Why Automating Your 401(k) is Easier Than You Think

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We why and how you may want to consider automating your retirement savings.

I am a big fan of automation. Maybe I watched the Jetsons too much when I was young? It’s not because I’m lazy, honest. But I love having freshly brewed coffee ready in the morning and how the Golden Gate Bridge automatically subtracts money from my account when I drive through (I love the ease of it all, less so the money coming out of my account). My thermostat knows when I’m home and turns up the heat and my security system disarms when it senses I’m home. Life is easy. I never want to go back to the old days before ‘keyless go’ or ‘pay-by-phone’!

But not everyone has embraced automation. For example, many 401(k) investors have failed to sign up for automation in their 401(k). Do they like rebalancing their accounts? Do they really think that their risk level can stay the same year after year?

Maybe they’re unaware that their 401(k) can be automated. Well, let me give you some great news. If you like automation, you should check out these features that many 401(k) plans offer.

Four Features 401(k) Plans Offer

1. Automatic withholding

OK, so you knew about this already, but step back for a second and acknowledge the convenience. Many other modes of saving require regular action on your part to contribute funds. Not the 401(k). If you wouldn’t save money on a methodical basis otherwise, stop and be thankful for automatic contributions.

2. Auto escalation

This is a feature that many plans have now where your contribution level can be automatically increased every year. Most plans require that you request this feature, but once elected, auto escalation can increase your contribution each year until you hit a plan-defined maximum.

3. Target date investments

If you’d like to automate your entire investment strategy, target date funds will do this handily. Just choose a fund based on your expected retirement year, and the fund managers will adjust the portfolio on a regular basis to try to maximize the fund’s return based on an age appropriate level of risk.

4. Retirement investing

Many savings plan participants fall victim to the belief that they have to take their money out of their savings plan when they retire. But for an increasing number of plans, this isn’t the case. Many plans want you to stay in the plan, which can be much more cost effective than holding investments outside the plan. And the target date fund you’ve invested in (you move fast, so have already followed my 3rd step above!) has an investment mix for the retirement years that has been constructed specifically to seek the investment needs of participants who elect to stay.

There are other forms of automation within many plans that space precludes from covering in this article, such as an auto-rebalancing feature that some plans use to bring your portfolio back to a set mix. And fans of automation should consider some ideas outside of the 401(k) that can make life much easier, such as annuities, which can automate income in retirement.

Much like autopilots, automation in the 401(k) needs regular oversight. You can’t just ‘set it and forget it’—participants need to check their overall savings strategy on a regular basis to see if an occasional course correction is required.

New technologies are bringing automation to many aspects of financial services. Within our savings plans, automating contribution increases and the investment process can have a very positive impact on our savings success, helping you to close the retirement savings gap.



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