In January a friend of my husband’s asked his employer, (a very small company with less than ten employees), to increase his personal 401(k) contribution from 5% to 10%. Now the friend assumed that the employer made the change and went about his business for the next six months. In fact, he assumed everything was perfectly fine until a few days ago when he logged into his 401(k) account and realized the company failed to make the change.
He was annoyed and angry and contacted his employer in search of retribution. He believes the company owes him money, because the market has been rebounding ever so slightly and without increased contributions he feels he missed out on the rise.
While my husband felt sorry for his friend, I must admit that I thought his friend was as much at fault as his employer. After all, his friend could have logged on to his 401(k) at any point over the last few months to check his contribution level. If he had taken just one minute in the last seven months he could have logged in, looked at his balance, checked his contribution level and realized the employer’s mistake.
Instead, he waited seven months to review his account and then blamed his employer for failing to make the change he requested. While I agree that the employer should have made the change, I believe the employee is equally responsible in verifying that the change actually occurred.
I typically peek in on my 401(k) every few weeks just to check the balance, so I certainly would’ve caught an error like this one by the second pay period. But this scenario definitely got me thinking: Is it unusual for an employee to check his or her balance so often? How often do most retirement contributors review their holdings?
When I asked around the office a couple of coworkers told me they’ve never logged into their 401(k) accounts. A few others haven’t logged in for so long that they can’t remember how to log in and a few of those who could remember didn’t know their passwords.
One friend told my husband he completely lost track of his 401(k). He worked for a company during the dot-com era that no longer exists. With the company out of business he can’t contact the HR department and he can’t remember which investment firm managed his 401(k). He remembers opening and investigating in that account, but he has no idea which firm held his money. For the time being he’s written off that money, because he has no idea how to get a hold of it.
So what about you? How often do you review your retirement portfolios? How long would it take before you recognized an error like this one?