65 commonly asked 401(k) plan questions—and where to find answers

From enrolling, to investing, to taking withdrawals, people have questions about their 401(k) plans and how to use them. Below are some of the questions that potential and active participants ask about their plans—and links to recent Viewpoints that can help answer them.

Questions about where your 401(k) fits into your overall retirement saving strategy

1 What are the differences between a 401(k) and an IRA?

2 Should I have both kinds of accounts?

    Read “Should I invest in a 401(k) or an IRA?”

3 How is a Roth 401(k) account different from a traditional 401(k) or a Roth IRA?

4 Why would I contribute to a Roth 401(k)?

5 How do I make sure to get the tax advantages of a Roth 401(k)?

    Read “What's a Roth 401(k)?

Questions about how 401(k) saving fits into your personal finances

6 Where does my 401(k) plan and other retirement savings fit into my family’s financial strategy?

7 Is there a good way to frame a discussion about retirement saving with my spouse or partner?

    Read “Take charge of financial decisions by making them a family affair

8 How can I afford to save for retirement when times are tough?

9 How does an emergency savings account help with retirement savings and improve financial wellness?

    Read “How setting up a budget can help you through tough times

Questions about how much of your pay you can contribute to your 401(k) plan

10 How much can I contribute to my 401(k) plan this year?

11 Are the limits the same for traditional and Roth 401(k) accounts?

12 What’s a catch-up contribution, and how does it affect how much I can put away?

13 How do marriage and tax-filing status affect how much I can contribute?

    Read “What the annual 2021 IRS limits mean for your retirement plan

Questions about choosing and managing your 401(k) investments

14 What kind of investments tend to be included in a 401(k) plan?

15 What roles do these investments play in my own portfolio?

16 What’s an asset class?

17 What’s a target-date fund (TDF)?

18 How do I choose a TDF?

19 Why are TDFs named for years—and how do I choose the right one?

20 What are the differences among a TDF, a target-risk fund, and a balanced fund?

21 What’s a managed account—and why would I consider it?

22 How does a managed account personalize my investments?

23 How can I make smart investment choices without having to do all the research myself?

    Read “Three ways to invest your 401(k) savings

Questions about how Social Security works with your 401(k)

24 When will I qualify for Social Security?

25 How big of a retirement income gap might Social Security leave me?

26 Is there a way to check my current estimated Social Security benefit—even as I’m saving in my 401(k)?

27 How do I apply?

    Read “What’s Social Security and how much will I get when I retire?”

Questions about boosting your 401(k) savings—and possibly retiring early

28 How does my planned retirement location affect my 401(k) saving target?

29 How does credit card debt affect my ability to save in my 401(k)?

30 How can combining a health savings account (HSA) with a 401(k) make my retirement savings last longer?

31 At what age do early withdrawal penalties go away?

32 Is there a way to ballpark how much money I might need to retire early?

33 Are there ways to prepare for paying medical expenses in retirement?

34 How can I retire before age 65?

    Read “How to retire early—what you need to do now

Questions about how to manage your 401(k) account when markets are volatile

35 Are there any helpful rules of thumb for when the markets are moving up and down?

36 How have 401(k) investments done over the long run?

37 Should my investment approach change as my retirement gets closer?

38 Can anything help relieve the risk of 401(k) investing?

39 What’s dollar cost averaging, and how can it help build my retirement savings?

    Read “How to manage your 401(k) through market fluctuations

Questions about fine-tuning your 401(k) saving approach to meet your changing needs

40 Am I still saving enough?

41 How much more income would I need to retire by age 65?

42 Am I still investing my savings in a way that makes sense for me?

43 Am I taking advantage of everything my 401(k) offers?

    Read “Three questions to ask to get your 401(k) plan on track

44 What’s an employer match—and how should I be thinking about it?

45 How do I take full advantage of my employer’s match?

46 What’s “vesting,” and how does it affect the amount of money that’s actually in my account?

    Read “What’s an employer match?” 

Questions about managing your 401(k) in the years leading up to retirement

47 How much of my 401(k) savings should I plan to withdraw each month?

48 Which kind of help is available for me to plan my withdrawals?

49 Which kind of investments should I be thinking about as I move into retirement?

50 Can a professionally managed account or a financial professional help?

    Read “What to do before taking money out of your 401(k) in retirement

51 How can I systematically plan for retirement expenses?

52 How can I factor lifestyle choices—and the cost of living—into my 401(k) approach?

53 How will I be able to keep doing the things I love when I’m in retirement?

    Read “Personalize your retirement planning

54 Where will my retirement income come from?

55 How much money will I need in retirement?

56 What if my estimated expenses are higher than my expected retirement income?

57 Is there a tool I can use to make income planning easier?

    Read “Preparing for retirement when it’s on your horizon” 

Questions about borrowing from your 401(k)

58 What you need to know about 401(k) loans?

59 Why would someone take a 401(k) loan?

60 Are there downsides to borrowing from my 401(k)?

61 How do I minimize the downsides of taking a loan?

    Read “What you need to know about 401(k) loans

Questions about keeping your 401(k) information and savings in the right hands

62 How can I help safeguard my account and personal information?

63 Why is choosing and naming beneficiaries so important?

64 How easy is it to name my beneficiaries—and can I do it myself?

65 How can I be sure that my personal and account information stay up to date?

    Read "Your retirement savings account needs a regular care routine, too"

Seeking answers is the first step in achieving 401(k) success

The more you know about how your 401(k) plan works and retirement saving in general, the more likely you are to enroll and make the most of it. To stay on top of the Viewpoints articles we publish each month just for retirement savers, bookmark our retirement readiness page now. And for answers to your specific questions, take advantage of the guidance and education your employer or union makes available—or talk to your financial professional.

For complete information about a particular investment option, please read the fund prospectus. You should carefully consider the objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing. The prospectus contains this and other important information about the investment option and investment company.  Please read the prospectus carefully before you invest or send money. Prospectus may only be available in English.

The content of this document is for general information only and is believed to be accurate and reliable as of the posting date, but may be subject to change. It is not intended to provide investment, tax, plan design, or legal advice (unless otherwise indicated). Please consult your own independent advisor as to any investment, tax, or legal statements made herein.