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401(k)s Making Headway

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Fidelity Investments said in early May that the average 401(k) balance rose to $74,600 at the end of the first quarter, up 8% from the end of the fourth quarter of 2011. The first-quarter balance also represents a 62% increase since the end of the first quarter of 2009, often considered the low of the 2008-2009 market downturn, when the average balance was $46,200.

Strong stock market performance in the first quarter accounted for about 80% of the account-balance growth, with the other 20% attributed to both participant and employer contributions, according to the company.

“Participants have become much more engaged in their financial futures, as demonstrated by increased savings levels quarter over quarter,” James MacDonald, president of workplace investing for Fidelity, said in a statement.

In addition, the research found that investors are seeking guidance at higher rates than ever before. In 2011, 20% more participants attended workplace workshops, and 45% more used online webinars compared to 2010.

Plus, annual-increase programs appear to be helping to drive savings. The number of participants taking advantage of annual increase programs (AIP) increased nearly ninefold over the past five years.

During the first quarter, nearly 10% of Fidelity 401(k) participants increased their contribution rate, compared to 16% of those participants in plans offering automatic AIP.

Fidelity based its analysis on its 11.8 million 401(k) accounts.


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