Do You Make These 4 Common 401k Mistakes?

by Jason on September 14, 2009

Photo Credit: Engineering Daily

We all make mistakes – some of them are just more costly than others.

When it comes to our retirement savings there’s a host of mistakes that could cost you.

Because companies are shifting the responsibility of retirement on the employees, it’s vital to correct any of these mistakes as quickly as you can.

1. Bad Methods for Choosing Funds

I’m just not sure which funds to choose so I picked what did well last year

Perhaps you’ve found yourself saying that before.  Picking funds based on past performance is a losing proposition because past performance is no guarantee of future results.

An all-star fund could turn into a dog for a variety of reasons.  Don’t rely only on past performance to make your decisions.

I didn’t know what to pick so I asked my co-worker what he did.

Bob might be a great guy, but he could be a total goofball when it comes to investing.  Sure, he talks a good game, but your needs and goals are different.  Don’t base your investments on someone else.

I figured I’m aggressive so I just went with a more risky stock fund

It’s OK to be aggressive, but using only one or two funds will typically increase your volatility and expose you to greater risk.  You need to diversify the holdings.

2. Not Diversifying Your Investments

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Diversification simply means spreading your money over various types of funds and asset classes (i.e. small, mid, and large sized stocks etc.).

The reason you want to diversify is because we don’t know what will go up or down in any given year.  You can take advantage of rising stars and also soften the blow on investments that are stinking it up.

Check out MSN Money’s Asset Allocator tool, which is a good start if you are unsure what type of allocation to use to diversify your account.

3. Not Knowing Your Risk Tolerance

I want to make big returns in my 401k without much risk

Really?  Let me know when you find something like that because I’d like to use that too!

Of course we all want to make good returns without much risk, but those investments don’t exist – if they do, they are typically too good to be true.  (Can you say – Bernie Madoff?)

You need to understand your risk profile and how that impacts your decision-making with your 401k funds.

For guidance in this area, here are five questions to help determine your risk tolerance.

4. Not Paying Attention to Company Match

 Although the recession has led many companies to forego their 401k matching programs, there are still some who offer some sort of match.

A big mistake often made is not knowing what kind of match the company is offering resulting in leaving free money on the table.

If a company is matching dollar for dollar up to – say five percent, it’s silly to only put in three.  You’re leaving an additional two percent out there that could be matched.

At the very least you should be putting enough into your 401k to take full advantage of any money they are going to give you.

Pay attention to the details of your company’s matching program and by all means take what they are willing to give you!

Reaching retirement is up to you, so make sure you are doing all you can to correct mistakes early so you can reach your goals.

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