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Agree that 401K plans - especially among smaller employers - are not created equal. To me, lack of access to a 'good' 401K plan would be a 'deal breaker' when considering a job offer. Three (or 4) factors are important when evaluating potential employer's 401K plan.
1) What 401K-related fees are paid by the employees?
2) Employer contributions and vesting requirements.
3) Does employer offer S&P Index Fund as part of its 401K plan? If not, does employer even have the option to add this fund while continuing contract with its current custodian?
4) If you are a more experienced investor, access to a 'stock window' might also be important to you.

The tragedy is there are likely situations in which an employee would be better off financially by NOT participating in his/her employer's 401K plan.

In my experience there are two important reasons WHY the 401K plan should be more valuable (i.e., than an IRA) to the employee. (1) Amount of allowable contributions (and accompanying tax deduction) is about 3X-4X those allowed for an IRA. and (2) Amount of employer matching contributions.

For those workers who do not have access to a 'good' 401K plan, suggest the following: Open (at two brokerages for risk mitigation reasons) brokerage accounts and contribute up to $5100 (i.e., 85% of $6000) to your Traditional IRA and then contribute $900 (i.e., your annual tax savings) to your Roth IRA. Invest those contributions in S&P Index Fund with long-term expectation of about 8% CAGR. Per compound annuity formula, investing $6000 per year for 40 years at 8% CAGR should result in a portfolio value of nearly $1.75M at retirement age.

As a retiree, two things will likely be true:
1) Retiree will pay annual income tax from RMDs of about 1% of total value of his/her Traditional IRA account(s)(e.g. $1M portfolio translates to $10K in income tax). I was surprised when I recognized my income tax rate because of IRA distributions is less than 'expense ratio' charged by actively-managed mutual funds.
2) Suggest leaving your IRA dollars invested in S&P Index Fund 'forever'. Retiree's portfolio value should continue to grow because its 8% CAGR will likely exceed that of 4% RMD plus annual (e.g., 2%) inflation rate.
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