Life and Money With Helaine

Hi, Helaine: I'm planning to retire in two years, when I turn 70. For the past two years, I upped my contributions to my 401(k), and am now having 26 percent of my gross pay taken out.

I just discovered the payroll company my employer switched to in February of last year calculated my taxes on my gross pay as if I was not taking out money pre-tax for a 401(k) contribution. I may have lost $5,500 in pocket money over the year! This money could have been earning interest in the bank, or I could have used it to help pay my daughters' student loans.

The company is now dumping it in my lap. They told me I should get the money back, but there is no guarantee of it. What can I do? -- My Employer Taketh

Dear Employer Taketh: I totally understand your fury. I'd be angry too. I reached out to David Oransky, a certified public accountant based in Missouri, on your behalf. He says it's unlikely you'll have a problem recovering your funds. As long as your W-2 accurately reflects the situation, you should receive the money back as part of your (obviously) larger-than-normal tax refund for 2018.

But that does beg another question: What if the W-2 is wrong and is coding the money as a post-tax contribution? In that case, you will need to contact your employer and its payroll service, and get them to issue a corrected W-2, something they are most certainly obliged to do.

After that, your next decision will be what to do with the recovered money. I've got no advice on that one. You sound responsible, and I trust you to get that decision right.

(To ask Helaine a question, email her at

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Sue Roush at

More like Life and Money With Helaine