A 401(k) is a great retirement account because investing in it is easy. You should be able to set up automatic contributions from your paycheck with your employer so putting money away for retirement requires virtually no effort at all.
But if you want to make the most of your 401(k), there are a few simple things you can do to maximize its value. Here are four of them.
1. Claim the Saver's Credit if you can
The Saver's Credit provides a tax credit of up to 50% of 401(k) contributions up to a maximum of $2,000 in contributions for single tax filers and $4,000 for married joint filers. Your income determines if you are eligible and how much your credit is worth.
If you qualify, this credit could be worth up to $1,000 for a single person and up to $2,000 for married couples. A tax credit reduces your tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis so is far more valuable than a deduction. If you would have owed $2,000 in taxes and you qualify for the full $2,000 credit, you bring your IRS bill to $0.
2. Take full advantage of your employer match if you have one
An employer match offers you the chance to effortlessly increase the money invested in your 401(k).
See, companies often match a specific percentage of contributions, such as 50% or 100% of the amount you invest. You can usually earn this match up to a certain percentage of your salary, such as 4% or 6%.
It's always a good idea to invest enough to max out your match so you don't pass up any free help your company gives to save for the future.
3. Direct your raises into your 401(k)
When you get a raise, you likely don't really need the extra money in your paycheck immediately since you're used to living on your current income. So, don't give yourself a chance to become reliant on it. Instead, if you get a raise, increase your 401(k) contributions accordingly. That would mean a 2% raise would lead to a 2% contribution increase.
This approach allows you to increase the percentage of income invested over time without requiring any immediate lifestyle changes. Keep doing this until you're saving around 15% to 20% of monthly income and you'll be in great shape for the future.
4. Pick your investments carefully
You probably have a limited number of investment choices, as most 401(k)s allow you to invest in a limited range of exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, or target date funds. But that doesn't mean it's not important to carefully consider the options available to you.
Specifically, focus on making sure you're keeping investment fees to a minimum as these costs can eat away at your returns. And make certain you're exposed to the right level of risk. This calculation changes as you get older, but you never want to be too conservative or too aggressive because either approach could end up leaving you short of the money you need.
By banking your raises, taking advantage of a 401(k) match, claiming tax credits available to you, and choosing your investments carefully, hopefully you can ensure your 401(k) balance grows to a healthy amount that can comfortably support you in your later years.
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