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Changing your company's 401(k) plan

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Include your boss in these conversations. He or she is probably putting money into a 401(k) that would also reap benefits if the plan were improved. Having your boss' support can also reduce the chance that you'd be written off as a lone complainer.

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At some point, you will need to approach the person who can actually change the plan -- typically, someone in the human resources department.

Don't forget that your company also wants to retain the best workers. If the investment choices in the 401(k) plan are disappointing and not attractive to employees, human resources has an incentive to make changes.

Unfortunately, too many employees chicken out before they get this far.

It's very expensive to move a plan around. When you go in to change it, everything stops.

"I think there is an intimidation factor," Solin says. "I understand that as an employee, you take a risk when you write that letter to the human resources department. But I also believe that the only way to affect change is to speak up."

Offer to help the plan administrator
As you communicate concerns to your company's management, offer to help find a solution. Some firms have 401(k) committees that include rank-and-file employees who evaluate plan alternatives. Volunteer to be on one.

Be willing to dedicate the time and effort, because the end result could be a much-improved company retirement plan.

Even if you are successful in presenting your concerns and convincing your employer to make changes to the company 401(k), realize that it could take several months before you would be able to actually invest in the new options.

"It's very expensive to move a plan around. When you go in to change it, everything stops," says Melody Juge, founder of 401(k) Choice in Westlake Village, Calif.

"Everyone has to fill out new papers, and there's usually a blackout period where no changes can be made. This is a very time-intensive project -- especially for a small business. It's not something that should be done lightly."

Stephen says his willingness to help communicate the reasons behind his company's switch was extremely important to the success of the process.

"Our company was relatively small, and I made sure that our fellow employees knew about the upcoming change long before it was announced," he says. "I also explained the reason for the move -- the high costs that each of the employees was paying from his or her savings -- long before any formal announcement came out of HR (human resources). This is only something that you can do in a small company, I suppose, but for us it worked very well."

Stephen believes that the switch has also helped employees become more serious about their retirement planning.

"Generally speaking, folks were very receptive to the news," he says. "In fact, because of all the noise and training that was associated with the move, a few employees that did not contribute to the old plan decided to join the new plan after it was launched."

If all else fails, invest elsewhere
Company retirement plans are a great benefit, but they are not an employee's only choice for retirement savings. Depending on your situation, a traditional or Roth IRA might offer you more flexibility and cheaper fees.

Some employers might even let participants -- particularly those over age 59 -- do an in-service rollover from their company 401(k) into an IRA.

Before you make any changes, however, consider getting advice from a personal finance professional who is familiar with your financial situation. There could be a number of restrictions that affect where and when you can invest money.

If a company's employees aren't happy about their 401(k) plan options, the company has an incentive to change them. If you speak up about ways to improve your employer's 401(k) today, you and your colleagues' retirement portfolios could be worth substantially more money in the future.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: July 7, 2008
 
 
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