A 401(k) plan is an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan that allows an employee to contribute a portion of his or her paycheck into a tax-advantaged investment account. The employee (or plan participant) typically chooses from a range of investment options within the 401(k) plan. These options, which often include mutual funds, are chosen by the plan sponsor—usually the employer. Approximately half of all assets in 401(k) plans are invested in mutual funds, which in turn are invested in stocks, bonds, and short-term investments.
Benchmarking is important because you'll need to evaluate your current 401K plan against other options to ensure that you're adhering to best practices. In order to avoid fiduciary liability, most experts suggest it's important to benchmark your 401K every 1-2 years.
If you are under the age of 59 1/2, you cannot withdraw funds from your 401k plan to purchase your first home without being subject to a 10 percent additional tax on this early distributions (called a hardship withdrawal). However, depending on the rules for your 401k plan, you may be able to borrow money from your 401k to purchase your first home. Your plan administrator will have information about your particular plan that explains when you can borrow funds from your 401k plan as well as other plan rules.
No, a company has complete discretion as to whether or not they match your contribution. The match is a form of profit sharing. If your employer is not highly profitable, or if times are tough, they may elect to not match the contributions. The existence of a company match should not keep you from contributing to your 401k.
After you leave your job, there are several options for your 401(k). You may be able to leave your account where it is. Alternatively, you may roll over the money from the old 401(k) into either your new employer's plan or an individual retirement account (IRA).
Fortunately, many company's offer self-directed or brokerage window functions that give investors the option to seize the reigns over their own financial destinies by managing their 401(k) plans for themselves.