Thanks to 'vesting' schedules, it can take up to 6 years for workers to own their 401(k) match

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A 401(k) "match" from an employer is often referred to as "free" money, and therefore one of the best ways to juice retirement savings.

But there's a catch — you may need to wait up to six years before it fully belongs to you. A match is an employer contribution into a worker's 401(k) account.

The worker must contribute to the 401(k) plan to receive it. Employers generally match a worker's contribution up to a certain percentage of the worker's salary. More from Personal Finance: 2 ways retirees can protect nest eggs during a stock market rout Social Security for oldest and poorest at risk first in debt default Guaranteed lifetime income gains appeal amid recession worries About 81% of companies that offer a 401(k) plan made a matching contribution to workers' retirement savings in 2021, according to the latest annual survey published by the Plan Sponsor Council of America, a trade group.

However, in most cases, workers don't own this money right away due to "vesting" rules. (Vesting means ownership, in retirement parlance.) Companies use different timelines, or vesting schedules, to determine how long it takes for savers to fully own the employer contributions.

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