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Wondering How Much to Contribute to Your 401(k)? 8 Things to Consider

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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It’s easy to overlook the details of your 401(k) plan when you start a new job — there’s the excitement of learning the ropes, bringing in a fatter paycheck and finding the quiet bathroom.

Unfortunately, neglecting your 401(k) contributions can have a serious effect on your future. That’s because the money you invest early in your career has decades to grow, so even the most modest contributions can become an impressive nest egg with compound interest.

Even if you’re aware that you need to contribute to your 401(k), it can be tough to decide how much, especially if you have competing financial priorities. Here are eight factors to consider when deciding how much to contribute to your 401(k).

1. Know the IRS limits on 401(k) contributions

Your 401(k) plan is a tax-deferred retirement account, which means you deduct your contributions from your annual income at tax time. This also is described as funding your account with pre-tax dollars.

Since Uncle Sam won’t immediately see any taxes on the money you set aside, the IRS sets 401(k) contribution limits to prevent individuals from using their 401(k) accounts as vehicles to dodge taxes on large sums of money. In 2019, the employee contribution limit is $19,000 for participants who are under age 50.

If you are in a position to afford a $19,000 annual contribution, you should plan to send $1,583 per month ($19,000/12 = $1,583) to your 401(k) and call it day. If you’re a mere mortal with bills to pay, you’ll need to use other strategies to maximize your 401(k) contribution.

2. Take advantage of company matching

Many employers offer to match 401(k) contributions up to a certain amount. For instance, your company might offer to match 50% of your contributions up to 6%. This means that if you contribute 6% of your salary to your 401(k), your company will put in 3%, giving you 9% in total contributions.

“Your first goal should be to contribute enough to get the company match. This can be difficult if you’re just starting out, but saving has to be a little bit painful,” explained Jim Blankenship, a certified financial planner and the principal of Blankenship Financial Planning in New Berlin, Ill.

If contributing enough to reach the full company match is unaffordable, Blankenship recommended that you increase your contribution every time you get a raise or set up an automatic increase of 0.5% or 1% every six months. That will help you ease into contributing enough to get the match without feeling the bite all at once.

Another important thing to remember is that your employer’s contributions on your behalf don’t count toward your $19,000 contribution limit. Your employer may contribute as much as $37,000 to your 401(k) in 2019.

3. Contribution goals should not be static

It’s not a good idea to adopt a “set it and forget it” attitude when it comes to your contributions. “Your goals should evolve over time. Even if your initial goal is to get the full company match, you shouldn’t rest on your laurels once you get there,” warned Blankenship.

He recommended that you eventually max out the annual IRS contribution limits or put aside 20% of your annual salary — whichever is feasible. For instance, a worker earning $35,000 per year probably will not be able to afford the $19,000 401(k) contribution limit. However, setting aside $7,000 per year may be an achievable goal.

4. Make sure you understand vesting

While the company match is an excellent perk, it’s important to remember that the matching amount is not necessarily yours the moment it appears in your account. You will have to wait to be vested before you can consider that money yours in retirement.

In many cases, vesting is graduated over time. For instance, you might be vested in 20% of your company’s match after one year, 40% after two years and so on until you are 100% vested after five years of employment.

If you separate from the company prior to becoming 100% vested, then you will lose the nonvested amount. Unfortunately, this is true whether you quit, get fired or get laid off. The good news is that your own contributions are completely vested, so any money you personally put away is yours to keep no matter what happens to the company match or your employment status with the company.

5. 401(k) contributions are pre-tax

While you crunch the numbers to determine how much you can contribute to your retirement account, don’t forget that your take-home pay will not be reduced by the full amount of your contribution. Since your contribution is taken from your pre-tax salary, contributions effectively lower your annual salary, which means your tax withholding for each paycheck also will go down. So for each $100 you contribute to your 401(k), you’ll see less than $100 deducted from your take-home pay.

6. 401(k) vs. debt vs. emergency fund: how to prioritize

Most people have a number of competing financial needs, making it difficult to understand how to prioritize where your money goes. Should you build your emergency fund, focus on maxing out your 401(k) contributions or pay down debt to avoid losing money on high interest rates?

“Your top priority should be building an emergency fund of three to six months’ worth of unavoidable expenses,” said Blankenship. “Unavoidable expenses means true bare-bones minimum: rent or mortgage, car payment, utilities and groceries. You don’t need to recreate your usual monthly spending, just the amount you would need to get by.”

Once that is in place, Blankenship recommended paying the minimum amount on your debt to prioritize getting the company match on your 401(k). Credit card debt or other high-interest debt should take priority over student loan debt; however, you can work on paying down your debt while contributing to your retirement account.

7. Review the details of your 401(k) plan

How much you contribute to your employer 401(k) may depend on how good the plan is. Blankenship recommended looking at the portfolios offered by your 401(k) to determine if it’s a good low-cost investing environment for your money.

“You should educate yourself on what makes for a good diversified portfolio, and there are a number of resources online that will help you do an analysis of your potential portfolio,” he said. In particular, Blankenship recommended Yahoo Finance.

Blankenship also recommended opening an individual retirement account (IRA) if your 401(k) isn’t up to snuff. You should keep contributing to your 401(k) up to your company match; however, any contributions beyond that should go toward your IRA to take advantage of lower fees or a more diversified portfolio.

8. Determine your desired retirement age

It can be hard to think about retirement when you’re in the thick of your career, but it’s a good idea to do some basic calculations to determine how much you will need, even if retirement is decades away.

Not only will you have a better sense of what you need to set aside to reach your goals, but thinking about what you want from your future makes those goals feel more immediate (which also makes it easier and more satisfying to save money).

The takeaway

The precise amount to send to your 401(k) will depend on a number of factors. Meeting your company match and creating savings goals that evolve over time will help ensure you have a robust retirement account when you need it.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken |

Emily Guy Birken is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here

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Investing

SoFi Active Investing Review

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Well known for its lending business, SoFi has branched out more recently into investing products. SoFi Active Investing is the company’s online brokerage product, providing a platform for users to invest in individual stocks and exchange traded funds (ETFs).

SoFi Active Investing offers very limited choices for investing, and should be considered a product for people who want to learn the basics. That said, this platform’s biggest hook makes it a very attractive choice for investing beginners: it charges zero transaction fees. In addition, you can get started buying fractional shares of stock with as little as a $1, and it provides great educational resources.

SoFi Automated Investing
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The bottom line: SoFi Active Investing provides beginners with easy-to-use online brokerage that helps them invest in stocks and ETFs, and learn about the market.

  • Invest in a variety of stocks and ETFs, including fractional shares.
  • Create a personal watchlist and get real-time investing news and data.
  • Get access to other SoFi membership benefits, including rate discounts and community events.

Who should consider SoFi Active Investing

SoFi Active Investing is best for beginners who would like to gain hands-on experience in trading individual stocks. Fractional investing through the Stock Bits feature can be a very useful tool, since you can buy a small piece of a more expensive company for as little as $1.

While best suited for beginners, intermediate and even advanced traders can benefit from using SoFi’s brokerage account. SoFi doesn’t charge trading commissions like most other online brokers. More active traders can benefit from using this product and save money on fees, rather than needing to pay each time an order is executed.

Note that investors who are more focused on long-term goals and want a more hands-off approach to their portfolio might look at SoFi Automated Investing, the company’s robo-advisor platform. This SoFi product takes care of the heavy lifting for investors by offering a selection of ETF portfolios.

SoFi Automated Investing fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $100 one-time deposit or $20 monthly deposit
Tradable securities
  • ETFs
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Offers automated portfolio/robo-advisor
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • SEP IRA
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, Email, 4 branch locations

Strengths of SoFi Active Investing

  • No transaction fees: While any ETFs you choose come with expense ratios, there are no transaction fees, even for trading individual stocks. You can expect to pay $4.95 (or more) at several more traditional brokerages. Robinhood is one of the few other brokers that doesn’t charge transaction fees.
  • Access to fractional shares: If you don’t have enough money to purchase a full share of stock, you can purchase fractional shares of select stocks for as little as $1.
  • Invest up to $1,000 instantly: If you have a linked bank account, and meet certain requirements, you can invest instantly, without waiting about four business days for funds to clear.
  • SoFi membership bonuses: When you open a SoFi Active Investing account, you become a SoFi member and get access to certain bonuses. These bonuses include things like rate discounts on other products, as well as invitations to exclusive events and networking opportunities.

Drawbacks of SoFi Active Investing

  • Cash balance doesn’t earn interest: The money you have sitting in the cash balance portion of your SoFi Active Investing account doesn’t earn interest. Some other brokers will pay a small amount of interest on cash that hasn’t been invested yet.
  • Not every stock comes with fractional investing: While it’s possible to buy fractional shares, the list of stocks where this is possible is limited. Not every stock comes with the ability to purchase fractional shares. SoFi updates its list of Stock Bits based on demand.

Is SoFi Active Investing safe?

SoFi Active Investing is as safe as any investment. It is important to understand that anytime you invest, you are putting your money on the line and you could lose it — this is true no matter what broker you use.

However, SoFi offers its account under SoFi Securities LLC, a broker registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Additionally, SoFi carries SIPC insurance, which is designed to protect investors if the broker fails. Realize, though, that the SIPC won’t protect you from economic and market events — those losses are entirely yours.

SoFi is also regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which helps keep your investments safe. Before investing, it’s a good idea to use resources like FINRA’s BrokerCheck to see if there are problems related to any broker. Additionally, you can look at the Better Business Bureau to see if there are complaints against an investing company.

Final thoughts

SoFi Active Investing is a good choice for beginners who want to start active trading. It’s possible to invest in individual stocks and fractional shares without paying transaction fees. You can open an account fairly easily, and when you link a bank account, you can invest instantly.

There are other brokers, like Robinhood, that provide access to individual stocks without high costs, and if you don’t trade very frequently, established brokers like Charles Schwab and Ally Invest can be good choices, even with transaction fees.

However, it’s important to note that SoFi is relatively new to the investment space, and you might not have access to some of the tools commonly available with more established brokers. Additionally, if you’re not sure that you’re ready for active investing, it can make sense to start with a robo-advisor. SoFi’s Automated Investing product might be a good choice, or you might consider another well-known investment product, like Ellevest, Wealthfront or Betterment.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit |

Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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Investing

M1 Finance Review

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

M1 Finance is an online investing platform that combines robo-advisor functionality with certain features more typically found on conventional broker platforms. This makes M1 Finance a somewhat unique product: It offers curated investment portfolios for different goals and risk tolerances, together with the ability to build your own investment portfolios.

No matter which way you choose to compile your investments, M1 Finance lands squarely in the robo-advisor camp, as it manages them for you automatically and handles all the necessary rebalancing. M1 offers taxable, trust and retirement accounts, and users can open up to five accounts under one login. Best of all, M1 charges no annual management fees.

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The bottom line: This highly customizable robo advisor is a good option for investors who have gotten beyond the beginner stage, as well as more experienced investors.

  • Build your own investment portfolios choosing from an array of stocks and exchange traded funds (ETFs)
  • M1’s curated investment portfolios give you preset options
  • Robo-advisor technology and dynamic rebalancing keep your investments on track

How does M1 Finance work?

M1 Finance refers to investment portfolios as “pies,” and the different stocks and ETFs added to each portfolio “pie” as “slices,” which you may find either charming or goofy. When you sign up with M1 and choose your first pie — one designed by M1, one with “slices” you’ve selected yourself, or a mix of the two — the platform shows you how it would have performed over the last 10 years (this is called a “backtest” in the professional investing world).

After establishing a portfolio “pie,” you complete a quick series of questions about yourself, including income, net worth, liquidity, and investment time horizon. M1 then asks you to link up a bank account to fund your investments. Once linked, you can fund your first pie, and may choose more portfolio pies.

If you decide to build your own portfolio pies, you can choose from more than 4,000 individual stocks and more than 1,900 ETFs. Each pie can hold up to 100 slices. M1 requires a minimum balance of just $100, and charges no fees to manage your portfolios. M1 makes its money from interest on cash deposits, interest on margin loans, and through the annual fee on their optional M1 Plus membership, among other things.

For users who want the platform to choose investments for them, M1 Finance offers curated pies, from target retirement portfolios (sorted by conservative to aggressive) to socially responsible investing portfolios. There’s even a “Cannabis Pie” that offers exposure to publicly traded cannabis producing, manufacturing and distributing companies.

Who should consider M1 Finance

M1 Finance has features that would appeal to both journeymen and more experienced investors. The latter will like the build-your-own portfolio option, while all users will appreciate curated portfolios based on things like your target retirement date or your desired mix of stocks and bonds. If you feel comfortable choosing your investment approach, you can set up automatic investments that will fund your account over time.

For true beginners, the M1 platform might be a little too DIY. Although you can choose from the site’s pre-selected investment mixes, there are no recommendations based on your time horizon or other measures — you’re on your own to select one. If you need help, there are no advisors available, as with some other robo-advisors — you must submit a support request via contact form.

M1 Finance fees and features

Current promotions

Current M1 clients get $25 off their first year of M1 Plus, M1's premium product.

Stock trading fees
  • $0 per trade
Amount minimum to open account
  • $100
Tradable securities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $100 full account transfer fee
  • $100 partial account transfer fee
  • $20 inactivity fee
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Offers automated portfolio/robo-advisor
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Trust
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, Email

Strengths of M1 Finance

  • No fees: M1 charges no fees to manage your portfolio, and requires only $100 to start investing, after which you can invest in increments of $10. There is, however, an inactivity fee if you have less than $20 in your account and there’s no activity for 90 or more days, and the site charges to close accounts: $100 for outgoing transfers, for instance, and $100 to terminate each IRA.
  • Customizable portfolios: Unlike some robo-advisors that lock you into their investment selections based on your risk tolerance, M1 Finance gives you a lot of leeway. You can select your own stocks and funds you’d like to go into your investment pie, or you can go with one of the site’s professionally curated pies, such as “Moderately Aggressive” or “Responsible Investing.” You can also choose a combination of the two approaches, filling part of your pie with your picks and part of your pie with theirs.
  • Fractional shares: M1 allows investors to buy fractional shares of stocks and funds, so every dollar you point toward your portfolio will be used when you purchase investments.
  • Rebalancing: Using a method it calls Dynamic Rebalancing, M1 will rebalance your portfolio as you deposit and withdraw cash, and the site will reinvest your dividends once your cash balance reaches $10, or whatever threshold you’ve chosen.
  • Additional features: With M1 Borrow, users with accounts with a balance of at least $10,000 can borrow up to 35% of their portfolio at 4.25%. M1 Spend allows users to keep cash in a checking account, and if you sign up for M1 Plus for $125 a year (currently on special for $100), you’ll earn 1.5% APY on your cash.

Drawbacks of M1 Finance

  • Too much freedom: Unlike most robo-advisors, which typically recommend pre-baked investment portfolios for you based on your answers to questions about goals and risk tolerance, M1 lets you invest in whatever you want. This could be bad news if someone loads up their portfolio with stocks without doing any research, or might be overwhelming for an investor who wants more hand-holding.
  • Not much guidance: The site’s setup includes questions like, “What is your liquid net worth?” without any explanation for beginners about what that might mean. The site also asks users to rate their risk tolerance — low, medium, high — without any accompanying details. Many other robo-advisors provide greater amounts of background detail on the investing process, and offer more advice for novice investors.
  • Not for day traders: M1 makes trades just once every day, during the “trading window,” at 9 am Central Time. If you’re looking to capitalize on daily stock price fluctuations, this may not be your ideal platform.
  • No tax-loss harvesting: Although M1 uses a tax minimization strategy to reduce the taxes you owe when you sell securities, there is no tax loss harvesting offered. When you request a withdrawal from your account, an algorithm sells securities in the order of: losses that offset future gains, lots that result in long-term gains, and then lots that result in short-term gains.

Is M1 Finance safe?

M1 Finance has all of the typical protections in place. It is a registered broker/dealer with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and carry SIPC insurance that protects against the loss of cash and securities held by a customer up to $500,000. They also have supplemental SIPC insurance, and M1 Spend and M1 Plus accounts are FDIC insured up to $250,000.

M1 has also taken measures to protect personal information. Your data is never stored on any device, and all information is encrypted in transit and at rest. The connection to your bank is managed via an electronic key — M1 doesn’t store your bank credentials.

Final thoughts

M1 Finance offers features that will appeal to both experienced and beginner investors, from highly customizable portfolios to pre-set investment mixes that users can set on auto-pilot. Although there’s not much guidance on the site, users can open an IRA, choose a target date retirement mix, set up automatic investments and they’re set — or they can fill a portfolio with 100 individual stocks and ETFs of their choosing. With no management or trading fees, users are paying just the expenses on the investments themselves, and you can invest as little as $10 at a time. Compared to other robo-advisors charging higher fees and offering fewer investment options, there’s a lot to like here.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kate Ashford
Kate Ashford |

Kate Ashford is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kate here