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3 Problems With 401(k)s You Should Know About

Many workers save for retirement in a 401(k). If you have access to one of these savings plans through your employer, it could pay to take advantage of it. Not only do 401(k) plans come with generous contribution limits, but many companies have matching programs that allow workers to receive free money toward retirement in their accounts.

But if you're intent on building a solid nest egg for your senior years, you may not want to bank solely on your 401(k). Here are a few problems with this popular savings option.

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1. Investment choices can be limited

When you open an IRA, you get the option to handpick individual stocks for your portfolio. But 401(k)s don't let you do that. Instead, you're generally limited to different types of funds, and the individual companies they invest in are companies you don't get a say in.

Also, while some 401(k)s offer several dozen funds to choose from, other plans may have a more limited selection. The result? You might struggle to put together a mix of investments that aligns with your risk tolerance and goals.

2. Fees can be high

Those glossy handouts you get from your 401(k) administrator? You're paying for those in the form of fees. And those administrative fees can eat away at your savings needlessly.

Furthermore, choosing the wrong 401(k) funds could result in hefty fees that dig into your investment returns. You can avoid those expensive fees, though, by investing in index funds.

Because index funds are passively managed, they don't have to employ fund managers to handpick investments. So index funds are able to keep their fees down, which benefits you.

Another thing you should know about index funds is that they're often able to match the performance of their actively managed counterparts. Better yet, index funds often outperform actively managed funds, so going heavy on them doesn't have to mean lower returns.

3. Vesting schedules can stop you from getting your match

You may be motivated to fund your 401(k) knowing you're in line for a company match. But not so fast.

Some companies impose a 401(k) vesting schedule where you're not entitled to your employer contributions (or at least not all of them) for a certain period of time. If you leave the company before you're fully vested, you risk losing that money.

Other options for your money

There's nothing wrong with funding a 401(k), but given these drawbacks, you may want to spread your money around a bit. In this regard, you have options.

You can open an IRA and get more choices for investing your money. You can also, if you're eligible, put money into a health savings account (HSA).

HSAs allow you to invest the money you aren't using for immediate healthcare costs and enjoy tax-free gains in your account. And because HSA funds never expire, you can sock away money during your working years to cover your healthcare costs during retirement.

Of course, some 401(k)s are better than others. But if your 401(k) is lousy, it definitely pays to explore your options outside of that employer plan.

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