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How Much Risk Is In Your 401(k)?

How Much Risk Is In Your 401(k)?

May 08, 2019
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If it came down to it, many of us would probably choose to minimize the amount of risk in our life. We don’t want our kids to get hurt, be in a car accident, or deal with house repairs gone wrong. But life is full of risk, and if you don’t take some risks, you may never see the rewards. Take your retirement savings, for example. If you only invest in low-interest savings accounts like certificates of deposit because you are afraid of losing money in the next market downfall, you will lose out on the growth you need to reach your retirement income needs decades later.

While you shouldn’t spend your life worrying about the unexpected things that you can’t control, one area of risk you should be intentional about is your financial future, specifically the risk in your 401(k). We frequently hear about how important and necessary a 401(k) plan is for retirement, but with such a beneficial investment opportunity comes inherent risks, from choosing appropriate funds to understanding hidden fees. When was the last time you analyzed your 401(k), or even logged into your account? Do you know how much risk is in your 401(k)?

What Makes A 401(k) Unique?

A 401(k) plays a specialized role in your financial planning and is different from other accounts in a few ways. First, you likely receive your 401(k) from an employer who may match contributions, encouraging you to contribute a larger percentage of your income. You can also choose how and where your money is invested. Your contributions are made on an after-tax basis and, at the maximum, you and your employer can contribute jointly up to $56,000 (for 2019) or $62,000 for those aged 50 or older.

However, a 401(k) does require maintenance. Your company provides a way for you to save for retirement, which is great, but their job is not to help you manage the risk in your account or give investment advice or insight into fees you may not be aware of.

So what can you do to ensure your 401(k) is working hard for your financial future and isn’t carrying too much risk?

How To Avoid 401(k) Risks

Let’s look at a few risks 401(k)s are susceptible to and ways you can avoid them.

Improper Allocation

401(k) values typically rise and fall with the stock market, meaning they don’t offer protection from losses. If the stock market does well, so does your 401(k). But if it drops, so will your retirement account, no matter how soon you need the money. The key to avoiding this risk is to maintain the proper asset allocation for your risk tolerance level. Examine the investment options offered by your company and choose the ones at your risk level, being sure to diversify your choices accordingly.

Setting Autopilot

Most companies enroll their employees at a 3% contribution rate, but 3% will not get you to your retirement goals. Likewise, many plans choose allocations for you, but are those really the best choices for your situation? Because of the many decisions that come with starting and managing your 401(k) account, many people employ a “set it and forget it” method, neglecting to review its progress and regularly rebalance. In fact, 25% of workers with a 401(k) have never made adjustments to their account. (1) In a matter of a few years, those who neglect their 401(k) may realize that their account no longer reflects their risk tolerance, time horizon, and needs. Take the time to create a 401(k) strategy, check in with your account to rebalance, and increase your contribution rate as your financial situation allows.

Relying On Company Stock

If you have the option to purchase employer stock, be sure to exercise caution. Do you really want so much of your financial well-being tied up in one company? This is important because if your company performs poorly, it will depress the stock price and could lead to layoffs as well. There goes your portfolio, your income, and your health insurance all at once. Sadly, many people have experienced this. Back in 1999 when Enron filed for bankruptcy, more than $1 billion in employee retirement savings simply evaporated. Many Lehman Brothers employees experienced the same thing as well. (2)

Ignoring Fees

According to a survey commissioned by retirement investment advisory firm Rebalance IRA, nearly half of investors don’t think they pay any fees in their retirement accounts, and 19% believe their fees are less than 0.5%. (3) But the reality is, you are likely paying closer to 2% or 3%. Depending on the account and company, mutual fund fees can be staggering and consume a large chunk of your gains. On top of that, there are many undisclosed costs (such as transaction fees, bookkeeping fees, finder’s fees, etc.) that eat away further at your retirement dollars. By choosing investments with lower fees, you may be able to achieve higher returns.

Lack Of Investment Guidance

The average 401(k) plan offers 21 investment choices. (4) While options are good, sometimes too many can confuse and overwhelm investors. Without sufficient investment knowledge, employees may choose a little of each and end up with a portfolio that isn’t diversified or appropriately aligned with individual needs.

Get Your 401(k) On Track

The question is, do you really know if your 401(k) is on track to get you to your retirement goals? It might be the case that your strategies need some adjusting. You work hard to save for retirement, and now is not the time to be passive about protecting your nest egg.

At ClearVista Financial, we strive to help people find financial balance in their lives, and that includes balancing the amount of risk you need to take to reach your goals. Let us help you create a retirement strategy that can get you where you want to go when you want to get there. We can help you understand how your employee retirement plan works, how to optimize benefits, and coordinate your plans with your other retirement and investment strategies. To get your 401(k) on track, email me at, call 800-491-4508, or book your free introductory meeting online!

About ClearVista Financial

ClearVista Financial is a faith-based independent financial services firm providing financial planning and retirement planning to pre-retirees and 401(k) plan participants. Founded by Mark Trice, ClearVista strives to help people find financial balance in their lives and spend their lives well. As a Certified Kingdom Advisor (CKA®) advisor, Mark provides professional guidance while also incorporating biblically-based financial management truths into ClearVista’s financial advisory practice. ClearVista Financial has offices in Austin, Brownwood, Temple, Houston, and Waco, Texas. Along with serving clients in Texas, the team also works with individuals in Arizona, California, Colorado, Missouri, West Virginia, and Virginia. To learn more, visit or connect with us on LinkedIn.