Companies dropping 401(k) help

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 22, 2001

According to recent figures from the Securities and Exchange Commission, many companies nationwide are contributing less to 401(k)s due to economic pressures.

Bank of America reduced its 401(k) contribution by nearly 15 percent; Sears, 21 percent; and Kmart, 22 percent, according to figures cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

But despite a continuing downturn in the economy, Miss-Lou businesses are not cutting contributions to employees’ 401(k) plans, according to executives of businesses and local accountants and financial planners.

Take Fruit of the Loom, the parent company of distribution center Vidalia Apparel, for example. Despite filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 1999, the company has not cut its match for employees’ 401(k) contributions.

&uot;The company has gone through some tough times, but we haven’t cut 401(k) (contributions) and aren’t expected to,&uot; said John Shivel, vice president of marketing for the Kentucky-based company.

Supermarket Operations, owners of five grocery stores in the Miss-Lou, has 70 workers taking part in its 401(k) program. It matches employees’ contributions by up to 6 percent, depending on the percentage of pay the employee puts in and doesn’t intend to cut that match, said Administrator Del Loy.

Of other companies that have a large presence in the Miss-Lou and were polled last week, none said they had cut their 401(k) matches or planned to do so in the foreseeable future.

Those companies included Alcoa, Wal-Mart, Callon Petroleum, Mississippi River Corp. and Natchez Community Hospital. None of those companies would release the amount of their 401(k) matches, and information for International Paper was not available by press time.

The 401(k) plans of other large employers, like school districts and Natchez Regional Medical Center, a public hospital, are not as affected by economic fluctuations because they belong to state retirement systems, officials said.

Natchez accountant Dennis Switzer pointed out that companies cannot decide to cut their 401(k) contributions in the middle of the year. &uot;They could, however, decide that, ‘We’re going to cut our match starting next year’,&uot; he said.

Switzer, accountant Billy Gillon and Certified Financial Planner Steve Plauche all said they have not heard of a single business in the Miss-Lou cutting 401(k) contributions.

&uot;I think you may see that if the (economic) slowdown continues,&uot; Gillon said. &uot;But with the big national companies, their benefit packages are tremendous anyway.&uot;

Instead, some employees Gillon has consulted with have considered reducing the amount of money they put into their 401(k)s – but he has advised them against it.

&uot;I’ve advised them to maintain (their level of contribution) because they tend to come out better that way,&uot;&160;he said.

Employees should be contributing to their 401(k)s despite the amount their employers contribute, Plauche said. &uot;Anything your employer gives you is icing on top of the cake,&uot; he said.

Under the new tax law, the amount employees can actually move to their 401(k) plans – from $10,500 annually now to $15,000 in the year 2006, Switzer said.

Plauche noted that if a person contributed just $1,000 a year for 25 years to a 401(k) at 8 percent interest, the person would retire with $73,106. If the employer matched that with 50 cents for every dollar, that amount would rise to $109,658.

&uot;But it’s our experience, even with the people we work with who are in blue-collar jobs, … that most people put in a lot more than $1,000 a year,&uot; Plauche said.