The average 401(k) balance in 2012 was nearly $76,000, up 11 percent over 2011, according to Judy Diamond Associates. While the national average was up, though, some states experienced much faster growth than others.

“Although balances were up across the board, the increases were not evenly distributed,” Eric Ryles, managing director of Judy Diamond, said in a statement. “There are very real differences in the best and worst states. …”

Judy Diamond compared average balances in 2011 and 2012, the most recent data available, in about 470,000 active plans in each state and Washington, D.C. While growth overall was up, it was generally below the rate of return of 15.38 percent for the S&P 500, even among the 10 states with the most growth. Ryles was unconcerned, though, noting that older participants’ more conservative portfolios lowered the overall average.

“Participants with the highest balances, usually those getting close to retirement, should be focused more on capital preservation rather than capital growth,” he said. “This means that they are in bond funds and stable value funds, which will inevitably underperform a benchmark like the S&P, but do so safely. The overall rate of return of the plan is limited as a result.”

 

10. Missouri

Growth Rate: 12.68 percent

2011 Average: $68,071

2012 Average: $76,704

 9. Kansas

Growth Rate: 12.69 percent

2011 Average: $62,322

2012 Average: $70,233

8. Arizona

Growth Rate: 12.91 percent

2011 Average: $59,328

2012 Average: $66,987

7. Rhode Island

Growth Rate: 13.30 percent

2011 Average: $79,331

2012 Average: $89,886

6. Alaska

Growth Rate: 13.45 percent

2011 Average: $68,528

2012 Average: $77,748

 

5. Idaho

Growth Rate: 13.74 percent

2011 Average: $62,006

2012 Average: $70,528

4. Maryland

Growth Rate: 14.50 percent

2011 Average: $66,646

2012 Average: $76,312

3. Oklahoma

Growth Rate: 14.74 percent

2011 Average: $61,339

2012 Average: $70,381

2. Wyoming

Growth Rate: 16.19 percent

2011 Average: $63,516

2012 Average: $73,798

1. Montana

Growth Rate: 16.27 percent

2011 Average: $70,835

2012 Average: $82,358