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Four 401(K) Mistakes You May Not Realize

People like 401(k) tax deductions. These deductions can help build a retirement fund, but the IRS gets its share. Your 401(k) grows tax-deferred over decades, but you’ll pay when you withdraw.

As ordinary income, qualified retirement account distributions are taxed. This means you won’t get the full value of your 401(k) or traditional IRA. People are shocked to learn their retirement account is 10 to 20% lower than the balance shows.

A tax deferral is still very useful. Many retirees fall into lower tax brackets, so they’re happy to pay taxes after working. Don’t be surprised by withdrawals.

Know your tax rates and retirement income sources. You don’t want to find out the hard way that you need a tighter budget.

This one is simple; use it well. Most employers match 401(k) contributions up to a percentage of income.

To increase your savings rate and meet your retirement goals, contribute the full employer-matching amount.

The employer match is free money that grows when invested. It’s not wise to overextend yourself or incur debt to achieve this goal, but most people can set aside 1% to 2% of their income.

Ask your plan advisor or employer about the matching policy and confirm you’re getting the right amount deducted for each pay.
Misallocating your portfolio

It’s important to get your investment allocation right, but many people don’t. Target-date funds help passive investors because they adjust your portfolio over time. Not everyone uses them, and they’re not tailored to your risk tolerance.

401(k) plan advisors can provide useful tools to most people upon enrollment. These resources help you review goals, assess risk tolerance, and develop an investment time horizon to quantify the best growth-volatility balance. This will show you how to invest in stocks, bonds, and other assets.


Few people annually review their retirement accounts. It works for a while, but it will cause problems.

Ideal portfolio composition changes over time, so keep up. Growth is best early on, but volatility management becomes more important as retirement nears.

As people enter their 50s and 60s, they should shift to bonds from stocks. People don’t invest enough early on. Some fail to protect their gains and suffer untimely losses in their retirement years.

The wrong balance can ruin long-term performance and ruin your retirement.

This ties into allocation, but it’s about managing emotions and expectations.

Many people in their 30s check their retirement account balances weekly, monthly, or even daily. Not only is that a waste of time, but it could lead to destructive behaviour that undermines your goals.

401(k)s aren’t meant to be accessed until age 60. It can help with financial hardships or buying a home, but it’s not designed for those uses. Plan to keep 401(k) assets for years.

If you have 15 years until retirement, it doesn’t matter how your 401(k) did last year. Gains or losses are imaginary until they’re locked in.

The only things that matters are income and long-term growth (in line with your risk tolerance, of course). Fear can motivate people to sell at the worst times, which is a challenge for 2022 retirees.

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For a diversified 401(k), bear markets are temporary. As the global economy grows, corporate profits will rise, pushing stock prices higher. Do not let bad news derail your overall plan. Excessive tinkering or selling won’t pay off long-term. Keep calm in tough times.

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