February 23, 2011

401(k) Balances Reach 10-Year High: Fidelity

Average balance rises over $71,000 by year-end 2010

Fidelity Investments reported Wednesday that at the end of 2010 the average 401(k) balance reached a 10-year high, rising $71,500.

According to the company, participants who have actively contributed to their accounts for the past 10 years have seen their balance increase from $59,100 at the end of the fourth quarter 2000 to $183,100. Average participant deferrals are over 8% for the eighth consecutive quarter, and while 3% decreased their deferral rate, over 6% increased it.

James MacDonald, president, Workplace Investing, Fidelity Investments, argued against misconceptions about 401(k)s as a successful savings tool.

“While 401(k)s have been in existence for more than 30 years and are now the most widely held workplace retirement account by today’s American workforce, many misconceptions exist about them,” he said in a statement. “Despite the myths out there, this savings vehicle is, in fact, helping millions of Americans of all income levels save for their futures. Employers are committed to offering a compelling program with a company match as well as lifetime investment guidance to help their employees reach their goals.”

Fidelity outlined five common myths about 401(k)s:

Myth 1: The majority of lower-income employees don’t participate in their 401(k) plan.

According to Fidelity, over half (53%) of participants in 401(k) plans kept by Fidelity earn between $20,000 and $40,000. Seventy-one percent of participants earning $40,000 and $60,000 participate.

Myth 2: 401(k) participants don’t take an interest in their retirement plans.

In 2010, approximately three out of four active participants contacted Fidelity via the phone or Internet, and more than 1 million workplace participants took advantage of Fidelity’s online guidance tools. Nearly half of those who used the savings tools (47%) increased their contributions by an average of three percentage points (from 4% to 7%). Furthermore, when employees sought guidance from Fidelity, one in five made adjustments to their portfolio from suggestions based on their age and target retirement date.

Myth 3: Most employers suspended their company match during the recession and have not reinstated it.

Among Fidelity plan sponsors, at least, just 8% reduced or eliminated their employer contributions during the recession. Since then, more than half (55%) have already or indicated they plan to reinstate this benefit within the next 12 months. Employers with 5,000 or more workers are leading the trend as 71% say they having already reinstated or are planning to reinstate their employer contribution.

Overall, 80% of active participants within corporate defined contribution plans kept by Fidelity received employer contributions in 2010.

Myth 4: Most people take loans or cash out of their 401(k)s.

Nearly 80% of participants have rejected the urge to take out a loan, and 70% decided against cashing out their 401(k)s after losing a job.

Myth 5: Roth 401(k)s are only for older, wealthy employees.

According to Fidelity, more than twice as many active participants in their 20s contribute to Roth 401(k)s than those aged 50 and older (9% vs. 4% respectively). Approximately half of Roth 401(k) contributors earn less than $75,000, and 25% earn less than $50,000.

One out of five Fidelity plan sponsors, and half of Fidelity’s largest plans (more than 25,000 participants) offer eligible employees a Roth 401(k).

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