How to Save for Retirement Without a 401K

Employer-sponsored retirement plans are not mandated. They're an added benefit to being on the job. As a result, there are instances where an employer may not offer one. And even those who do may have strict participation rules that create gaps in your savings plan or disqualify you altogether.

According to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, of full-time private sector workers, 25% were denied access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. In fact, studies indicate that access to workplace retirement plans is lower today than it was in the late 1980s.

Often we get so tied up with our careers that we forget that the reason we're working in the first place is to support ourselves — now and into retirement. But don't let your career focus derail your retirement. Here is what you can do if your employer doesn't offer a retirement plan.

1. Seek an Employer Who Does

If you're putting your retirement first, it is not unreasonable to think about taking your skillset elsewhere, especially if the new employer matches 401K contributions. Even the standard 3% employer match, on say $60,000, would yield an extra $1,800 in free money per year. On the other hand, let's assume that you receive a generous year-end bonus, but no retirement offering. In this scenario you might be better off staying at your current job and following my next piece of advice — unless of course, you can find a position that offers you both, which many do.

There are many variables to consider when deciding whether to leave or stay with an employer. Be willing to design your own retirement plan and don't be afraid to see what's out there. Fear and/or complacency will only hold you back.

2. Start an Individual Retirement Account, or IRA

The best alternative to employer-sponsored retirement accounts are IRAs. In fact, these are nice to have in addition to employer plans, and are in some ways more advantageous than 401K accounts because they offer greater investment flexibility. There are two types of IRAs: Traditional and Roth, though they each have distinctive differences that need to be taken into consideration.

Traditional IRAs

Traditional IRAs are funded with pre-tax income. Additionally, Traditional IRA contributions are tax deductible (depending on your adjusted gross income), however, distributions are taxed at withdrawal and cannot be taken before age 59 1/2 without incurring income tax and a 10% early-distribution penalty. All contributions must cease at age 70 1/2 and mandatory withdrawals have to made by April 1st of that year.

Roth IRAs

The Roth IRA is a less complicated option because it is funded using after-tax dollars, which allows your earnings to grow tax-free. Distributions from your contributed funds can be taken at anytime without penalty, assuming the account has been open at least five years. And unlike the Traditional IRA, there are no mandatory distribution rules, so you can make contributions for the rest of your life, if you'd like.

Individuals can maintain one or both types of accounts. The current annual contribution limit for all IRA accounts combined is $5,500 ($6,500 for ages 50+). Learn more about the benefits of IRA accounts from How to Set Up an IRA to Build Wealth and 4 Reasons Why a Roth IRA May Be Better Than Your 401(k) are two great articles that explain the benefits of IRA accounts.

Your choice of employer doesn't have to stymie your retirement plans. Consider all the alternatives available to ensure a safe and comfortable financial future for your family.

Does your employer offer a retirement plan? If not, how are you planning for your future?

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Guest's picture
George B

The key is to start saving/investing early in life and be consistent (save with every paycheck). Taking advantage of a matching 401k plan should be a no brainer. The power of compounding is lost on many people. Also maxing out contributions when possible, eliminating debt, avoiding risks with your nest egg, planning for multiple streams of income once retired (social security, pensions, dividends, part time work, etc.) and making catch up contributions once you reach 50 should all be part of everyone's plan. And work at staying healthy to reduce illness, injuries and medical costs. I recently found the site Retirement And Good Living which provides information on all these issues as well as many other retirement topics and also has several retirement and health calculators.

Guest's picture

Interesting and timely article. I'm currently in the process of ceasing my 401k to start an alternative retirement strategy that works for me. After researching my 401k, I found a few things that were a cause for concern. Does anyone pay attention to how much their fund of choice charges each year for maintenance? Personally, my fund charges about 1%, which is the 2nd most expensive fund available to choose from. 1%, who cares right? 2 things - 1)1% is $1,000 per $100,000 EVERY SINGLE YEAR. 2) If you take out that 1% out of my gains for the year, that fee eats up 20-30% of my gains for the entire year so far. That sucks. I also hate the lack of control. The money I have in the 401k is frozen - I'm not allowed to cash it out. I also have no choice if I want a different fund. I also must be careful of how much I withdraw in retirement. No thanks. 401k is the biggest hoax of all time, in my opinion - company matching included. Oh, the company doesn't match for your benefit - check out the tax benefits they get for doing so sometime. I have an MBA in Accounting and Finance - not just talking out of my keyboard.