participate in an employer provided retirement plan and are not currently participating, start now.

What you need to do now to enroll in your company's defined contribution retirement plan:

  • Locate retirement plan information - If your company posts all of its benefits information on its web site, log on to the site to access your retirement plan information; if they do not, contact your Human Resources or Benefits office to request plan information

  • Review your plan's basic features -

    1. maximum contribution - (per pay period and per year) - decide what percentage of your salary you want to contribute each pay period (up to the maximum allowed). To see how your contribution will impact your take home pay, use the paycheck calculator at www.paycheckcity.com (pick the state you work in)

    2. investment fund options - decide which fund or funds you want to invest your contribution in. If you know little about investing, consider enrolling in a target date (also called lifecycle) or lifestyle fund. Ask your benefits representative for a full explanation of how these funds work. If your plan offers investment advice, request advice on how to choose the best fund(s) for you

    3. company match and profit sharing contribution - some employers will match what you contribute to the plan up to a certain percentage, and/or contribute a certain amount to the plan on your behalf. A match or (profit sharing) contribution from your employer is free money that does not come out of your pay, but you have to contribute a percentage of your pay to receive the employer match

    4. vesting schedule - your plan may or may not have a vesting schedule. The vesting schedule refers to the period of time it takes to earn the right to your employer's matching and profit sharing contributions--you are always 100% vested in any contributions you make to the plan.

  • Enroll in the plan - If you do not feel comfortable enrolling in your company's retirement plan online and no paper enrollment kit is available, contact the plan administrator's customer service number to enroll by phone. These systems can be confusing, which is why you always have the option of asking for customer service assistance when trying to enroll

Do not let fear of investing or your busy lifestyle keep you from saving for retirement. Take time now to enroll in your employer's retirement program, if eligible. Don't worry if you do not understand all the features of your plan now--few employees do when they first enroll. Decide how much to contribute and choose a fund or funds to contribute to. You can change your contribution amount and fund allocation whenever you want. Give it up for YOU!

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