11-14-2019 Columns

Take greater control of your 401(k)

If your employer offers a 401(k) or similar plan, you’ve got a powerful retirement-savings tool at your disposal. And yet, how well you do with your 401(k) depends greatly on your choices and actions. What steps can you take to maximize the benefits of your plan? For starters, be aware that your 401(k) may come with what might be called “standard” features, which you should review to determine their applicability to your situation. These features include the following: Default deferral rate – When you take a job, your employer may automatically enroll you in the company’s 401(k) plan and assign a “default” contribution rate – the percentage of your salary you will put in to your 401(k). Many companies choose a default rate of 3 percent, although, in recent years, there has been a move toward higher rates, even up to 6 percent. Unfortunately, too many people don’t question their default rate, which could be a problem, especially if it’s at the lower end. If you want your 401(k) to ultimately provide you with as many financial resources as possible, you will likely need to contribute as much as you can afford. So, be aware of your default rate, and, if you can possibly afford it, increase that level. And every time your salary goes up, consider boosting your contributions. Investment mix – When you’re automatically enrolled in your 401(k), the amount you might initially contribute isn’t the only “off the shelf” feature – you also might be assigned a default investment option. One common default investment is known as a target-date fund, which generally includes a mix of stocks, bonds and cash instruments. Your 401(k) plan provider, or your human resources area, will typically base this mix on your age and projected retirement date. Usually, this fund will grow more conservative over time, reflecting the need to reduce the portfolio’s risk as you get nearer to retirement. However, you may not be obligated to stick with the default option. Most 401(k) plans usually offer several options from which to choose. Ideally, you’d want to spread your investment dollars among a mix of these investments to give yourself the greatest growth potential, given your risk tolerance and time horizon. And always keep in mind that your 401(k) is a long-term vehicle, designed to help you prepare for a retirement that may be decades away. Consequently, try to discipline yourself to look past the inevitable short-term drops in your portfolio. Matching contributions – If your employer offers a 401(k) matching contribution, you should certainly take advantage of it. Consider this: If your employer matches 50 cents for every dollar you contribute, up to 6 percent of your pay, and you contribute the full 6 percent, you would, in effect, be receiving a 3 percent pay raise (50 percent of 6 percent). That’s like a 50 percent rate of return even before you invest this added money. Taking control of your 401(k) in the ways described above can help go a long way toward getting the most from your plan – and, as a result, may help get you closer to supporting the retirement lifestyle you’ve envisioned. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Shop locally this Christmas season

If you are like me, you have most likely already seen advertisements from online retailers for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. According to the Michigan Retailers Association, in 2017, Michigan residents spent $18.5 billion on items from out-of-state retailers. The group argued that, if residents switched just one out of every 10 purchases from an online seller to a Michigan retailer, the state’s economy would grow by $1.2 billion and nearly 10,600 jobs would be created. With these big sales seemingly beginning earlier and earlier each year, I have to wonder if the trend toward shopping local is having an impact. It should be. Locally-owned small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities, creating many of our state’s jobs and helping fuel a vibrant economy. Our state’s retail industry directly supports 116,000 stores, employs about 877,000 workers and pays $21.6 billion in wages each year. Indirectly, with various supports like custodial services, security firms, financial planning, and so forth, the industry’s impact is even larger. While you may not always find the cheapest price compared to a faceless online seller, you will encounter friendly, knowledgeable people who are happy to help. Shopping locally will also help foster a better sense of community that seems to be getting lost with so much of our lives lived through phone screens. As you think about your upcoming Christmas season shopping, consider shopping locally – the many shops, restaurants and other local establishments help make Southwest Michigan a great place to live. As always, residents can contact my office with any state or local issues by calling (517) 373-6960 or emailing