According to a recent survey, 16.1 percent of organizations have suspended matching employer contributions due to financial hardships caused by COVID-19. Worse yet, 1.3 percent of businesses have terminated their 401(k) plans altogether.1 401(k) plans and their matching employer contributions are relied on by millions of Americans to bolster their savings for retirement. If your employer has recently made an adjustment to its 401(k) offerings, you may want to consider how this could impact your future retirement and the next steps you should be taking.
Why Are Employers Changing Their 401(k) Plans?
COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on businesses throughout the globe. With most states implementing stay-at-home orders, businesses have been forced to reduce hours or cease operation altogether. As Americans were encouraged to stay home throughout March, April and May, foot traffic all but vanished across America for months.
Even though some states have begun relaxing measures and stores are starting to open back up, America remains suspended in a fairly volatile market. People are worried about what the future will look like. Many of them are strapped for cash and not willing to spend like they used to. In return, businesses are suffering and searching for ways to save. Unfortunately, one of the first things to go is often employer-sponsored benefits such as 401(k) plans or their matching contributions.
Is it Legal for an Employer to Suspend Matching Contributions?
In most cases, it is legal for an employer to suspend matching 401(k) contributions. While it may have been an enticing addition to your benefits package upon your hiring, employers do have the power to simply stop offering this benefit. The most important thing an employer can do in this instance is to effectively communicate with employees who will be affected by the change. For example, explaining that cutting these benefits is their solution to avoiding layoffs will likely make employees more understanding and receptive to the change.
If your employer doesn’t provide you with an explanation or any idea of if/when contributions will start up again, speak to your manager or HR department. If your employer offers contribution matches to a safe harbor 401(k) plan, they must offer notice to employees 30 to 90 days in advance of suspending contributions.2
What Should You Do if Your Matching Contributions Are Suspended?
In the case that your employer does suspend matching contributions, there are a few next steps you can take to help maintain and grow your retirement savings.
Having an employer suspend matching contributions, even if it’s only temporary, is a sign of the times. We’re facing a global pandemic, the stock market’s unpredictable and people are worried about money. If you have been personally impacted by the coronavirus, you can even withdraw up to $100,000 penalty-free as part of the recently passed CARES Act,3 although this should only be done if you are in dire need of financial assistance. Withdrawing any amount from your 401(k) now will only rob your future retirement.
If you have questions regarding your company 401(k), please reach out to your financial advisor. Your advisor’s sole responsibility is to help you make unbiased, educated and objective decisions about your money. Use him or her as a sounding board to voice your concerns and discuss potential paths forward. How will you make up for the missing contributions? What financial impact will this change have on your future retirement? The market is volatile and economic confidence is low amongst investors. If you haven’t already, use this as an opportunity to reevaluate your current asset allocations and investment strategies. You likely have plenty of questions regarding any changes to your 401(k) and other investments and your advisor may be able to help you identify potential areas for improvement based on your current tolerance for risk.
Even if your employer has slashed matching contributions, that doesn’t mean you still can’t contribute to your 401(k). If you have the means to do so, consider upping your contributions, for now at least, to help offset the loss of any missing contribution matches. The contribution limit for a 401(k) increased in 2020 to $19,500. If you’re over 50, you’re allowed to contribute an additional $6,500 in catch-up contributions.4
In these challenging times, you are not alone if you find yourself working for a company that has suspended its 401(k) matching contributions. Hopefully, these changes are just temporary, but it is necessary to plan accordingly for what is happening in the present. Every penny counts when it comes to preparing for retirement and it is important to know how these 401(k) changes will affect your future savings. If you have any questions about the impact this may have on your future retirement earnings and what you should be doing right now to make up for any lost funds, please contact us. We are here to help!