You’ve cleaned out your office and moved everything back home. There’s some severance pay coming and unemployment should start before too long. Now you have all the time in the world. What you do with that time – and what you avoid doing with it – will make all the difference in how quickly you find a new job.
Naturally, you should give priority to looking for a new job. That’s pretty obvious. But there are also some very destructive things you shouldn’t be doing. Unless you consciously resist them, you’ll fall into doing them by default.
What are activities you should avoid?
1. Watching television.
Don’t settle down in front of the TV to watch the news channels. It’s okay to check in from time to time, but newscasts are packed with negative information. You don’t need that right now. Modern journalism depends on crime, crisis, catastrophe, and crying. Seeing all that bad news adds to the emotional baggage you’re already lugging around. Right now everything needs to be focused on uplifting and encouraging yourself. The news won’t give you that.
Temporarily block the movie channels. Paying for pay-per-view isn’t in the budget now. Besides, should you tune in, it could turn into an investment of at least an hour and half, and that’s 90 minutes that should be spent job hunting or networking.
TV is dead time, and that’s not where you need to be investing your time. You don’t need to be entertained – you need to develop a workable action plan. Time spent watching TV is a drain on productive time, so keep it to a minimum.
2. Spending time with negative people.
The last thing you need to be doing right now is commiserating with negative people. You’re probably already in a delicate emotional state, and negative people have the potential to finish you off.
Anything pessimistic will slow down your job hunt. Getting back in the workforce has to be your goal. Listening to counter-productive conversation might keep you camped out on the misery of your job loss, and you don’t need that right now.
Whenever something bad happens, ruminating over it is natural behavior. While some of that will happen automatically, you have to be intentional about keeping it to a minimum. Whatever happened that led up to your job loss is now history. Learn from it, do your best to not repeat any mistakes you made, but by all means, let it go. Rehashing the episode won’t change the outcome, and only causes you to focus on the negative.
A job loss is a time for action, and that has to be your focus. Ruminating can easily be mistaken for action, but it’s nothing of the sort. Only action is action. Keeping yourself busy will be a priority. When you are out and about, there’s a chance that you can make good things happen. When you ruminate, all you’re doing is stewing in your own juices. Make a plan of daily activities and stick to it, even if you don’t feel like it. Action puts us in control, ruminating turns us into self-styled victims.
4. Borrowing money.
Making ends meet with a reduced income is a challenge, one to be faced with resolve and consistency. Cutting expenses is the answer, not trying to get more temporary income. Taking out a loan – or worse yet, hitting up friends and family – won’t make the problem go away. The debt will have to be repaid at some point. Having it hang over your head while you get started on a new job adds pressure you don’t need. Worse, if your time out of work ends up being longer than you anticipate, the loans will begin to weigh heavily on you, adding more problems.
5. Applying for jobs you’re not qualified for.
There’s a theory that when you’re unemployed you should use the “shotgun” method of applying for work. That involves applying for any job that’s available under the assumption that sooner or later someone has to hire you.
It sounds logical, but don’t do it. Here’s why:
- Applications for jobs you aren’t qualified for will only result in more rejections; protecting your ego is important in a job hunt – a growing pile of rejection letters isn’t a positive development.
- Ultimately, there are only so many potential employers for your skills in your location; you don’t want to hurt a legitimate job opportunity with an employer by applying for positions you aren’t qualified for.
- Time and effort expended on frivolous applications will take time away from a more focused job search.
- Applying for a lot of positions might feel good when you’re doing it, but it only builds false hope – that will lead to a big letdown when reality hits.
You don’t want to get caught up spinning your wheels in the mud. Concentrate your efforts on the most likely positions and ignore the rest.
6. Feel you’re worthless or that you’ll never find another job.
This is a form of fatalism, and you don’t need to be engaging in it. Bad things happen in life, and part of our success is learning how to deal with it. No matter how bad your situation may seem right now, you’re not good-for-nothing. You are an individual who has hit a rough spot in the road. The layoff may be because of a lack of work, management’s bad decisions, or you may indeed have under-performed. But you are still a person valuable to many. There are things you can do no one else in the world can do. Be proud of your personal identity, and most of all, be ready to promote it.
It is extremely rare for a job-seeker making reasonable efforts to not find work – sooner or later. But you have to keep working at it.
So be ready to clear the decks in your life, and to focus completely on the job at hand – finding a new job.
What activities do you find to be unproductive after you’ve been laid off from your job? Leave a comment!
One of the most difficult situations you can find yourself in is when have lost your job, or your hours are dramatically cut. In some cases, you might be looking for a way to extend your emergency fund, or get a little help as you look for a new job.
Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending sites can help you borrow money to get back on your feet, and can also be a convenient way to get help from family and friends.
The idea behind peer-to-peer lending is that you can get help from people who are more or less like you. It’s possible for you to borrow from those who are willing to fund you in increments as low as $25. Sites like Lending Club and Prosper allow you to get others involved with your efforts, and do so in an “official” way.
One of the biggest pitfalls of borrowing from friends and family is that things can get personal. How do you charge interest? What’s the payment plan? Will you really repay the loan? Or is it supposed to be a gift? Using peer-to-peer lending sites can help you clarify these issues.
With a P2P lending site, someone else takes care of all of those details. You can figure out how much you need, and then invite friends and family to help fund your loan. As a bonus, you might also get help from strangers. You can specify that you are looking for money to help you find a new job, which might include the costs of career coaching, resume development, and perhaps a course or degree you need to take things to the next level.
It’s important to realize, though, that this formalized arrangement means that you have to repay the loan as agreed, or your credit rating could suffer. If you aren’t sure when you’ll be able to start making payments, it can make sense to go through a more informal process with friends and family, or ask for gifts.
Borrowing from Friends and Family without P2P Lending
If you are going to borrow, even if you don’t go through a P2P lending site, it can still make sense to make the situation as businesslike as possible. There are plenty of templates that can help you put together an agreement with friends and family to repay a loan. And, thanks to payment options like PopMoney and PayPal, it’s fairly easy to make payments if that’s what you decide to do.
However, you do need to be aware of the risk you are taking with your relationship. If you don’t repay the loan, it can lead to hard feelings. You might risk a friendship or strain a family relationship if you borrow money. Take that into consideration before you decide to borrow from friends and family, whether you use P2P lending or some other method.
In fact, P2P lending online can be preferable, since it gives you the chance to borrow without getting your friends and family involved.
Another option is to be upfront about your need for gifts. Sites like Betterment and GoFundMe offer you the chance to receive money from others to help you reach your job search funding goals – no strings attached.
What do you think about P2P Lending? Leave a comment!
One of the hardest things to explain to potential employers is a gap in employment. It’s especially difficult if you have a skills gap. Even if you don’t have a “real” job in your field, it’s important to let potential employers know that you’ve been keeping your skills your sharp, and that you are a valuable asset.
So, as you look for work, you need to do what you can to stay on top of your career. Here are some things you can do to keep your skills sharp when you’re between jobs:
Take a Class
Perhaps your job skills have declined a bit, or you’re not quite up to date. Maybe you want to make a bit of a change and re-enter the workforce with a slightly different skill set. If this is the case, see about taking a class. You can go back to school to finish a degree, or take a seminar or course that offers a certification that you think will be valuable.
In any case, the fact that you are improving your skills and expanding your abilities through education offers a good reason for your employment gap. Not only can you boost your marketability, but you also have an ironclad alibi for your lack of a job over the course of a few months. This is important, since studies indicate that the longer you are unemployed, the harder it is to find a job. You can reduce this difficulty if you can show that you have been using the time productively.
If you have skills that others can use, consider volunteering. You can keep your skills sharp by helping others. Depending on your abilities, you might be able to help with PR, bookkeeping, building, project management, or any number of tasks that many charitable organizations need help with. Not only will you stay up to speed, but you will also show potential employers that you haven’t been idle.
Volunteering is also a good way to meet new people and expand your career network. You might get access to new job opportunities through the people you meet volunteering. A good cause often brings people in the community out of the woodwork, and you might be surprised at the doors that open even as you keep your skills sharp.
Start a Side Hustle
Perhaps you can keep your skills sharp by starting a side gig. Even if you want to find a new job, chances are that your skills can be used to make money for you, rather than make money for someone else. While you want to keep up the job hunt, you can also start your own business, and use your skills to help you earn a little extra.
You can talk to potential employers about your entrepreneurial ideas, as well as possibly make some money on the side. Your skills stay sharp, you look like a go-getter, and you might even make enough that the new job is unnecessary.
What do you think? Have you had to keep your skills sharp during a period of unemployment? Leave a comment!
When you lose your job, one of the first things you should do is apply for unemployment insurance benefits if you qualify. This is because unemployment benefits can provide you with a bit of income to help your family along while you are without work.
Even if you have an emergency fund, it makes sense to apply for benefits as soon as you can so that you aren’t putting the entire burden of your family’s income on your emergency fund.
Unemployment insurance is paid by employers; you don’t actually pay for these benefits. Your employer pays into a specific fund, and money is accessed by those who meet the requirements for eligibility.
Eligibility for Unemployment Insurance
First of all, it’s important to understand your eligibility. Not everyone who lost a job qualifies for unemployment insurance. Here are some of the things to keep in mind when figuring out if you are eligible for unemployment benefits:
- How you lost your job matters – You have to have lost your job through no fault of your own. This means that you are laid off rather than fired. If you are fired because of your behavior or due to gross misconduct, such as theft or sexual harassment, you aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Additionally, in most cases, if you quit your job you are ineligible. There are times when you can make a case for yourself, such as quitting to escape a dangerous situation at home, or quitting because you need to care for a dependent with a disability. Talk with your state office and your caseworker to determine the possibilities.
- Employed full-time or part-time in the past – You need to have had a job. If you are self-employed and you lose a major client, you are not eligible for unemployment benefits. You can only collect if you have been employed and you have recently lost your job.
- An active job search is a requirement for benefits – Usually, in order to keep receiving benefits, you have to show that you are taking steps to find a new job, or that you are in training so that you qualify for a new job. You have to have this training approved.
There might also be other state requirements. Since unemployment benefits are administered through the state, you need to check with your state’s employment department to find out what the requirements are. Often, you need to register with your state’s workforce services agency, and follow instructions.
How Much Can You Get?
The amount of money you receive depends on how your state determines benefits. Usually, the state figures out how much you can get based on how long you have been employed, your salary when you were laid off, and other factors. States also receive aid from the federal government for unemployment benefits, so the amount of aid received also figures into the equation.
You should also be aware that unemployment benefits are not tax free. You are taxed on these benefits as though they are regular income. You can choose to have a portion of your unemployment benefits check withheld for taxes. This is often a good idea, even if it does reduce the amount that you end up with, since it can prevent a burden come tax time.
Understand, too, that in some states, your pension benefit (if your employer offered a contribution) might be reduced.
It’s never fun to find yourself in a position of dependence. However, unemployment insurance benefits are there to help you get back on your feet. Take advantage of them so that your family doesn’t suffer as much while you look for a new job.
What are your thoughts about unemployment insurance? Leave a comment!
If you want to pay off debt and become financially free, there are a number of tools that can help you reach your goals. From online applications that track your progress to great books that can serve as resources to help you create a plan, you can take control of your financial future and get on the right track.
The first step is learning about your situation and your options.
3 Online “Pay Off Debt” Applications
An online debt reduction application can help you see where you are, as well as create a plan to improve your situation. And, as you pay down debt, you can track your progress and celebrate your success.
1. Online Calculators
If you are trying to figure out which debt repayment route to take,
Get Out of Debt Guy offers a handy Debt Plans Summary Calculator [Editor's Note: This calculator seems to not be available at the moment. Try Todd's Financial Mentor Debt Calculators.]. Evaluate where you are right now, and see what you can do to improve your situation.
Another option is to make use of SavvyMoney. This application helps you take a more active approach to debt reduction.
Enter all of your debt information into the appropriate fields and then create your debt payment goal. The application will help you put together a smart plan to help you save money on interest and pay off your debt as quickly as you can.
SavvyMoney keeps you on track and helps you visualize your progress. On top of that, you receive information on accelerating your progress so that you can pay off your debt even faster.
You can also use ReadyForZero, which is another way to track your debt progress. Much like you would with personal finance software, you can link your debt accounts to ReadyForZero so that you can see your progress as it happens.
ReadyForZero provides tips, reminders, and encouragement to help you keep on track. You can use this program to help you anticipate life without debt – a life that hopefully is in your near future!
3 Books to Help You Pay Down Your Debt
Tools to help you pay down your debt also include books. Many books include worksheets and helpful action plans that you can apply to your own situation. In many cases, it can help to read the right books before you set up your debt plan using the above tools. Some helpful get-out-of-debt books include:
You may not agree with everything Dave Ramsey says (I don’t), but there is no denying that this step-by-step plan has served as inspiration for many over the years. You can follow the information in this book, and the accompanying workbook, and get out of debt and improve your finances.
Gregory Karp provides a practical guide to managing your money. Use this guide to help you beat debt and move on to the next stage of your financial development. A simple way to get started on the right path – no perfection needed.
If you are in deep debt trouble, this book by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox is an excellent resource. Use this book as a tool to help you take control of your finances and dig out of the debt hole. Create your action plan with help from this valuable resource.
Editor’s Choice: Get Out of Debt Like the Debt Heroes
Our very own Ben Edwards partnered with Jeff Rose to gather an amazing collection of inspirational people and their stories on how they got out of debt. You’ll learn how people just like you escaped the debt trap!
Getting out of debt takes dedication and hard work. You need to be committed to that course of action if you want to succeed. The good news is that there are tools and resources available for you – many of them free or low-cost. Do yourself a favor this year and start on the path to debt-free living.
What are you using to help you get out of debt? Leave a comment!
This article was originally published on October 31, 2012.
At some point in your life, you are likely to need to change jobs. You might need to switch career fields, or you might be trying to move up the corporate ladder. You might even be forced into switching things up due to a layoff. No matter the reason, one of the ways you can advance your career is with the help of a career coach.
Choosing a career coach isn’t a decision to take lightly. You want someone who can help you achieve your goals and improve your prospects. Here are some things to think about as you choose a career coach:
What Are Your Career Goals?
Usually, a career coach is most helpful when their services and techniques match your own career goals. Think about why you are hiring a coach, and what you want to accomplish. Do you want to change career fields? Do you want a promotion? Are you hoping to switch to a new company in your current career field? Are you looking for tips on how to ask for a raise? Are you hoping to get back into the workforce after a layoff or an extended absence?
The career coach you choose depends on your goals. When possible, look for a career coach with expertise in your desired field. The way an engineer searches for a new job is different from the way a teacher looks for a promotion. Try to match your career coach with your goals.
Look for Credentials
It can be difficult to find a career coach with the right credentials. States don’t usually license these professionals, and there is no “official” board. You can start out by looking for those with certifications through the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches (PARCC) or through the International Coaches Federation (ICF). That will at least give you a baseline for quality, although it’s not a guarantee that you are working with someone that knows what they are doing.
You can also ask for referrals. Do you know anyone who has used a career coach? Were they happy with the coach? Sometimes, the best credential is a glowing testimonial from someone you trust. Remember, though, that career coaching is more about compatibility, and what works well for your brother-in-law might not work for you.
Interview Coaches First
Many career coaches will offer a short session for free. This gives you the chance to see if you can work with the coach. If someone “rubs you the wrong way,” it might be a good idea to move on, no matter how great others think they are. Any coaching situation is personal and requires a high level of trust. If you don’t get that, move on to the next candidate.
Also, realize that many career coaches do their work over the phone. In some cases, this is so that the coach isn’t swayed by your appearance. However, this works to your advantage, since it means you aren’t confined to your geographic area. You can cast a wider net to find a career coach that works for you.
At some point, you will have to consider the fee. While some coaches charge as little as $50 an hour, you are more likely to pay in the $100 per hour range. There are some career coaches that charge up to $400 an hour or more for their services. Be realistic about what you can afford, and what you need help with. Also, if you meet certain requirements, it might be possible to deduct the cost of your coaching on your tax return.
A good career coach can make a big difference in your job search, so if you decide to hire one, make sure that they are really as good as advertised.
Are you considering a career coach? What do you hope they can help you with? Leave a comment!
Being declined for credit is no fun. It can be demoralizing, whether you are being turned down for a credit card, a car loan, or a mortgage. Here is what to do if you have been turned down for credit:
Find Out Why You Were Turned Down
When you are denied credit, the creditor has to explain why you were turned down. You will receive an adverse action letter soon after you are turned down. This letter will tell you why you were turned down, and include information on the credit reporting agency that provided information about your credit history.
You are entitled to a free credit report from the agency that provided the information, as well as free access to the credit score that was used in determining your credit worthiness. Write to the credit reporting agency and ask for a copy of your report and score.
The adverse action letter should tell you why you were turned down – whether it was an income issue, or a credit issue. If it was a credit issue, you should go through your credit history to see what could be holding you back.
Work to Remedy the Situation
If your problem is an income issue, you will need to find a way to make more money if you want to be approved the next time you apply for credit. In some cases, the issue is that you already have a high amount of debt relative to your income. You might still have a good credit score, but the creditor might be uncomfortable straining your income with another debt payment. Paying down some of your debt can help in this instance.
When your problem is credit, though, you need to boost your credit score. Check over your free credit report. If you think that you should have good credit, look for mistakes on your credit report, as well as evidence of fraudulent accounts that indicate that someone has stolen your identity. You can clear up these problems and see improvement in your credit score.
Sometimes, though, your credit history is legitimately problematic. In those cases, you will need to take steps to improve your habits. The best things you can do are to make your payments on time and to reduce your debt load. After a few months, you should see some improvement in your credit score, and you can try to apply for credit again.
You can also get a form of credit that is easier to obtain, such as a secured credit card or a loan with a co-signer. These types of loans can help you rebuild your credit – as long as you are careful to make your payments on time and in full.
Should You Apply for Credit Again Right After Being Turned Down?
Some consumers turn around and apply for more credit right after being turned down. You have to be careful in these circumstances. Several inquiries in a short period of time can be a red flag that you are desperate for credit. It does take a few days for a credit inquiry to show up, so you might find success if you are quick about applying another time.
Really, though, you are probably better off trying to address the problem, rather than hurrying off to try to qualify for a loan again.
If you are applying for a larger loan, especially if you plan to apply for a mortgage, you will be better served by planning ahead and looking at your credit before you turn in the application. That way, you can catch problems ahead of time and fix them before you are turned down.
Have you ever been declined for credit? Leave a comment and tell us how you worked around it!
This article was originally published January 15th, 2013.
Chances are that you feel strongly about certain issues confronting society today. Perhaps you strongly believe in environmental protection. Maybe you think stem cell research is wrong. From support of human rights to opposition to the gambling industry, there are a number of political policy positions to hold.
However, no matter how much support you verbally express for a position, there is a chance that you are undermining the very things that you stand for by investing in a way that gives money (and increased power) to the causes that you want to fight against.
What is Socially Responsible Investing?
If you are interested in putting your money where your beliefs are, you can become involved with socially responsible investing.
Socially responsible investing is all about being conscientious about where you invest your money. You think about your ideals and priorities, and then invest in companies and assets that reflect those ideals. At the very least, you make it a point to avoid investing in ventures that are in direct opposition to your closely held beliefs.
How Do You Know Whether Your Investments Reflect Your Values?
Once you decide that you want to invest in a socially responsible manner, you need to figure out which investments are in line with your priorities – and which probably ought to be dumped.
One of the first places to look is in your mutual fund holdings. You might be surprised to find that the mutual fund that you invest in has holdings in companies you might not agree with. Someone devoted clean energy projects might be horrified to find that many mutual funds invest in big oil companies.
Likewise, those against tobacco might be shocked to discover that their investment dollars are supporting Philip Morris, a popular company amongst mutual funds.
If you are looking for funds that are likely to match your particular values, you can look at the USSIF web site, as well as visit SocialFunds.com. GreenMoney.com provides a look at companies that support sustainable practices, and environmentally friendly investing.
If you are more interested in Christian/Bible based investing, New Covenant Funds provides you with the opportunity to help charities, and invest in line with the Presbyterian Church and GuideStone Funds offers a variety of Christian-based mutual funds.
With a little research, you can get an idea of which companies and funds reflect your most important values, and choose to invest in those assets. Whether you are interested in fighting poverty in Jewish communities, or whether you want to support efforts to develop clean energy, there are funds and individual companies that can help you invest according to your values.
Doing Your Due Diligence
It’s important that you perform due diligence before you make any investment decision. Even if you really want to support a cause with your investment, it’s vital that you do a little background check. Read the prospectus for a mutual fund before you invest, and read up on it. If you want to invest in a company, check the financials, and use a stock screener to double-check performance and other factors.
There are plenty of scammers out there willing to prey on your desire to make the world a better place with your investment. Don’t invest in something someone else approaches you with. Instead, go out and find a legitimate company or fund with solid prospects to invest in. With a little research, you can ensure that you aren’t profiting from positions you find morally untenable.
What other socially responsible funds do you like? Leave a comment!
This article was originally published January 24, 2013.
Deciding what to do after a layoff is tricky because there are so many things to think about at once when you’re laid off. You worry about how to pay your bills, find a new job, handle your expiring benefits, find health insurance, tell your friends and family, and relaunch your career.
To help you know where to start I put together the “5 Hour Layoff Kickstart” that walks you through what to consider and what to do right after a layoff. You can get the report by calling me, toll free – 1-844-2NEWJOB.
A layoff feels devastating not only because it’s so unexpected but also because it can turn your whole life upside down. It’s not just your job that’s been rudely interrupted – it’s your ability to pay bills, provide benefits for your family, and even pursue your life plans. It feels like everything changes in just a few minutes after that brief phone call or layoff meeting.
The rest of this article talks about some important steps to take after a layoff but if you’d like more in-depth information about surviving a layoff and a plan for hour-by-hour & day-by-day action then submit your email below or call me at 1-844-2NEWJOB:
It’s important that you take immediate action when you are laid off. Here are the things to do right after a layoff:
1. Find out about your severance package.
Ask the human resources representative about your severance package. With a layoff, you might receive full or reduced pay temporarily. You might also have access to healthcare benefits and other benefits for a set period of time after your layoff.
However, it’s important to realize that some of these benefits might cost more. COBRA, for example, is very expensive. You will have to plan for the reality after your layoff.
2. Apply for unemployment benefits.
Next, apply for unemployment benefits. If you are eligible for these benefits, they can help you provide for your family as you look for another job to help you get back on your feet.
You should also find out about other public assistance programs that might be able to help you along while you are looking for a job. If you qualify for certain programs, it makes sense to take advantage of them while you look for another source of income. Remember: It’s more about providing for your family than your pride.
3. Prioritize your expenses.
You need to take a hard look at your budget. To tell the truth, it’s better if you have looked at your expenses and prioritized them before your layoff.
Take a look at where your money is going, and prioritize the spending. Cut out the items that you don’t need, and that can drain your bank account. You can also look at where you can cut back by saving money on energy, groceries, and in other categories. Consider using frugal tactics to help you make changes with your budget so that your dollars stretch further.
4. Brush up your career paperwork.
Let your network know you’re looking for work. Someone might be able to point you in the right direction. It’s better if you have maintained a career network over time, but if you haven’t, you should work to remedy that lack as quickly as possible.
Attend networking events, and participate in workshops designed to help you improve your resume and your interview skills. Many cities and states have workforce service departments. You can receive help with your career paperwork by making use of these resources.
5. Consider alternative ways to make money.
Now that you are squared away with your unemployment benefits, and you’ve reformed your budget and done what you can for your career, it’s time to consider alternative ways to make money.
Hopefully you have an emergency fund that can provide you with a little help remaining financially solvent. However, even supplemented by unemployment benefits, your emergency fund isn’t going to last forever. You can get a little help for your situation by looking for other ways to make money.
Start a side gig, or see about some other type of income. You can sell items you aren’t using any more, or do odd jobs. Find ways to make a little extra money so that you aren’t relying entirely on the emergency fund and the unemployment benefits.
Who knows? The side gig you start while looking for a new job might turn into a true primary source of income, and you may not need to go back to work.
Have you been the victim of a layoff? How did you survive? Leave a comment!
Employer matching contributions are one of the biggest benefits of 401(k) plans. You put money in out of your own paycheck to fund the plan, and your employer offers at least a partial match. The catch is that the employer match usually comes with a vesting provision. That’s a period of time – up to five years – which must pass before matching contribution are considered a permanent part of your plan. In this way, vesting may also be the Achilles heal of 401(k) plans. They don’t always pan out.
That may not be a pleasant thought to consider, but it is an unfortunate reality.
You May Never Be Around Long Enough to Be Vested
Employer matching contributions have been around since 401(k) plans were rolled out back in the 1970s. But back then job security was also a common feature of employment. You could start with an employer when you were in your 20s or 30s, and be reasonably certain of a career of 30 years or more at the same place.
Today’s employment landscape is much different – in fact, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. While there is still the possibility that you can spend 10, 20, or 30 years with the same employer, it’s at least as likely that you will only be there for a year or two.
If your employer’s matching contribution requires five years for full vesting, but you only work with the company for three years, the match may be completely worthless. You will lose it as soon as you leave your job.
Many companies offer a generous employer match on the 401(k) as an incentive to draw talented workers to them. And many employees are drawn to just such an arrangement. But if the vesting period is longer than the typical job at the company lasts, the employer match is more an illusion than a reality.
Don’t Count on the Company Match
The moral of the story: Don’t count on the company 401(k) match, no matter how good it may not be. One frightening reality is that some employers are revolving doors – employees come and go – either because they are fired or because they quit. The employer may be offering a generous match specifically to overcome employee resistance to joining the company. But if turnover is high, and the employer match rarely sticks, the incentive will be cost-free to the employer – and a complete bust for the employee.
When making your retirement plans, don’t count on your company match – at least not until you have satisfied the vesting period and the employer 401(k) match is a reality.
In the meantime, plan your retirement as if there is no company match. There are various ways that you can do this.
Make the Largest Contributions
Time is money when it comes to investing for retirement, which is why it’s critical that you maximize funding into your plan in the early years. Make the largest employee contribution that your plan allows.
Don’t figure the employer match in your contributions. For example, if your plan allows you to contribution up to 15% of your pay, make sure that you’re contributing the percentage. Some employees play with these numbers. For example, if the company gives a 50% matching contribution up to the first 10% contributed by the employee – effectively a 5% match – the employee may reason that they are contributing 15% of their pay by virtue of the fact that 10% is coming from them, plus another 5% from the employer.
But if the employer match fails for any reason, your net contributions – after the fact – will go back to nothing more than 10%. This is why you need to contribute as much as you are able, and consider the employer match to be a bonus.
Have an IRA or Roth IRA
This also makes an excellent case for having supplemental retirement plans, particularly an IRA – Traditional or Roth. By having an IRA, you’re not completely dependent upon the employer plan or the promised match. You’ll be accumulating money to both your 401(k) and your IRA, so that if the match doesn’t pan out you’ll be better off than if you had relied completely on the company plan.
An IRA is worth having even if it isn’t tax-deductible. The earnings in the account will accumulate on a tax-deferred basis, even if your contributions aren’t deductible. And when you do reach retirement age, the contributions that you made can be withdrawn without being subject to income tax. That by itself is a benefit everyone should have.
Have Non-Retirement Savings Too
Unfortunately, for many people their only savings account of any kind is the employer 401(k) plan. Now if you had to pick one single savings vehicle to have, the 401(k) plan is an excellent choice. But that also means that you’re completely dependent upon the company plan, not only for your retirement but also for your total entire savings strategy. That’s never a situation than anyone should put themselves into willingly.
Saving money outside of retirement plans is always important, but it’s even more important for any reason you cannot have an IRA account as well. And like an IRA, the savings that you accumulate in your non-retirement savings can offset an employer matching contribution on your 401(k) that never materializes.
How much have you benefited from the employer 401(k) match, either in your current job or in previous positions? Leave a comment!