Personal Finance 101: Understanding the Ins and Outs of a 401(k)


By Sean Williams

There’s no doubt about it: The employer-sponsored 401(k) is the most popular retirement tool for working Americans. According to data from, as of 2015, 18% of all retirement assets were being held in 401(k)s, with the value of those assets totaling $4.5 trillion. On average, 81.5% of workers who have a 401(k) plan offered through their employers are participating, with the average contribution working out to 6.8% of their salaries.

Yet despite its popularity and the perceived satisfaction of 401(k) plans among working Americans, surveys demonstrate that workers’ knowledge of 401(k) plans is often lacking. The 2015 “RetireWell Study” from Guardian Insurance and Annuity Company found that many of its 2,000 surveyed employees were unaware of basic investing concepts, which could keep them from maximizing the potential of their 401(k) plans.

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