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People who get 401(k) advice are better savers. Too bad many people don’t get advice.

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People who get professional advice about their 401(k)s save more and have a better chance of meeting their savings goals. Yet few people actually get that help, according to a study released Monday.

For instance, 74 percent of people who had professional help knew how much money they should have stashed in their 401(k) plans by the time they stop working, according to the study by Natixis Global Asset Management. That compared to about half, or 54 percent, of people who don’t work with a financial adviser.

“If at a minimum, you don’t know how much you’re going to need on the day you’re going to retire,” says Ed Farrington, executive vice president for retirement and business development for Natixis, “then the risk is you’ll fall short of the lifestyle you’re hoping for.”

People working with financial advisers also contributed more, about 9.5 percent of their income on average, compared to the 8.6 percent contributed by all workers overall, according to the firm. In contrast, people without advisers contributed 7.8 percent of their pay.  Natixis surveyed 1,000 people in May who are making at least $15,000 and focused on the 899 who were enrolled in 401(k) plans. Of those participants, 472 people did not have financial advisers and 427 did get advice.

Financial pros aside, most workers were also ignoring the free tools made available to them: 64 percent of savers said their plans offer a retirement income calculator but only 38 percent ever used it. Similarly, 59 percent of participants had access to tools that could help them figure out how much income their current savings would provide once they were in retirement, but only 37 percent had used them.

What the numbers show, Farrington says, is that most people understand the value of their 401(k) plans — 84 percent said they expected their 401(k) to be their most important source of income later in life — but few are taking the time to make sure they’re getting as much as they can out of the accounts.

A separate study released last week by Charles Schwab found that people spend twice as much time shopping for a new car or planning a vacation as they do researching their 401(k) options. And even when people have the option of getting help with those decisions, they rarely take advantage of it. That ‘s despite the fact that 70 percent of them said they would feel more confident about their decisions if they could get financial help. Only 39 percent said they were comfortable making those decisions on their own.

In addition to saving more, people who get advice with their 401(k)s are also more diversified, says Steve Anderson, head of Schwab Retirement Plan Services. People with guidance invest in eight mutual  funds, on average, compared to the three for people who don’t get advice.  They are also more likely to stay the course and avoid portfolio changes when markets are volatile, he says.

So what would it take for people to ask for help? Not surprisingly, the biggest life change  — by far — that pushed people to think seriously about saving for retirement was getting close to retirement.  Sixty-three percent of people said that event was most likely to encourage them to seek help with their planning.

Other major life events, such as starting a new job, getting married or having a child barely had an impact on the decision making. But many advisers argue those are exactly the kinds of events that should be encouraging people to revisit their retirement plans and be sure they are on a path to meet their goals.

“People should be maximizing the level of advice and guidance every step along the way rather than waiting until the last five years when it really could be too late,” Anderson says.


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