The promise of free money is typically pretty alluring.
After all, the stimulus checks Congress handed out during the early months of the pandemic were enormously popular, and nearly 3 million people have signed a petition calling for more.
So why, then, are 1 in 10 working Americans missing out on thousands in free cash that’s available right now and has been for a long time?
While some people don’t know about these programs or don’t think they can make use of them, both problems are easily fixed. Here’s how to make sure you get the money you’re owed.
Millions don’t max out their 401(k) match
A 401(k) match from your employer is the closest thing many people get to free cash.
These common programs see your company match whatever you contribute to a 401(k) retirement account, up to a certain limit.
This perk is part of your compensation package when you get a job, so if you don’t take full advantage, it’s like you’re not taking part of your salary.
Say you make $60,000 a year, and your employer offers a dollar-for-dollar match up to 6% of your salary. That means the maximum your employer will give you is $3,600 each year.
But if you only put $2,000 into your 401(k), your employer is only putting in $2,000 — and you’re leaving $1,600 on the table.
Opportunities like these don’t come around often in life, and yet 17.5 million Americans are guilty of not cashing in on the full offer they receive, according to a recent survey by MagnifyMoney.
Why don’t people contribute more?
A small number of respondents say they don’t understand how 401(k) retirement plans work (6%) or don’t know whether their company offers a match (17%).
If you’re in this group, that’s understandable — but when this much money is on the line, you’ll want to set up a talk with your HR representative right away.
Some employees (12%) say they want to wait until they’re older to contribute. But as any financial expert will tell you, contributing as soon as possible is critical since it gives your investments more time to grow.
The biggest reason why employees don’t take full advantage is affordability; over a third of respondents say they just can’t contribute as much as they’d like. That makes sense, especially at a time when many families’ budgets are being stretched to the breaking point.
Normally, the answer would be to rely on the power of investing even tiny amounts of money — but with a 401(k) match, you may have another solution.
How to start taking full advantage
If you’ve got enough money to spare, your first step should be setting up automatic withdrawals from your paycheck. A “set-it-and-forget-it” approach will ensure you get the maximum match.
Remember you can always invest more than the amount your employer will match. And since these automatic withdrawals typically come from your pre-tax income, you won’t need to pay taxes on your contributions.
On the other hand, if you’re struggling to find the cash to make your full contributions, a new company launched last year to help with this exact problem.
The company will advance you the money you need to get the full match, with no credit check or upfront fee. Then, after your employer matches your contributions, you’ll withdraw from your 401(k) to pay the company back, plus a small cut of the money you got from the match.
It’s not as much pure profit as you would receive contributing your own money, but it’s a lot better than missing out on the offer of free cash.
Otherwise, you can try some of these proven strategies to find the cash you need to get the most free money possible:
Score a better mortgage rate. Interest rates are historically low at the moment; if you refinance, you could save hundreds each month and thousands over the life of your loan.
Consolidate your high interest debt. With interest rates topping 20%, credit cards make it easy to fall into debt. Combining all of your balances into one loan with a lower interest rate can help you save hundreds and free yourself from debt faster.
Stop overpaying online. It’s hard to feel confident you’re getting the best price when there are thousands of stores on the internet. Try a free browser extension that automatically applies coupon codes and finds lower prices when you shop online.
Turn pennies into a portfolio. Even if you don't have much money to spare, you can still earn returns from today’s hot stock market. A popular app will help you invest your “spare change” from everyday purchases.
This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.