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Maxing out your 401(k) might not be enough to have a secure retirement

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 7/25/2018 Alessandra Malito

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Saving for retirement in a 401(k) plan is a great choice. But socking money away and hoping for the best isn’t actually a strategy. A better idea is to have a financial plan to accompany that account.

At least, that’s what Fidelity Investments suggests. The Boston-based financial firm has created a new feature for employers to incorporate into their managed account products for 401(k) and 403(b) plans. The new service, known as Fidelity Personalized Planning & Advice, will have professionals manage the account and create a personalized plan that takes retirement and other goals — such as a down payment for a home or paying for college — into consideration.

“The world is getting more complex,” said Sangeeta Moorjani, head of workplace investing product, marketing and advice for Fidelity. “We learned a lot about the trade-offs people have to make, like student loans or needing an emergency savings account.” Companies pay for the upgrade, though they may pass on some of that cost to consumers, she said.

See: A simple change to your 401(k) statement could encourage you to save more for retirement

Managed accounts are, as the name suggests, managed by professionals or in some cases an automated investment platform, which picks the asset allocation of the portfolio and charges a fee to do so. The cost varies by plan provider, The Wall Street Journal reported, and is sometimes not worth the extra expense — managed accounts don’t necessarily mean better returns. Traditionally, 401(k) plans use target-date funds, which are passively managed portfolios targeted to a certain year, usually the one the employee will retire in. That way, over time the asset allocation of the portfolio shifts from risky to more conservative. How else do these plans differ? Managed accounts usually take into consideration personal risk tolerance and savings ratios, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, and cost 0.10% to 0.80% more than target-date funds.

Sometimes, plan participants need help though, which is what Fidelity found. According to a recent survey, 77% of people said they would like to run their financial decisions by an expert, and 70% of those who did reach out to an expert felt more confident in their decisions.

Although 401(k) plans have become common among employers offering retirement plans (though only 14% of U.S. employers do, and they’re primarily larger companies), employees tend to want more financial education around what they’re being offered and how to make the most of it, according to a Prudential Financial study. A majority of employees (86%) said they wanted help with retirement planning and savings, 83% said they wanted assistance establishing emergency savings and 78% said they’d like help creating or managing a budget, the survey found.

When employers offer financial education to their employees, they’re more likely to make better financial decisions and maintain better habits, according to the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. According to its study, participants with access to an online financial program in the workplace increased their contributions to retirement accounts by an average of 40%.

Also see: Save $1,000 a year, retire with millions

Having a financial plan alongside a 401(k) can make a huge difference in how much that person will end up with when it’s time to retire, advisers said. “Just putting money blindly into a 401(k) is not a recipe for success,” said Thomas Balcom, founder of 1650 Wealth Management in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla. The plan should consider inflation, taxes and unexpected expenses, said David Bize, a financial adviser at First Allied in Oklahoma City, Okla. “It doesn’t have to be fancy,” he said.

Aside from potentially miscalculating financial needs in retirement, there’s one more risk to simply stashing away money in a 401(k) without looking at it every once in a while or speaking with an adviser about it, said Karen Van Voorhis, a financial adviser at SW Advisors in Newton, Mass.

“In my experience, having a 401(k) plan and contributing to it usually lulls people into a false sense of security,” she said.

Alessandra Malito is a personal finance reporter based in New York. You can follow her on Twitter @malito_ali.

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