Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A 401k Match is part of your compensation

Throughout our careers we have always saved a little from each paycheck towards retirement, mainly using our company sponsored 401(k) plans. Having studied Finance in college, I knew the importance of starting to save as soon as possible, but didn't really have much to save until I graduated and started working.

When choosing which type of account to use when investing for retirement, companies will often provide an incentive to do so by matching employee contributions to the company sponsored 401(k). We've been fortunate to have had employers with some very good matching programs and have always taken full advantage of the match.

While searching for jobs coming out of college, whether the company had a good 401(k) honestly wasn't that big of a factor for me in evaluating a job offer. I mainly just wanted to get a job, and frankly was just lucky that the job I got had a much better retirement savings plan that other companies that friends and family members work for.

The young me wouldn't have thought to ask for details about a 401(k) program before joining a company, but now I would never accept a job offer without knowing all the details about the company 401(k). At the end of the day, I know that I'll always contribute enough to get the match - so it's really part of my compensation. I don't know anyone who would accept a job not knowing the salary, and this is all part of that discussion.

Growing up my parents were either self-employed or worked for small businesses, so I wasn't as familiar with things like 401(k) matching programs. What I've learned as I've now worked for a few large companies is that finding a good match isn't as hard as I would have thought. Where it can be difficult though, is if you work for a small company as it is harder for them to offer costly perks

You can go to sites out like Brightscope to search for a company to get high-level stats on their 401(k) program, but it won't get you the specifics of the match. To give a sense for what we've seen throughout our careers, here are some details on plans we have participated in:

Company Employee Contribution Company Match Company Contribution
Job 1 5% 5% 0%
Job 2 6% 6% 10%
Job 3 7% 7% 10%
Job 4 5% 5% 5%
Job 5 5% 5% 2%

As you can see, we've been fortunate to always have a company match at least equal to what we put in. I've seen friends with as low as 25% match up to 4% (i.e. if he put in 4%, the company would put in 1%), and some with no matching whatsoever. We've never had a match less than dollar for dollar, and in all but one instance have had our company put money into our 401(k) even if we didn't put in anything.

Recently there have been companies making headlines for eliminating their 401k matching programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake, this is a pay cut. It may not feel like it right away, but it is. Hopefully these things come back quickly. If this does happen to you, go see what this does to your long-term retirement plan using something like the free tools on Personal Capital. At least half of our portfolio is directly attributable to 401(k) matching, so cutting this would have huge long-term consequences.

If you happen to find yourself looking for a new job, be sure to know the details of the 401(k) program and factor that into your total compensation when evaluating an offer.

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