What's more, a Vanguard mutual fund company survey found that active retirement account traders achieved the same returns as buy-and-hold investors.

And consider this: Only 2% of employees with access to a 401(k) brokerage window actually use them, Fidelity found.

That's a good thing because it implies that only investors who know what they are doing are buying individual stocks in their 401(k)s.

"What we find is that more sophisticated investors who have confidence use this option," says Donna Norwood, senior vice president at Fidelity.

If that's the case, why don't all companies allow their employees this flexibility? Freedom could pay off in higher yields.

Providing a brokerage window for 401(k) members who want it and know how to use it along with good choices for buy-it-and-forget-it investors is a combination that can work well for all employees.

Investors who need help choosing and properly diversifying among the vast choices can enlist the services of an investment adviser who specializes in 401(k)s and other retirement accounts.

If you don't have a brokerage window option in your company retirement plan, in most cases you can fashion your own by opening a nondeductible IRA or Roth IRA and build your own portfolio of individual stocks to supplement the fund choices in your employee plan.

Whether you're investing in stocks through your company plan or your own retirement account, you don't want to jump in carelessly and prove the critics right.

That means no constant trading (you'll generate a bunch of fees that will eat into returns, among other problems) and a focus on stock choices you believe have long-term growth potential that will help fund your retirement.

Along those lines I like Abbott Labs ( ABT), Kraft Foods ( KFT) and American International Group ( AIG). In fact, those are the stocks I'd buy for my own 401(k) -- if I could.

While you're at it, take a good look at asset class diversification. Individual stocks can help you diversify into asset classes such as real estate and energy that are often only slightly represented in the usual 401(k) fund picks.

I like oil driller Ensco ( ESV) and forest products company Weyerhaeuser ( WY). Both have terrific yields.

Disclosure: At the time of publication, Cramer was long Walt Disney, Abbott Labs, Kraft Foods, American International Group, Ensco and Weyerhaeuser

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