401(k) plans, 403(b) plans and IRAs are valuable tools for retirement planning. The scripture instructs us that we are to take care of the needs of our family, especially those of our own household (1 Tim. 5:8). When it says “take care of,” I’m told that in the original language it implies “with forethought toward the future.” Thus, proper retirement planning is a part of our Christian responsibility—to take care of the needs of our family with forethought toward the future. And it is a part of good Christian stewardship. Too often people make mistakes in the way they use their plans.
Here are a few:
1. Missing the Match—Many companies provide a percentage of pay in matching retirement contributions. Many employees don’t take advantage of this “free money.” Always contribute enough to get all employer matching.
2. Betting on the Company—If your employer issues company stock for retirement, be careful. No company is immune to problems. If your company collapses so does the value of your retirement. Invest about 5 percent or less of your retirement in your own company.
3. Freezing Contributions—As pay increases be sure to increase personal retirement contributions. Otherwise, inflation erodes your contribution’s value.
4. Cashing Out—If you leave a company, don’t withdraw your money. If necessary, roll it to another retirement plan or IRA. If you take the cash you rob from your retirement—you have to pay tax on the money. If under 59½, you also pay a penalty tax.
5. Misusing Target-Date Funds—Target date funds are can be an excellent way to invest retirement money. People often use a mix of several target date funds or combine them with other plan funds. This can defeat the whole purpose of using these funds.
6. Taking Too Much Risk—This often happens as people get older, using the same higher risk investments that were appropriate in their 30s and 40s. As you get older, your allocation should generally change to a less volatile investment. (Today’s unique economic situation has caused some to rethink this issue. If you’re older, seek professional council about investment choices in light of today’s economy.)
7. Ducking Out—In market declines many people move money out of more aggressive investments. They often miss the market moving back up, as it has always eventually done. They moved out based on fear. Emotional investing decisions are almost always bad decisions. A good investor knows you cannot make short-term decision for long-term money.
8. Treating Your Retirement Plan Like an Island—Don’t make decisions about your plan in isolation. Your retirement investments should fit properly with other savings and investments.
9. Borrowing From Your Future—Avoid borrowing from your retirement plan. While an attractive option for many folks, numerous potential problems exist.
Don Spencer is Kentucky Baptist Convention Church Financial Benefits Consultant