6 Ways Employers Will Change 401(k)s in 2010

Many companies plan to steer employees into more appropriate investments

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Employers plan to get more involved in their 401(k) plans in 2010. The trend of employers automatically signing their workers up for retirement accounts is expected to continue this year. Many companies will also attempt to steer their employees into more appropriate investments, according to a new survey by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting firm. “They are restoring their matching contributions and offering features and tools that push workers to save more throughout their working years,” says Pamela Hess, Hewitt’s director of retirement research. Here are six ways companies plan to update their 401(k) plans in 2010.

Automatic enrollment. Interest in signing workers up for retirement accounts unless they opt out continues to grow. Some 59 percent of employers already automatically enroll their workers in retirement accounts, up from 51 percent in 2009, according to the survey of 162 mid and large companies with 5.7 million employees. More than a quarter (27 percent) of the companies with voluntary 401(k) participation plan to begin automatically enrolling workers in the coming year.

[See How Automatic Enrollment Affects Your 401(k) Match.]

Automatic escalation and rebalancing. Simply enrolling workers in retirement accounts generally isn’t enough to ensure they will have a secure retirement. Only 18 percent of the companies surveyed say they are confident that their employees will have enough retirement income to last throughout their lifetime. To attempt to get employees to save more, 38 percent of the companies say they are planning to add a feature that will automatically increase employees contribution rates to 401(k) accounts over time. And almost half (46 percent) of the employers say they are likely to add an automatic rebalancing tool to their retirement accounts in 2010 that will regularly shift employee portfolios to target asset allocations.

More investment guidance. Employers plan to become more involved in helping workers choose appropriate investments. Half (51 percent) of firms currently provide online investment guidance to their workers and another 42 percent are likely to do so in 2010. Many companies (68 percent) also plan to better educate their employees about investment and fund fees in their 401(k) plans this year. For employees who don’t wish to choose their own investments, a quarter of companies indicate they plan to begin offering managed accounts in the coming 12 months in addition to the 28 percent who already do. The amount of employers offering target date funds in 2010 will remain the same as last year at 78 percent.

[See Should Saving for Retirement be Required?]

Add a Roth 401(k). Some 25 percent of companies are likely to add a Roth 401(k) option to their retirement plan in 2010 and 29 percent of companies already have both types of retirement accounts. Roth 401(k) contributions are made with after-tax dollars and withdrawals in retirement are tax free. Traditional 401(k) deposits consist of pre-tax dollars, but income tax is due when the account owner withdraws their savings.

Offer annuities. Only 14 percent of the employers surveyed currently offer the option to purchase an annuity upon retirement through their 401(k) plan, up from 8 percent in 2009. But interest in adding an annuity feature that provides a guaranteed stream of retirement income for life is growing. Over a quarter (28 percent) of companies say they are likely to add an annuity option to their retirement plan in 2010.

[Find out Why Employers Suspend 401(k) Matches.]

Resume the 401(k) match. Some companies temporarily suspended their 401(k) match in 2009. But most firms plan to bring matches out of retirement this year. About 80 percent of companies that slimmed their company contributions last year plan to restore them in 2010.