401(k)

Last Updated Nov 3, 2009 4:28 PM EST

How can I rebuild my 401(k)?

As a matter of arithmetic, there are only three ways: work longer, save more, and get high returns.

If you are within 10 years of retirement and had your 401(k) money in anything but the most conservative funds, you're almost certainly going to have to delay retirement. Each year you work provides another year of savings; it's also another year that you don't have to draw from your 401(k), which may mean you don't need as much as you thought.

You'll also need to save more. To recoup a 50 percent loss in your 401(k), you need to increase your account by 100 percent. Unless you're willing to wait for the market to double from today's level, you'll have to shovel in fresh money of your own.

The other way to recover from your losses is to earn high returns — that means investments that carry some risk, including stocks. But there is one low-risk, high-return incentive available from your 401(k), and that's your company's matching contribution. An employer that kicks in 50 cents for every dollar you save is handing you a 50 percent return on your investment, so be sure to save at least enough to get all you're entitled of your company's match. To dig out of the hole created by this market, you'll need all the help you can get.

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