How to Become a Millionaire Using Just Your 401(k)

Millionaire 401K

Many people dream about becoming millionaires, but never believe it could actually happen. What they might not realize is that if they tap into the power of their 401(k) plan, they could indeed retire with $1 million — or more.

First things first: Contributing to your 401(k) is a necessity, especially for younger generations. While many baby boomers are relying on pensions to supplement their retirement accounts, millennials will likely not have that luxury.

“I think as people become more educated about the topic, they are realizing that it’s really going to be up to them to fund their retirement,” said Meghan Murphy, Director of Thought Leadership at Fidelity Investments. “Of course, their social security and our baby boomer population, some of them might have pension plans, but as they get younger and younger, especially for the millennials, they are realizing that it’s important to save today for what they are going to want in the future.”

No matter what generation you belong to, it’s best not to rely on money that might not be waiting for you at the end of your career. And if you want to grow your retirement savings into the seventh digit, you’ll need to be more aggressive. Prospective 401(k) millionaires can use the following tips for growing the retirement fund they’ve always wanted.

Related: Companies Are Kicking Employees Out of Their 401(k)s and You Could Be Next

Tips for Growing Your 401(k) to a Million

1. Start Early

With 401(k)s, you can’t afford to lose any time or potential savings. This means you should be taking full advantage of your company’s retirement savings options, even if you’re not at your ideal job — don’t wait until you are working the job you want, with the company you want, at the salary you want, before you start contributing to your retirement.

The sooner you invest, the more time your money has to grow; what’s more, contributing to your 401(k) early can help you out with taxes, especially if your plan is tax-advantaged.

2. Match Your Employer’s Contributions

Take advantage of your employer’s company match, even if you do not see yourself staying with the company for 20 to 30 years. After all, a company match is like free money; if you’re making $60,000 a year and your company matches 3 percent of your salary, you’ll basically be receiving a $1,800 tax-free bonus each year.

A huge percentage of employees take advantage of their company’s match benefits, but not to the maximum. If your company has a stretch match, then that means they will usually provide a 100 percent match for the first 3 percent, then 50 percent for a small percentage of your salary after that. Some companies even offer a 25 percent match for another small percentage.

Some individuals will stop at the first 3 percent because their company is matching them fully; if you are doing this, you are still missing out on free money. Take a look at how much money you could be losing in this situation:

 You Earn
Your Company Matches
100% on the First 3%$1,800$1,800
50% on Next 2%$1,200$600
25% on Next 2%$1,200$300
Total Employer Match
$2,700

If you stopped at the first 3 percent match, you would be missing out on an extra $900 of free money each year. On the road to a million, that can add up.

Read: 3 Ways to Salvage Your Retirement Plan If You Haven’t Saved

3. Decide Which is Better: A Higher Salary or an Employer Match

Many individuals are forgoing the higher salaries to stick with companies that offer a great 401(k) match. Take a look at this example:

 SalaryCompany MatchEmployer ContributionTotal 401(k) Investment
Job 1$60K100% match on first 3%

($1,800)

5%

($3,000)

$4,800
Job 2$65K0%5%

($3,250)

$3,250

The difference is $1,550 a year. Imagine staying at the same salary and contribution rate for 30 years. The company match allows you to invest $46,500 more than a higher paying job at the same contribution rate would. Obviously, that extra $46,500 would be worth a lot more once you factor in compounding interest.

Of course, this amount could change based on salary, how much you contribute and how much your employer matches; be smart and do the math before you make an employment decision based on the 401(k).

Related: 5 Ways Your HR Department Can Ruin Your Finances

4. Check Your Account Annually

Many individuals will set up their 401(k)s and then not think about them for many years to come. Although it’s smart to allow your investments to grow steadily over the years, it is still important to evaluate your account annually. “We recommend that people check in at least annually, on their account, just to make sure that the way it is invested and the way that their future contributions will be invested still meet their needs,” Murphy said.

Growing your 401(k) to a million doesn’t require a financial degree. You just need to evaluate whether you are investing enough today to meet your future needs.

Photo credit: Tom Wolf