I have no doubt that you're very busy. You probably have a number of investments you try to monitor daily. One of the things you liked about your 401k was relative freedom from ongoing involvement with its management. Yet we are talking about a part of your financial future. You need to make sure the plan is working as hard as possible for you.
Here are a few simple steps to take to customize your 401k to ensure it performs according to the long-term goals of your overall financial plan:
Align your 401k with your retirement goals
Multiple factors drive the amounts you invest and the types of investments you chose. These include your age, the amount you have already accumulated in all retirement instruments, and how long it will be before you retire. As always, you should balance riskier options (with potentially high returns) with conservative choices that will grow slowly (but hopefully not lose money).
Maximize the tax shelter afforded by the 401k
While your 401k is probably not your only tax shelter, it is a significant one. You want to use this shelter for as much of your income as you can afford to contribute – but not if it limits your ability to invest in options that will give you a better rate of return.
Take full advantage of your employer's match
Any way you want to look at it, this is free money (where else can you get a 100% return on your investment?!). Every employer has its own rules as to how the match is provided. You may want to contribute more than the amount the employer will match, but whatever you do – find a way to at least get your employer's full match.
Periodically re-evaluate your investment choices
You have heard this before. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. When you selected the funds within your 401k, you likely based your decision on fund makeup and solid performance history. After you have held your funds for a while, you will want to review their returns to determine whether they are continuing to perform as predicted. If they are not performing, exchange them for funds that are faring better. Customize your 401k plan to generate income efficiently.
Adjust your investments based on major market shifts
During shaky economic times, some investors shift investments into a money market fund for stability. However, the rate of return is so low that you can actually lose money if you keep your money there too long – due to not keeping pace with inflation. Additionally, fees associated with the fund may exceed the return on investment, putting your account in a loss position. Stick with your chosen strategy, and don't change your long-term approach based on short-term market fluctuations.
The thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to 401k plans, one size does not fit all. Investments made by one person are not appropriate for another. Most plans offer a tremendous amount of flexibility when it comes to managing your account. It is important that you take advantage of that flexibility to customize your 401k investments to help secure your financial future.
If you use the services of a financial advisor, be sure to share the features and options of your plan with him or her to ensure that you make the most of the financial opportunities in your retirement plan.