Dear Liz: I want to stop contributing to my 401(k). How do I cancel it and withdraw my funds?
Answer: You can stop contributing to most workplace retirement funds by contacting your human resources department. You typically won't be able to withdraw the money, however, unless you can prove a hardship or you leave your job.
You should think long and hard before you discontinue your contributions, in any case. For many workers, contributing to a 401(k) is their best shot at a comfortable retirement. You may be unsettled by volatile investment markets now, but over time a diversified mixture of stocks and bonds should give you the returns you'll need to overcome inflation and have a reasonable nest egg.
Not contributing to your 401(k) could mean giving up free money in the form of a company match and could trigger a larger tax bill, since your contributions usually are tax-deductible. Money saved within retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs, is also protected from creditors should you ever be sued or have to file for bankruptcy.
If you're disgruntled with your plan because you think the fees are too high, ask your employer to look for a more reasonable-priced option. Now that 401(k) administrators must fully disclose their fees, many companies will be looking for better deals. Liz Weston is "The most-read personal finance columnist on the Internet" (Nielsen/NetRatings) and author of "The 10 Commandments of Money" and "Your Credit Score."