7 Common Mistakes People Make with Their 401k Plans

Planning for retirement can be daunting, but a 401k plan is one of the most effective ways to ensure a comfortable financial future. However, many people make common mistakes with their 401k plans that can significantly impact their retirement savings. Here, we explore seven of these mistakes and provide tips on how to avoid them.

1. Not Contributing Enough

One of the most significant mistakes people make with their 401k plans is not contributing enough. Many employers offer a match on contributions up to a certain percentage of your salary. If you’re not contributing at least enough to get the full employer match, you’re essentially leaving free money on the table.

Tip: Aim to contribute at least the amount required to get the full employer match. If possible, try to increase your contribution rate each year or whenever you receive a raise.

2. Starting Too Late

Another common mistake is delaying contributions to a 401k plan. The power of compounding interest means that the earlier you start saving, the more your money can grow over time. Starting late means you miss out on years of potential growth.

Tip: Begin contributing to your 401k as soon as you are eligible. Even if you can only afford a small amount initially, starting early can have a significant impact on your retirement savings.

3. Not Diversifying Investments

Putting all your 401k contributions into a single investment option, such as your employer’s stock, can be risky. Lack of diversification can expose your retirement savings to significant risk if that particular investment performs poorly.

Tip: Diversify your investments within your 401k plan. Consider a mix of stocks, bonds, and other investment options to spread risk. Many plans offer target-date funds, which automatically adjust the asset allocation as you approach retirement.

4. Ignoring Fees

401k plans come with various fees that can eat into your returns. These fees can include administrative fees, investment management fees, and individual service fees. Over time, high fees can significantly reduce the amount of money you accumulate for retirement.

Tip: Review the fee structure of your 401k plan. Opt for low-cost investment options, such as index funds, and be mindful of any additional fees associated with your account.

5. Borrowing from Your 401k

While it may be tempting to borrow from your 401k plan for immediate financial needs, this can be a costly mistake. Borrowing from your 401k reduces the amount of money growing for your retirement and may come with repayment terms and penalties if you leave your job before repaying the loan.

Tip: Avoid borrowing from your 401k unless it is an absolute emergency. Explore other sources of funding first, such as personal loans or home equity lines of credit, which may have better terms.

6. Failing to Adjust Contributions and Investments

Life changes, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or a salary increase, should prompt a review of your 401k contributions and investment strategy. Failing to adjust your plan to reflect these changes can result in missed opportunities for growth.

Tip: Regularly review your 401k plan and adjust your contributions and investment strategy as needed. Aim to increase your contributions over time, especially when you receive a raise or bonus.

7. Cashing Out When Changing Jobs

When changing jobs, some people make the mistake of cashing out their 401k plan instead of rolling it over into a new employer’s plan or an individual retirement account (IRA). Cashing out can result in significant taxes and penalties, reducing your retirement savings.

Tip: When changing jobs, consider rolling over your 401k plan into your new employer’s plan or an IRA. This allows your money to continue growing tax-deferred and avoids penalties and taxes associated with cashing out.


Avoiding these common mistakes can help you maximize the benefits of your 401k plan and ensure a more secure financial future. By contributing enough to get the full employer match, starting early, diversifying your investments, being mindful of fees, avoiding loans, adjusting your contributions and investments, and rolling over your plan when changing jobs, you can make the most of your 401k and build a solid foundation for retirement.

A successful retirement plan requires diligence, planning, and regular review. Taking the time to understand your 401k plan and making informed decisions can significantly enhance your financial well-being in retirement. Don’t let these common mistakes derail your retirement goals; take control of your 401k today and set yourself up for a financially secure future.

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