401(k) repair kit

Whether you're three months - or three decades - away from retirement, our targeted 401(k) checkup will help you make all the right moves.

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Age: 20s
Age: 20s
Your conundrum:
Retirement isn't even on your radar. You're probably strategizing about retiring your debt instead. On average, 2007 graduates who took out student loans left college owing $20,000, according to the Project on Student Debt. Still, it's crucial to begin saving for retirement early. You should start funding your 401(k), then pay off your high-interest debt like credit card bills.

Shocking fact:
Nearly half of all twentysomethings with a 401(k) plan turn down free money by not contributing enough to receive the full company match.

Catch-up plan:
Start brown-bagging your lunch so that you can stop leaving cash on the table. For someone making $30,000 a year, setting aside $35 a week is all it takes to sock away 6% of your salary into a 401(k). That's the ceiling for a typical full employer match, which ranges from 50% to 100% of the amount you're saving.

Pitfalls:
Job-hopping. Many twentysomethings are tempted to pull out their 401(k) savings when switching gigs. "While $5,000 may not seem like a whole lot of money, if invested, that amount will be substantial by the time you retire," says Vanguard retirement research guru Ann Combs.

Bottom line: Downturns are a boon for young investors. Anyone with a long investment horizon can afford to wait for recovery while scooping up stocks and mutual funds on the cheap. So get moving!
NEXT: Age: 30s
Last updated December 12 2008: 12:03 PM ET
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