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    Friday, August 4, 2017

    Americans Keep Crushing It With Their 401(k)s

    The stock market is fueling all-time highs in retirement account balances, with the average IRA breaking into the six figures. It’s happened again: Retirement savings account balances have hit all-time highs.

    A string of record 401(k) and IRA account totals now stretches across three consecutive quarters, according to second-quarter data from Fidelity Investments. The data covers 22,155 companies and 15.1 million 401(k) plan participants, as well as 8.8 million IRA accounts. The performance reflects the impressive display of endurance training by a stock market that just keeps on running, as well as increased employee and employer contributions to retirement accounts.

    The average 401(k) account balance stands at $97,700 as of June 30. That’s a 9.6 percent gain from the $89,100 average of a year ago, and a big leap from the $73,300 average of five years ago. Average IRA totals, meanwhile, rose to $100,200 from $89,600 a year ago and $73,100 in 2012. For the 12 months ending June 30, market gains accounted for 72 percent of the rise in retirement account balances at Fidelity. Over that same period, the Standard & Poor’s 500 had a total return of 17.9 percent.

    Employees put a record average of $5,850 into their 401(k)s over the past 12 months, a 4 percent increase from a year ago. Ninety-five percent of active employees contribute to their 401(k)s, and many defer enough of their pre-tax salary to get the average company match, which is 4.5 percent. But about 21 percent of employees can’t, or aren’t, contributing enough to get the full match. Many are likely to have been auto-enrolled into their 401(k) at a salary deferral rate of 3 percent, and left it there.

    The bit of good news is that many savers don’t have that far to go before getting the full match—53 percent are 1 or 2 percentage points away. Competing financial priorities may mean saving another 1 or 2 percent of salary isn’t feasible until a raise or bonus comes into play. But if extra cash flow exists, a relatively small increase in savings rates can make a big difference over a long career.

    One way companies are trying to get employees to save more is by rejiggering the company match, said Jeanne Thompson, a senior vice president at Fidelity. For example, instead of giving a 100 percent match on the first three percent of salary put into the plan, a company may match 50 percent of contributions up to 6 percent, so employees need to contribute 6 percent to get the full match.

    In addition to tracking accounts quarterly, Fidelity looks at workers with long histories in 401(k) accounts. Workers with 10 straight years in the same 401(k) also enjoyed a record quarter, with the average balance rising to $266,100. Ten years ago, the average was about a third of that amount, $78,800. Market action is responsible for 53 percent of the tripling in these 10-year plan participant balances since 2007, and the rest came from employee and employer contributions.

    Read more at bloomberg.com

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