A new study from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that most Latinas will live an average of 83 years. That’s great news until you start thinking about how you’ll live once you stop working. According to the Ariel/Aon Hewitt Study 2012, Hispanics have considerably less—35% less—money invested than Asian-Americans and Whites. I’ve heard Latinas tell me that the number one reason they don’t actively invest for retirement is that they don’t understand how to do it.
So, here are a few quick facts about the most common way to invest—with your company’s 401(k) plan.
WHAT THEY ARE
A 401(k) is a retirement planning option that, at most jobs, has taken the place of pensions. The role of a 401(k) is to invest your money (or “contribution”) in the stock market in hopes that you’ll have enough money to retire on when the time comes.
In 2011, a new plan was rolled out to automatically enroll new employees in their companies’ 401(k) plans. This means that unless you understand how 401(k) plans work and what to do with them, you might end up with several different plans by the time you retire. If you’re already taking part in a 401(k) plan, the Labor Department has new rules requiring that each participant must receive a statement with a clear breakdown of what you have invested and how much you pay in fees. With these changes, things are looking up for individual investors, so we’d better take advantage of all the potential benefits.
Read Related: 6 Steps To Creating A Foundation For Wealth
WHY THE “MATCH” IS IMPORTANT
Many employers have a match option with their 401(k). That means that your company will give you a specific amount to match the money that you’ve contributed. Every company does this a little bit differently, but a common way of doing it is for the company to contribute 50% of what you put in until you’ve contributed 6% of your yearly salary. For example, if you put in $100 from every paycheck your employer will add $50. If you make $40,000 a year then your employer will contribute up to $2,400 for you per year. The catch is that if you don’t contribute anything, then your employer doesn’t contribute anything either. To get the full match from our example, you’d have to contribute at least $4,800 and your employer would contribute $2,400. If we assume that you contribute for 20 years and that your investments return an average of 9% (which is pretty conservative), then you’d have accumulated a little more than $400,000 in only 20 years! The best part? You’ll only have put in $96,000! The rest came from your employer’s contributions and the compound interest that all of that combined money earned. You put in less than $100,000 and get back four times as much. Not bad.
WHEN YOU LEAVE A JOB
You have four choices when you leave your job:
1. Take the money out. You’ll get your cash…as well as penalties and fees. It’s the worst option.
2. Leave the money where it is. Some jobs require that you take your money and leave the plan when you leave your job; others don’t. You also probably won’t be able to add any more money to that 401(k), meaning that you could end up with multiple 401(k)s from different jobs. This option has many potential outcomes.
3. Send the money to your new job’s plan. Usually, but not always, your current job’s retirement plan can send your funds to your new job’s retirement plan. This could be a good option depending on the ins and outs of each plan.
4. Roll the money over into an IRA. This is a really common option that avoids penalties and fees, but it scares people to death. It can be a really good option, but so much depends on your specific situation.
For any of the above options, consult a fee-only advisor before you make any decisions.
None of this financial planning sounds easy, but it’s not as complicated as you may think. Make sure that you talk with a fee-only advisor if you have any questions. A one-hour session may cost you anywhere from $150 to $300, but you know the information you receive won’t be biased. The advisor can answer any questions you have and help you create a plan. After all, with Latinas living longer, retirement plans are a must.