How Americans miss out on $24 billion a year

The dream retirement: Buy a vineyard
The dream retirement: Buy a vineyard

If someone handed you $1,300, would you turn it down?

One in four workers are essentially doing just that because they're not taking full advantage of their employer's 401(k) matching contribution. These workers end up leaving $24 billion on the table each year by not saving enough to get the full company match, according to a new report from Financial Engines.

For one person, that's like passing up on a $1,336 bonus.

"We're talking about real money here," said Greg Stein, director of financial technology at Financial Engines.

For a 45-year-old hoping to retire at age 65, that could be a loss of $42,855 over the last 20 years of their career.

Many people might be unaware of the benefits offered by their employer, Stein said.

Companies are getting more generous with their 401(k) deals. About 92% of those that offer a defined contribution retirement plan match their workers' savings up to a certain amount. Typically, the company will contribute one dollar for every dollar the worker saves, up to 6% of their salary. Until recently, it was more likely that your company contributed 50 cents for every dollar, Stein said.

Related: Most twenty-somethings are actually saving for retirement

Others might feel like they can't save more than they already are. A lot of workers who don't make a full contribution aren't making much money to begin with, according to the report. About 42% of those earning less than $40,000 a year don't take full advantage of the company match, while just 21% of those making between $60,00 and $80,000 don't.

"Saving is difficult. There are millions of competing interests for our hard earned money," Stein said.

But if you can't save more now, he suggests committing to saving more each year. Many plans allow you to make those annual increases automatic.

Related: You're $475,000 short on your retirement savings

Another strategy? Commit to putting any future bonuses toward your 401(k) plan. With a company match, that's like getting a double bonus, Stein said.

"While many people might feel like they can't afford to save more, we hope that this study helps them realize what they are leaving behind," he said.

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