According to new survey results from Charles Schwab, 401(k) plan sponsors are offering participants more counseling but less cash to help them prepare for retirement.

The retirement plan provider’s latest study shows that a growing number of employers provide their employees with value-added 401(k) plan features to boost plan participation and savings — including 81% who offer 401(k) advice to participants, compared to just 42% in 2005.

“Employers are realizing that employees need more help. Most folks don’t have the time or discipline to prepare for retirement on their own,” says Catherine Golladay, vice president of 401(k) participant services at Schwab.

To that end, Schwab also finds that 41% of employers automatically enroll participants, up dramatically from just 5% in 2005, and 36% of employers using auto-enrollment also are using automatic savings increases, up from 14% in 2006.

However, although auto features and advice have expanded, the number of employers offering matching 401(k) contributions — which largely fell victim to the recession — remain below pre-recession levels. Schwab reveals 68% of employers provide a 401(k) match, down from a peak of 76% in 2006.

While Golladay understands plan sponsors’ reasons for  suspending matching contributions, she warns against making the freezes permanent. “Employers have been cautious and many have suspended their match on a temporary basis. It’s a big expense to the plan, but the flip side is that when you ask participants what their most important feature of their plan is, it’s the matching feature,” she says. “If you’ve got an employer that has the mindset that they want a world-class plan they can use in retention, they should think about re-implementing matching.”

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