Why Your 401k Is Losing Money and How to Stop It: A Guide to Restoring Financial Security

Why Your 401k Is Losing Money and How to Stop It: A Guide to Restoring Financial Security

Why Your 401k Is Losing Money And How to Stop It

Understanding 401k

Understanding your 401k is key to understanding why it is losing money and how to fix it. It’s important to have a thorough understanding of the basics of 401ks in order to maximize returns and minimize losses. This article will explain the basics of 401ks and how to manage them in order to make sure your retirement savings are working for you.

Defining 401k

A 401k is a retirement account offered by many employers in the United States. The name comes from Section 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code, which allows employers to create special accounts for their employees’ retirement savings.

These accounts are popular because they let you save money for retirement on a tax-deferred basis – your contributions are made with pre-tax income, and the funds grow tax-free until you withdraw them at age 59 ½ or later. Contributions to a 401k are limited to $19,500 per year ($26,000 if you’re 50 or older). Employers may also provide matching funds in addition to their employee’s contribution.

Additionally, many employers offer features such as:

  • Allowing employees to contribute additional money through payroll deductions.
  • Allowing participants access to financial planners, investment advice and portfolio reviews.
  • Offering different types of investments options such as stock mutual funds.

Employer contribution limits are set by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

401ks are highly regulated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which means that you must follow all applicable laws and regulations when managing your account. This includes understanding required minimum distributions after a certain age when the withdrawal is mandatory; these withdrawals are subject to both income tax and possibly an additional 10% penalty if taken prior to 59 ½ years old. An employer may also require employees to remain employed for a specified period of time before any vested business contributions become available for withdrawal as well.

Contributions and withdrawals

Contributions and withdrawals are both key aspects of understanding your 401k and the associated risks. Contributions are the money that you or your employer put into the 401k, while withdrawals refer to money that is taken out. Depending on your particular plan, these contributions and withdrawals may be subject to different regulations.

The amount of money that can be contributed to a 401k in any given year is limited by law. Generally, the total annual contribution for an individual cannot exceed $19,500 for 2020 or $26,000 if you are age 50 or older. Meanwhile, there are often restrictions on how quickly you’ll be able to withdraw from your own account in terms of timing and penalty fees, with those rules varying by plan.

Understanding all the rules related to contributions and withdrawals is key when managing a 401k account. That way you’ll know:

  • how much can go in each year
  • when you can access it without penalty fees
  • what type of penalties will apply if funds are withdrawn too early

In addition, it’s important to learn about any match programs that may apply – where the employer matches all or part of the employee’s contribution – as this directly impacts the payoff potential of investing in a 401k plan.

Common Mistakes

Investors who fail to properly manage their 401Ks can experience a great deal of financial loss. The ability to properly manage these accounts should never be underestimated.

Here, we will discuss some of the common mistakes that investors make that can lead to their 401K accounts losing money. Knowing what these errors are and how to prevent them can make all the difference in being able to maximize the potential of your 401K account:

  • Mistake 1
  • Mistake 2
  • Mistake 3
  • Mistake 4
  • Mistake 5

Investing too conservatively

Investing too conservatively is a common mistake many people make with their 401k plans. Often, they are hesitant to take on risk and are overly focused on preserving capital, rather than investing for growth to offset inflation and fees. This can cause you to miss out on important opportunities where higher yielding investments may be available.

It is important to remember that investing for retirement should be done with an eye towards the future. High-yield investments, such as stocks, tend to have higher associated risk than more conservative options like fixed-income vehicles or money market accounts, but long-term returns can be much higher when invested appropriately over time.

Your 401k adviser can help you look at historical performance data and consider different investment types that match your risk tolerance level. This can help you make more informed decisions that balance short-term yield needs with longer-term goals. Ultimately, it’s important to find a balance in the profile of your investments where you are taking normal levels of risk while still meeting your necessary objectives.

Not diversifying

Investing in a diverse portfolio of stocks and mutual funds is essential to keeping your 401k on the right track for retirement. Diversifying is more than just buying the top three positions on the S&P 500—it’s about spreading your investments out across multiple industries, asset classes, and countries, as well as actively managing rebalancing when necessary.

When you don’t diversify your 401k portfolio properly, you run the risk of exposing yourself to too much risk in any given asset class or industry sector. Many 401k contributions are invested blindly in a pre-selected line up of mutual funds provided by the plan sponsor—which could include heavy exposure to particular sectors (e.g., technology and energy). If those sectors unexpectedly out-perform or under-perform against other markets or averages, the outcome could be disproportionately negative or positive returns for your investments.

Additionally, you may be missing out on potential returns by not investing enough of your money in high-growth areas like emerging markets and international stocks that provide access to global markets with greater potential rewards than domestic markets alone can offer. Finally, if you don’t rebalance regularly—once per year is recommended for many people—you may lose sight of your progress toward achieving retirement goals and fail to receive the benefits of market upside when an asset class reaches it peak.

To prevent losses due to lack of proper diversification and inadequate rebalancing, it’s important to understand which investments are best suited for each person’s individual risk tolerance as well as long-term return objectives. As a result, investors should frequently reassess their retirement assets to ensure they hold appropriate positions within their overall strategy and mitigate potential losses due to unchanging allocations over time periods that include market fluctuations.

Not taking advantage of employer matching

When planning retirement, many people think they are doing enough by contributing only enough to receive a full match from their employer. While this is a great start, it’s not enough to maximize the potential of your retirement savings. Many companies offer more than a dollar-for-dollar match up to a certain percentage of contributions. For example, an employer may offer a 0.50 match on up to 6 percent of the employee’s salary. This 0.50 “bonus” can add up quickly and is usually immediately vested so you don’t have to wait for it.

It’s important to understand your company policies regarding matching funds before investing one dime in your 401k account. Do some research on the best ways to take advantage of this potentially powerful resource and make it part of your overall retirement plan and budgeting strategy. In many cases, you can contribute more than necessary for the employer match and still be within recommendations for annual pre-tax retirement contributions from the IRS or financial advisors that specialize in employee benefits advice.

Especially with longer time horizons, such as when planning for retirement funds decades in advance, taking advantage of employer matching makes tremendous sense because that money is essentially free income both now and later when you need those funds during retirement age!

Strategies for Maximizing Your 401k

A 401k plan can be a great way to save for retirement, but it can also be a source of worry if you’re not getting the kind of returns you expect. If you’re worried about your 401k losing money, there are strategies you can employ to get the most out of it. This section will discuss the various strategies you can use to maximize your 401k:

Invest in low-cost index funds

Investing in low-cost index funds offers the potential for long-term financial success and is one of the best ways to maximize the return on your 401k. The concept behind low-cost index funds is to enable investors to have an investment portfolio that matches, as closely as possible, a market average of returns. This strategy makes sense in nearly all cases, since it minimizes management and trading costs in order to reduce losses incurred by individual investors in their 401k.

When creating a 401k investment plan, be sure you consider all risk factors. Allocate assets between different asset classes such as stocks, bonds and cash with various levels of volatility. Invest based on the level of competition among funds with different charges and fees associated with services or fund performance objectives. Indexing allows you to diversify across different types of investments without incurring high costs associated with actively managed funds models or strategies with higher risk tolerance.

Index funds tend to outperform other mutual fund investments over time due to lower management costs combined with lower turnover rates that often change according to conditions within the market at any given time. By investing in low-cost index funds, you can generally expect higher returns than if you invested a similar amount of money into actively managed mutual fund investments due largely to the fees associated with actively managed portfolios which can eat up significant portions of your overall return amounts over extended time periods.

Increase contributions when possible

The most straightforward way that you can maximize your 401k and get the most out of your money is to increase your contributions when possible. With every extra dollar that you contribute to your 401k, it goes straight into a secure investment account that is designed to multiply over time. When you hit the retirement age limit, the amount in this account will have accumulated significantly more than what you put in initially due to compound interest.

However, when increasing contributions keep a few things in mind. First, consider how much additional money you have available while still paying off student loans or other debt if applicable. Be mindful not to overextend yourself financially as interest on debt will eventually add up and reduce the amount of investment that you can make into your 401k plan. Additionally, check with employers about any limitations or restrictions that apply for higher contribution amounts first before increasing them too drastically.

In addition to increasing contributions when possible another strategy for maximizing returns from a 401k plan is by diversifying investments within the 401Ks portfolio itself. Just like stocks in individual portfolios, having different types of investments within a 401K allows for risk absorption against economic forces such as inflation or downturns in certain sectors, which would result in better long-term returns from retirement savings accounts.

Take advantage of tax-deferred growth

One of the primary advantages of using a 401k account for your retirement savings is that it provides tax-deferred growth. This means that you don’t pay taxes on the contributions or any earnings until you withdraw them in retirement. This allows your money to compound faster and potentially generate larger returns than taxable accounts. By contributing as much as you can to your 401K and taking advantage of the tax benefits, you can increase the amount of money you will have available when you retire.

Another way to maximize your 401K account is to increase the salary deferral rate. Most employers allow their employees to contribute up to a certain percentage of their salary each year, and some even provide incentives such as matching contributions if employees reach certain thresholds. Increasing the amount that goes into your 401K every year helps ensure that more money will be available when it comes time to retire.

In addition, if your employer offers a Roth option, it may be beneficial for you to consider contributing as much as possible in this type of account as well. With Roth 401Ks, after-tax contributions are made and any earnings are not subject to income tax when withdrawn during retirement age which could offer additional savings during retirement along with other tax advantages during the contribution period.

By doing research regarding the various investment opportunities within your company’s plan and taking advantage of both the contributions limits, employer matching options and tax advantages offered by different types of accounts such as traditional or Roth 401ks, individuals can make sure they are getting the most out of their savings plan while maximizing their returns in order to prepare for retirement funds down the road.

Other Retirement Strategies

In addition to using a 401K to save for retirement, there are other strategies you can use to ensure your future financial stability. Investing in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other financial products can help you diversify your investments and reduce your risk.

In this section, we’ll explore some of the alternative retirement strategies available to help you get the most out of your hard-earned money:

Consider Roth IRA

When trying to decide what retirement plan will work best for you, it is important to explore all of your options. A Roth IRA is an individual retirement account (IRA) in which contributions are made with after-tax money and all earnings, when withdrawn from the account, are tax-free. This type of account is especially beneficial for those who may be in a higher tax bracket now than they anticipate being at the time of their retirement.

Some people find that a Roth IRA is their primary vehicle for saving for retirement and it can provide them with numerous advantages. With this type of IRA, there are typically fewer restrictions and less paperwork compared to employer-sponsored plans such as 401(k)s or pension plans. Additionally, flexible contribution limits allow investors to save more each year based on their needs. This includes special catch-up contributions beginning at age 50; investors over 50 can contribute an additional $1,000 per year above the normal contribution limit.

Withdrawals from a Roth IRA come with certain restrictions; early withdrawals can be subject to hefty penalties unless certain well-defined exceptions apply. This makes many people wary of putting all of their eggs in one basket when it comes to retirement savings and encourages prudent planning ahead when making financial decisions related to accruing funds for later years.

Invest in real estate

Investing in real estate as part of your retirement portfolio can diversify your investments, potentially providing more stability into retirement. It is important to realize, however, that real estate investing does not always mean owning some property. You could invest in a real estate mutual fund or exchange traded fund (ETF). These funds invest in various types of real estate securities such as:

  • Single and multi-family rental housing;
  • Apartment buildings;
  • Commercial and retail properties;
  • Health care facilities;
  • Infrastructure such as fiber-optic networks, energy pipelines, and cell towers;
  • Manufactured housing parks, land entitlements/development rights, hotels/resorts and many other kinds of owner/operator properties.

Investing in real estate provides income from dividends or properties leased to tenants. Depending on your level of risk tolerance and suitability for the investment you choose, it can also provide capital appreciation over time.

Invest in dividend-paying stocks

Investing in dividend-paying stocks is a great way to diversify your retirement portfolio and increase your income. Dividend-paying stocks typically pay out a portion of the company’s profits to shareholders, usually on a quarterly or yearly basis.

In addition to providing regular income, dividend-paying stocks can increase in value over time and protect against inflation. Unlike bonds and money market accounts, dividends may increase with inflation and provide protection when interest rates remain low.

Dividend-paying stocks also tend to be less volatile, as compared with other types of investments such as mutual funds or ETFs (exchange-traded funds). Since dividends are paid from an ongoing business, they tend to have more consistent returns than most other investments over the long run. This can help reduce overall risk when investing for retirement.

When considering a dividend-paying stock for your retirement portfolio, it’s important to do research and choose stocks that meet your investment goals. Factors like history of dividend payments, growth potential, and sector should all be considered before investing in any particular stock. A financial advisor can help you identify these factors for each prospective stock in order for you make an informed decision about whether dividend paying stocks are the right choice for you.


In conclusion, there are several reasons why your 401k can lose money and it is important to be aware of the potential risks. Most importantly, make sure you are well informed about the stock market and familiarize yourself with different investment strategies. Additionally, diversify your portfolio and carefully consider fees and taxes when making decisions to help mitigate risks and boost long-term gains.

With these tips, you can help to reduce the chances of your 401k losing money and maximize your overall returns.

Review your 401k regularly

Reviewing your 401k on a regular basis is an important and proactive step in growing your retirement savings. It’s a good idea to set aside time each year to review your investment allocations and make sure they align with your personal financial goals. Though most 401k plans provide an automatic rebalancing option that allows assets to be shifted towards their target allocation, the funds may no longer be in line with your desired objectives over time. Therefore, it’s important to review allocations annually or more often if there are major changes in the market or your circumstances. Additionally, you should keep an eye on fees associated with different investments. Higher costs can eat into returns that otherwise may have been realized from the investments.

In summary, frequent reviews of allocation mix or providers may help you adjust appropriately and maintain a portfolio that best meets your needs and financial goals for retirement. Taking control of asset selection and reviewing options is key when setting yourself up for a successful retirement future.

Take advantage of employer matching

Matching is one of the most powerful tools your employer can offer to help you maximize your retirement savings. Many employers will match employee contributions to a 401k or similar retirement plan up to a certain percentage. For example, they may offer to match 50% of your contributions up to 6% of your salary each year. If you contribute the full 6% you can take full advantage of the employer’s contribution and make the most out of their generosity for an easier retirement.

If you don’t know what kind of employer matching programs are available, ask about them and make sure you understand what’s offered. Staying informed about these potential benefits can help increase the growth of your retirement account much faster than just sticking with regular contributions from each paycheck. Before signing up for any additional accounts, also be sure to understand any fees or tax implications associated with them so that you don’t miss out on any potential savings or earnings opportunities down the road.

Diversify your investments

When building your investment portfolio, diversification is key. Having a mix of different types of investments that are not correlated with one another can be beneficial in reducing the volatility of your portfolio while helping you achieve your desired returns. In the context of a 401k, this typically means allocating across different asset classes such as stocks, bonds, index funds and real estate.

It is important to ensure that your investment strategy aligns with your risk profile and financial goals. If you are comfortable taking on more risk for potentially higher returns, you may want to increase allocations to growth assets such as stocks and index funds. Conversely, if you would prefer more stable returns without too much market exposure, then shifting more money into safer asset classes like bonds or cash can make sense.

In some cases it may also make sense to invest in alternative assets such as:

However, they generally come with greater volatility than traditional stocks or bonds so should be considered carefully before investing in them directly or through a mutual fund.

In conclusion, diversifying across different assets is an important step when putting together an Investment Portfolio within your 401k plan. You will want to create a mix of investments based on the amount of risk you are comfortable taking on along with any potential financial goals you may have when making claims against them later in life either through retirement distributions or even loan collateralization purposes down the line.

Kylie Mahar

Kylie Mahar is a financial guru who loves to help others save money. She writes for cycuro.com, and is always looking for new ways to help people make the most of their money. Kylie is passionate about helping others, and she firmly believes that financial security is one of the most important things in life.

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