Protect Your Retirement Savings Without Your Employer's Help

3. Know your allocation: With less money coming from your employer, there is a smaller margin for error when it comes to investing your own funds. That means you should pay close attention to how you are investing your retirement savings. How much are you investing in stocks? In bonds? In cash?

Take the time to learn about the funds available in your plan. Don't look simply at recent performance. Make sure you know what asset classes each fund represents and how they fit into your asset allocation plan.

Not sure what your asset allocation plan should be? Take a look around the Web for the many asset allocation tools and models published by a variety of investment firms and sites. A classic moderate portfolio consists of 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds.

4. Lower costs: One sure way to make up for lost employer contributions is to lower your investment costs. Cut your annual portfolio costs by 1 percent, and you increase your rate of return by 1 percent.

Your success in cutting expenses will depend upon the funds available in your particular plan. Some 401(k) plans are loaded with lousy, high-fee funds; others feature stellar, low-cost index funds.

Study the expense ratios and 12b-1 fees. In the ideal world, your plan should feature index funds with expense ratios of less than .5 percent and no 12b-1 fees. In reality, that may not be the case. But just remember that studies have shown that funds with lower expenses tend to outperform those with higher expenses.

Other Retirement Savings Options

5. Consider a Roth-type plan: Over the long haul, you can make up for the lost employer contributions by investing in a Roth 401(k) or other Roth-type retirement plan. In recent years, many employers have begun to offer a Roth option under their 401(k) or 403(b) plans. With a Roth plan, there is no tax savings when you contribute, but you pay no taxes in retirement when the money is withdrawn. That can mean a higher income in retirement than if you had contributed to a regular 401(k) plan.

An online calculator from Charles Schwab allows you to easily compare the effects of contributing to a Roth 401(k) versus a regular 401(k).

If your employer does not offer a Roth-type plan, then look to a Roth IRA that you can set up on your own if your income does not exceed certain levels.

6. Set up an SEP: If you do any work as an independent contractor or operate a small side business, then consider setting up an SEP IRA account to shelter some of that income. A SEP IRA will lower the taxes you pay on self-employment income and possibly allow you to set aside even more money than you could with your employer's 401(k) plan.

Your total SEP contribution is tied to the net income generated by the business, but it's possible to direct as much as $49,000 into a SEP IRA this year. If your spouse works in the business, that figure can be doubled. Just be aware if you have any employees, you need to contribute on their behalf as well.

7. Hold them to their promise: Many of the employers now eliminating retirement plan contributions describe the move as temporary until business improves. That may well prove to be true, and within a few years, your employer again may be kicking in 3 percent or more of your salary to your retirement.

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