You probably didn’t realize it, but this is National Retirement Security Week.

Before you write it off as just another one of those useless “branded” calendar items like National Muffin Week, think of it this way: This is the perfect time to do a reality check on your retirement savings plans.

This is actually the 10th anniversary of Save for Retirement Week, established as part of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which, among other things, allowed companies to automatically enroll employees in 401(k) plans. That legislation been credited with dramatically increasing the number of workers participating in those plans nationwide. This is also the time of year that companies have their annual benefits and 401(k) open enrollment.  That’s why it’s a perfect time to do that financial check-up.

Spencer Williams, president of the Retirement Clearinghouse in Charlotte, N.C., says you should think of the week as a reminder — much like a grocery list. “It reminds us what we are supposed to do. We live in a really busy world. It’s a little extra nudge.”

State Street Global Advisors, one of the nation’s largest managers of defined contribution assets, has a few tips to help in your check-up.

  • Max out your employer’s match. Don’t leave money on the table. If you can’t afford to meet the match, slowly increase your contribution over time.
  • Increase the amount you are saving. Ideally you  should save 15 percent of your salary.
  • Check out the resources provided by your employer. Many are now offering financial wellness programs that come with  financial education, financial coaching and long-term planning aids and other resources.
  • If you are over 50, take advantage of catch-up provisions. You can contribute an additional $6,000 to you retirement plan, or up to $24,000 this year
  • Don’t borrow from your 401(k), as tempting as it may be. Start an emergency savings fund to help get you through emergencies.
  • Consolidate your retirement savings from previous jobs into your current job’s plan.

That last item is key to Williams’s mission this week: He wants to push people to move old accounts that they left behind with previous employers. “That’s one of the overlooked things. We have tens of millions of people with more than one retirement plan. The problem is those plans get cashed out a lot. Don’t leave those old accounts behind.”

The number of stranded accounts is increasing because the workforce is getting more mobile, with millennials in particular changing jobs more often.

Consolidating old retirement accounts is one way  to reduce early withdrawals, Williams says.  “”Eighty-nine percent of  [early withdrawals] come when people change jobs. If that stops, we can retain more savings and retirement account balances will go up.”

Other news: 

Question of the week: Have you borrowed from or made emergency withdrawals from your retirement account? Do you regret it, or would you do it again? Send comments to Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Borrowing from my 401(k).”

Last week’s question of the week: Have you consulted a financial planner to help plan your retirement? Or did you go it alone? 

Nikhila Pai of Berkeley, Calif., wrote:

I read some of Monday’s responses with readers proud they managed their retirement savings without the help of a planner. Well, my husband and I are not those people.

When my husband and I sold our condo to buy a rental property, I felt very conflicted about the purchase and sought a financial planner. We chose an independent adviser not affiliated with a company or fund. He gave us great advice and set us on a good course.

Once a year and at major life changes, we check in. When I was expecting our first child at 37, I felt like we needed help. When most people would be contemplating retirement, we’d be paying for college and dealing with end of life care for our parents, who had us young. Again, our adviser came through analyzing our expenses, recommending cuts and offering good saving options. Through all our conflicting priorities, he always encouraged us to keep putting away for our retirement as we can’t borrow for retirement, but we can tap lots of options for education and aging parents. The peace of mind is worth the cost.

Marion Barker of Bethesda, Md., wrote:

My husband and I did not use a financial planner for may years. My husband had streams of retirement income, TSP that grew amazingly well due to generous government contributions and the growth in the market post 2008 and decent Social Security. Also we had a stock portfolio.

We worked hard to become debt-free: didn’t borrow from the kids’ college education, made extra mortgage payments so we now own our house, didn’t carry credit card debt. So I knew we could live on my husband’s retirement sources, plus a decent but not extravagant 401(k) from my job.

I started my own business in 1996 and got an offer to sell. I considered whether I wanted to try to invest and manage the proceeds myself. I had been introduced to a certified financial planner I really resonated with. And references checked out. So even though the fees are steep, my husband and I decided to go with a financial planner. Otherwise, I would have worried myself to death about each investment move I made. I worked/worried enough in my career. I pay close attention to our investments and have a good relationship with our financial planner. Long story short — it’s worth it to us to use a financial planner.

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