U.S workers are losing at least $24 billion in retirement plan contributions each year by failing to take full advantage of company matches, according to recent research by 401(k) advisor Financial Engines.
One in four retirement plan participants misses out on some or all of the match, costing themselves an average $1,336 annually, said the firm, which reviewed the savings records of 4.4 million employees at the 553 companies using its services.
The missed amounts ranged from less than $100 to more than $20,000 for some highly paid, richly matched workers.
The rate of match-missing echoes those of previous studies, such as one last year by retirement plan provider TIAA-CREF that found 23 percent of those who contribute to a plan fail to get the full match.
But the Financial Engines study is the first to estimate the dollar amount of foregone matches, according to Greg Stein, the company's director of technology. The survey extrapolated its findings to the 73.7 million employees nationwide who are active participants in workplace retirement plans.
Stein acknowledged that the $24 billion estimate likely is too low, since it does not capture matches passed up by workers who do not contribute at all to a workplace plans.
Only about half of American workers have access to a retirement plan and just under 41 percent participate in them, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group.
Among full-time, full-year wage earners aged 21 to 64, 62.3 percent had access to a plan in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, and 54.5 percent participated, EBRI found.
The vast majority of 401(k) plans offer to match employees' contributions, most commonly matching dollar for dollar up to 6 percent of annual pay, according to payroll processor Aon Hewitt. The second-most-common match offers 50 cents for each dollar employees contribute, up to 6 percent of pay.
Younger and lower-paid workers are most likely to miss out on matching funds, Financial Engines found. Those paid less than $40,000 are four times more likely to get less than the full match, compared with those earning more than $100,000 (42 percent vs. 10 percent). Meanwhile, employees under 30 were twice as likely as those over 60 to miss out (30 percent vs. 16 percent).