Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Getting real about retirement, part 2: You're on your own

eBay lists gold watches for less than $25. That has got to be a sign that your retirement package might not be all you hoped for someday.

Authorities estimate maybe one-third of the companies that offered matching contributions to our 401(k) plans 18 months ago have stopped matching now. Another third may pull the plug this year. And there are some pretty big names on the list, reports the Pension Rights Center, which keeps a running tally.

Many employers used to kick 50 cents into our 401(k)s for each $1 we put in, up to about 6 percent of our salary. Stopping that saves small companies maybe a couple million a year and bigger companies can save ten times that, human resources consultants calculate.

But the cuts also threaten to throw many of us individually into poverty when we retire, say authorities such as Rockefeller Foundation vice president Janice Nittoli, who explains how in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

The reasons - and the remedies - seem clear. We as individuals don't save squat. And when our employers cut contributions, our two most frequent reactions - either to cut our own contributions too or to do nothing - are the wrong ones, writes Katy Marquardt in U.S. News and World Report.

Fellow freelancer Mark Miller says your better move is to seize control of the situation and use your own money to replace what the boss stopped providing. Few of us are maxing our 401(k) contributions anyway, so you can put more there and get the same tax-deferred growth you have now. And Kimberly Lankford of Kiplinger's Personal Finance adds, you also might put some of the extra money into a traditional or Roth IRA if that provides you a better deal.

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