A Beginner’s Guide to 401k Retirement Plans


The 401k came into existence in 1978 and has become a popular employer-sponsored plan for retirement in America. A lot of people depend on what they invested in the plan to fend for themselves during their retirement age. Also, many employers consider the retirement plan as a major advantage of the job.

What’s a 401k?

It is a retirement account that is sponsored by an employer. It allows the employee to set aside a part of their salary before tax deduction to the retirement account. The funds are used to invest in different instruments such as cash, mutual funds, bonds, and stock. 

Also, if you are wondering where this account got its name from, you may want to look up the tax rules. The name was coined from a section of code in the tax rules, subsection 401k. You may want to read this article to learn more about the tax code.

How the 401k Account Works

This plan is usually provided by employers so that their employees can have a dedicated fund for retirement. The employee selects a specific percentage, and it will be deducted automatically from their paycheck and sent to the account. The employee is at liberty to choose an investment area (usually mutual funds, bonds, stocks).

The money an employee invests might be free of tax and the employer may make matching contributions, depending on what the plan entails. If the 401k plan you choose includes any of these advantages, it is advisable to contribute the maximum sum every year or something close to that.

The Advantages of the 401k



The benefits of this account are undisputable because they offer financial security to workers, including the following:

  1. Protection from creditors
  2. Tax breaks
  3. Employer match

Protection from Creditors

In case your finances depreciate, with a 401k, you do not need to bother about your creditors. Your retirement account is secured by the 1974 ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act). Therefore, your creditors can not claim your funds.

Tax Breaks

These are the triple finance crowns. First, your contributions to the account are done before tax deduction. This means that you do not pay tax on the fund until it is withdrawn at retirement. The earliest retirement age is fifty-nine and a half.

Second, the contributions do not count as income. This has a way of placing you within a low tax range. As a result, you will have smaller tax bills to settle while putting money away for the future.

Third, the savings grow as tax-deferred, but in regular investment accounts, dividends and net gains are taxed. In 401k, the money keeps growing tax-free provided it is within the plan. Therefore, your earnings will compound; that is another way of saying that the earnings will start earning you earnings.

Employer Match

Almost everyone likes free money, right? If this sounds like you, then an employer-matched plan is all you need. Most employers offer matching contributions to their employees. It is either fifty cents to a dollar or a dollar for one dollar, up to the limit that the employee sets for the account.

For instance, you make a hundred thousand dollars each year and your company offer fifty percent matching up to your first six percent contribution. This means that you are contributing six percent of your earnings for the year (six thousand dollars) while your company contributes an extra fifty percent of the amount you contributed (three thousand dollars).

You can see how interesting it is. However, it is left for your company to decide on the percentage they want to match. But several companies offer one dollar for a dollar match. You can visit https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-a-401-k-match-2894179 to learn more about the employer match.

Contribution Limits

Whether your account is a Roth or traditional 401k, the highest amount that you can contribute currently is nineteen thousand five hundred dollars. But if you are 50 years and above, you can make extra contributions to catch up. The current amount for this category is six thousand five hundred dollars.

Furthermore, if your company is contributing to your funds, the maximum contribution for both you and your employer is fifty-eight thousand dollars. Also, for people who are 50 years and older, the maximum matching contribution is sixty-four thousand five hundred dollars.

For most employees, the 401k contribution limits are so high that they can defer a substantial amount of their income. However, employees who are highly paid can only defer the first two hundred and ninety dollars of their income. Also, companies can offer plans that are non-qualified like an executive bonus or deferred compensation for highly paid workers.

Investment Options for 401k



Companies that offer this type of retirement account usually provide several options for their employees to invest. Generally, an advisory group from a financial service manages the investment options. The employee is allowed to select one or more classes of investments. They include:

  1. Mutual funds
  2. Index funds
  3. Small and large-cap funds
  4. Foreign funds
  5. Real estate 
  6. Bond funds

Withdrawing Your Funds

The rules of distribution in 401k are different from those of IRAs (individual retirement account). However, in each case, withdrawing your assets early means that your income taxes will become due. Sometimes, you will be charged a tax penalty of ten percent if you are not up to fifty-nine and a half years.

There is no rationale for withdrawing an IRA but triggering events must happen before you can cash out from a 401k. These events are:

The employee terminates the plan.

The employee experienced a particular hardship as stipulated under the investment plan.

The employee is disabled or deceased.

The employee leaves or retires from the job.

 401k and Gold Investment

 One good way to ride on the wave of gold is to directly invest in the commodity. But only a few 401k plans allow investors to directly invest in the gold bullion. As a matter of fact, most 401k plans do not allow people to invest directly in precious metals. 

This means that you cannot add gold coins or gold bullion to the portfolio of a retirement plan. However, you don’t have to be disappointed; here is how to do it if you are eager to invest in gold in your 401k account. Also, you can consider investing via ETFs (exchange-traded funds) or mutual funds.


Planning for your retirement is a wise choice and employers are helping the workforce to make things easier. With a 401k account, you can set aside some of your income and allow it to yield more earnings for you. We discussed the benefits of this account, contribution limits, investment options, fund withdrawal, and gold investment. We hope that you found this guide useful.