Skip to Content

Your 401(k) Plan Guide

These employer-sponsored savings vehicles may not be ideal, but they can still help millions of Americans secure their retirements.

Employer-sponsored 401(k) plans are the retirement savings vehicle of choice for millions of Americans. They allow us to squirrel away pretax dollars for our golden years--and we do so automatically, without even thinking about it. In some cases, our employers contribute to our 401(k) kitties, too, via a company match. What could be better?

As it turns out, a lot could be better. To its credit, the industry has addressed some of the challenges that’ve dogged 401(k) plans--namely, lack of participation and overwhelming investment choice.

“Automatic-enrollment programs, default investments, and auto-escalation features have improved the early versions of plans,” observes Morningstar’s John Rekenthaler.

But many agree that the 401(k) system, in its current form, has significant limitations.

“Small businesses often do not offer 401(k) plans, and companies of all sizes struggle with account leakage--assets that employees withdraw before they retire,” says Rekenthaler.

Plenty of respected voices (including Morningstar’s Rekenthaler and director of policy research Aron Szapiro) have bold ideas for improving the existing system or changing it outright.

In this special report, we address how to make the most of 401(k) plans today. We offer tips for how to invest in your plan and what to do if your plan is sub-optimal. We discuss what alternatives you have for retirement saving if you don’t have access to a 401(k) plan. And we share some ideas for how to reform the retirement savings system over time, too.

100 Must-Know Statistics About 401(k) Plans The costs of participating in company retirement plans have come way down, but investors in small plans pay far more than large-plan investors. What Should I Do If I Don't Have a 401(k)? Evaluating the best options for tax-efficient--and automatic--savings outside of a company retirement plan. A Checklist for Lobbying for a Better 401(k) Follow these steps to benchmark how and where your plans fall short.

Five (Easy) Steps to Setting Up a 401(k) Cross this big to-do off your list by following these easy guidelines.

FAQs on 401(k)s The skinny on Roth versus traditional contributions, early withdrawals, loans, and more.

What Does It Take to Have a $1 Million 401(k)? Saving a considerable amount for retirement might not be as hard as you think.

5 Questions to Ask When Taking a Hands-On Approach to Your 401(k) Selecting your own investments? Here's what to know before you start.

Is It Ever a Good Idea to Hold Company Stock in a 401(k)? Even if you earn your match in company shares, it doesn't mean you have to stick around.

Private Equity in 401(k) Plans: More Smoke Than Fire The reality is tamer than the headlines suggest.

401(k)s Have Reached Their Expiration Date The plans are as good as they can be under the current framework--and that's not good enough.

The New American Retirement Plan The time is right, even if the politicians aren't yet ready.

Replacing 401(k) Plans: Further Thoughts Ensuring that the plane can stay aloft.

With 401(k) Plans, What You Don't Know Can Hurt You The silent damage caused by revenue-sharing agreements.

Reforming the U.S. 401(k) System Morningstar’s director of policy research offers some reflections on the state of affairs.

The author or authors do not own shares in any securities mentioned in this article. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.

More on this Topic