Q: Tell it to me straight: How much should I be contributing to my 401(k)?
A: Short answer: Um, as much as you humanly can! Long answer: It depends on when you start saving--the earlier you start, the further your money can go. So if you begin saving in your twenties, a good goal is to contribute at least 10 percent of your salary before taxes. But if you wait until your thirties, you should aim for more like 15 percent to 25 percent of your income. Twenty-five percent to 35 percent if you start in your forties. And God help you if you wait until you’re 50. Just play the lottery at that point.
Q: Which is more important: Paying off credit-card debt or contributing to retirement?
A: Woof, this is a toughie, because they’re both really important. In general, most advisors will tell you to contribute at least a little to your 401(k) while paying off your debt. That said, if your company offers matching, you might want to prioritize retirement contributions over debt reduction. Otherwise, it’s like leaving free money on the table.
Q: What about a student loan? Should I pay that off first?
A: A student loan is actually a good kind of debt, in that it’s tax deductible and can help boost your credit score as long as you make your payments on time. In other words, go ahead and get your 401(k) on.
Q: I have an old 401(k) from a previous job. What should I do with it?
A: Move it to an IRA. You have a few other options, but honestly, this is the one that will get you the most bang for your buck, since you can actively manage your investment allocations and continue to contribute.
Q: Can I take money from my 401(k) before I retire?
A: No! You will be mauled by bears and sent to a Siberian labor camp. Or be subject to crazy fines and penalties. Same diff.