In September, the Employee Benefit Research Institute released its first report based on the EBRI IRA Database, which provides an overview of how individual retirement accounts are used, and who is using them.

EBRI found that while just 6.4% of traditional IRA owners contributed to their accounts in 2008, over 43% of them maxed out their contributions. Nearly 29% of Roth IRA owners made contributions, but, of those, 40% contributed the maximum allowed. Data from the Investment Company Institute also found a link between those who contribute to their accounts, and those who contribute the maximum allowed.

The Investment Company Institute announced in July that it launched a database with the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association to "shed light on key determinants of IRA contributions, rollover and withdrawal activity, and the types of assets that investors hold in these accounts."

ICI's first report based on the database found that despite "modest" IRA contributions compared with other tax-preferred savings vehicles, "those who do contribute show persistence and are likely to make the maximum contributions allowed by law."

Of IRA owners who made contributions to their accounts in 2007, 63% made repeat contributions in 2008. Of the 60% who maxed out their 2007 contributions, more than half increased their contribution amount in 2008 when limits were increased.

The EBRI report also found that IRA owners were more likely to be male and baby boomers. Almost half of IRA owners were between 45 and 64; less than 17% of traditional IRA owners were under 45.

The average IRA balance in 2008, according to EBRI, was $54,863; the median balance was $15,756. When combining all of an individual's accounts, the average and median IRA balances increased to $69,498, and $20,046. Roth IRAs had the lowest average and median balances at $14,056 and $7,319, respectively.

Despite having the lowest average balance, Roth IRAs received $3.4 billion in contributions in 2008, compared with $2.3 billion for traditional IRAs. While the average contribution to a traditional account was higher, Roth IRAs received a greater number of contributions.

The average amount contributed in 2008 was $3,665, according to EBRI, and was highest for IRAs owned by people between 65 and 69. Although more contributions were made to Roth IRAs, traditional IRAs received higher contributions.