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New retirement planning help

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Posted: 4 pm ET

In case you haven't noticed, the boss isn't getting anymore generous with retirement benefits.

According to employee-benefits consultant Aon Hewitt:

  • Traditional pensions are going away. Of the 1,300 employers in the consultant's database, 34 percent had a defined benefit plan in 2010, compared to 61 percent in 2005 and 73 percent in 2000. Of those companies that continue to have plans, 16 percent say they're very likely to freeze the plans this year, leaving workers' benefits essentially where they are. Among plans that are still open to new hires, 13 percent say they will close them.
  • About 23 percent of employers suspended or reduced company matching contributions to 401(k)s in the past two years. Of those, 55 percent have reinstated the match and 18 percent say they plan to do so this year, although that still leaves 25 percent of the cutbacks in place three years after the downturn.

Employers say they are compensating for this Scrooge-like behavior by offering to help employees do better retirement planning. Many of these new-style bennies don't have a big cost, so if your employer isn't offering some of them, you might ask the boss to consider adding a few.

Here are some of the most valuable options:

Built-in self discipline. Nearly 47 percent of 401(k) plans automatically up your contribution a little bit annually.

Automatic rebalancing. Even experienced investors need help -- or at least a nudge -- to do this regularly.

Personal investment guidance. Most companies used to be really hands off when it came to how you invested your 401(k). Now 56 percent have someone available to give you guidance.

Target-date funds. These mutual funds are designed to invest your money more aggressively when you are younger and more conservatively when you get closer to retirement. About 83 percent of companies now offer this option.

Annuities. About 20 percent of employers give their employees access to a group buy, either in or out of their 401(k)s, which can up the return a little.

Roth 401(k)s. More than 34 percent of employers are now offering the option to invest after-tax money in these plans. The advantage is that the money grows tax-free and nothing is taxed when you take it out. Administration is a little more costly, but Boss Big Bucks can afford it.

None of these are as good as a generous pension plan, but these days, something is better than nothing.

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