Paying attention to my 401k saved my company’s employees ~$92,000

by FireOfDragons

This is a post about how even a little bit of attention can go a long way for you, and others.

I work for a company with ~600 employees across North America. Since finding the personal finance communities two years ago, my family has been keeping an eye on our budgeting and saving, and I was having fun with it, so I started also keeping track of contributions into my 401k – nothing major, just a yearly look to see contributions, matches (my company matches 4%), and dividends.

One year I logged into my 401k provider (Fidelity) and ran my transaction history total for a year, and what caught my eye was a Fee for $12.50. To that date I had never seen a fee before. I called my HR/Benefits and they confirmed they had jumped the gun but that – starting next year – every employee would have a $12.50 recordkeeping fee charged yearly. They reimbursed me the $12.50 for that year, but I learned a lesson: 401ks (and the HR departments behind a company) were not infallible. I added ‘Fees’ to my mental thing to check on during my year-end check.

2 years went by, until this last year. This year in February I pulled the 2018 totals for my 401k, and noticed that my contribution and my year-end total seemed off, by about $150 or so. I couldn’t figure it out. Finally, I went to the transaction history of my 401k and looked through it. And there I saw it: a company match of negative $153.95, back in March. It was the strangest thing! It wasn’t tied to any actual contribution; it was just sitting out there, all by itself. It wasn’t even listed under ‘Fees’. It was just a negative company match. (Shout out to everyone who has ever complained about their company match or lack thereof – at least you’ve never had a negative one!) And I knew it wasn’t just those dollars I was missing – it was all those dollars that those dollars were going to make, and the dollars those dollars would make, for decades to come.

I started asking around. My HR department said there were no reported problems and that if I wanted a detailed walkthrough of my 401k contributions, I could wait two weeks until I had a meeting with the benefits coordinator. I said, ‘Schedule it’. But I didn’t stop there. I started asking my coworkers, and guess what – everyone had a negative company match on that date. I had 5 confirmed cases, then 10, then 20. The amounts all varied, but it was always on the same March date.

By this point I got enough people riled up that I ended up talking to the head of Benefits, who confirmed that, okay, maybe there was a problem. It took 2 months for them to confirm, at which point we found out that a payroll ‘true-up’ calculation had incorrectly counted a week that crossed from year-to-year as two weeks, and then had automatically ‘corrected’ for the doubled amount. It took 2 more months for them to finally correct it. I’m sure some of my coworkers contribute less and some contribute way more, but 600 employees * $153.95 = $92,370. Meaning that every person in the company had a hand in some $92000 missing from their 401k… but I was the only one who had bothered to check.

I know most people don’t ever calculate out their paycheck or look at their 401k. And I’m not saying you should on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. But every once in a while, take 5 or 10 minutes and grab that paper copy of your paycheck, or hit that ‘Forgot password’ button, log on to your system, and take a little look over how much money you’re getting – be it paycheck, 401k, or whatever – and see whether it makes sense to you. You might be surprised what you find.