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6 ways to screw up your retirement plan

Mistake No. 1: opting out
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Mistake No. 1: Opting out

One of the biggest mistakes is to decide not to participate, says Robert Gordon, senior financial adviser at Miami-based Investor Solutions.

"As the saying goes, 'you've got to be in it to win it,'" he says. "Be it a 401(k), 403(b), 457 or other similarly numbered options, the responsibility is on the employee to take the initiative and complete the paperwork."

In an attempt to encourage more people to take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement plans, the 2006 Pension Protection Act provides safe harbor to companies who offer automatic enrollment that requires employees to opt out rather than opt in, says CFP Artie Green, a professional investment adviser at PWJohnson Wealth Management in Sunnyvale, Calif.

"That has not taken hold to the degree the government was hoping," says Glenn A. Hottin, a CFP at M&H Advisors in New Haven, Conn. "The majority who don't elect to join generally are confused by their choices, and the confused mind does nothing."

Definitely don't opt out if your company offers automatic enrollment. It will also automatically select an investment option for you -- often a target-date fund. Once you're in the plan, take time to acquaint yourself with all its investment options so you can determine if the preselected fund is the best choice or if there's one that better meets your goals, time horizon and risk tolerance.


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