A 2010 analysis of 401(k) plans serviced by Charles Schwab found that 75 percent of plan sponsors offer professional financial advice to participants.

The study showed such advice positively impacts plan participants' savings, asset diversification and investing behavior. However, while most participants (55 percent) say they'd use free, personalized advice if their employer made it available, less than 10 percent actually do.

"They don't seek out advice because of procrastination, distraction or confusion," says Catherine Golladay, vice president for 401(k) participant education and advice at Schwab. "For those who do use the tools, though, I see more optimism and smarter decisions."

Assistance is available in-person, online, over the phone or via brochures. Most 401(k) investors (51 percent) prefer personalized sessions. "The one-on-one visits are more compelling, because employees interact with an advisor and talk about their own situation," Golladay says.

More than 60 percent of participants cited "approaching retirement" as the top reason to seek assistance. "They think the advice would be applicable, but by then it's probably too late to make the most of their 401(k) savings. I'd say to prepare for retirement, start saving early and use the tools your employer provides," Golladay says.

Reprinted from the July 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.