401(k), IRA account balances rise to record levels

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The soaring stock market helped drive IRA and 401(k) account balances to record levels in 2017, according to Fidelity Investments.

IRA balances rose to $104,300, a 13% increase over the fourth quarter of 2016, and the average 401(k) balance also jumped 13% year-over-year to $106,000.

Individuals who saved long-term—at least 10 years – saw their average account balance increase to $286,700, up from $233,900 in 2016. For those who have saved in their 401(k) plan for 15 straight years, their average balance rose to $387,100, up from $318,500 in the fourth quarter of 2016.

“2017 was a good year for retirement savers — not only because of the stock market’s performance, but because many investors took positive steps towards managing their retirement savings, such as increasing their contribution rate,” says Kevin Barry, president of workplace investing at Fidelity Investments. “However, it’s important for individuals to remember that saving for retirement is a marathon, not a sprint, and that applying a long-term approach to retirement savings strategy helps to put investors in a better position to reach their savings goals.”

Fidelity found that nearly one-third of 401(k) savers increased their savings rate in 2017, which rose to 8.6% in the fourth quarter. The average IRA rate increased to $1,730 at the end of 2017, up from $1,590 a year ago.

A number of 401(k) savers — 150,000 — saw their balances reach $1 million in 2017, up from 93,000 in 2016. The number of investors with $1 million in their IRA rose to 152,000 from 109,000 in 2016, Fidelity says.

Fidelity warns retirement savers to reevaluate their investments this year to make sure they are not too heavily weighted in stocks because the stock market has performed so well for the past couple of years.

“While a rising stock market is one reason the average retirement account balance has reached record levels, it may also have resulted in some savers having more stock in their account than they are comfortable with, based on how close they are to retirement and their comfort with risk,” says Fidelity Investments.

The company compared the level of stock held among its 401(k) accounts to the Fidelity Equity Glide Path, which is a range of equity allocations that may be generally appropriate for many investors saving for retirement, and found that 23.3% of them had equity allocations that were more than 10% greater than the Equity Glide Path.

For baby boomers, the percentage increased to 35.6%, while only 17% of millennials had a higher percentage of equities greater than Fidelity’s Equity Glide Path.

With the increase in account balances comes a desire to tap into those funds for purposes other than retirement. Fidelity recommends that individuals think twice before taking a loan from their 401(k) plan, unless they are experiencing a real emergency.

“The amount borrowed could miss out on potential market growth and, if someone leaves a job, the loan may have to be repaid in full in as little as 30 days,” Fidelity says. The company’s research shows that many investors reduce their contribution rate when they take out a plan loan, which adds to the potential negative impact on their savings long-term.

If employees are unsure of how to invest their savings, Fidelity says they should consider putting their money into a target-date fund or a managed account.

“Nearly 8 million of Fidelity’s 401(k) savers leverage a ‘do it for me’ managed solution, and nearly 70% of millennials hold all of their 401(k) savings in a target-date fund,” Fidelity finds.

IRA savers are less likely to utilize a professionally managed investment option. Fewer than 5% of Fidelity IRA accounts took advantage of these types of accounts.

“Fidelity encourages investors to ‘stay the course’ when the stock market goes down, but the same approach applies when the market swings upward, as it did in 2017,” Barry says. “Most investors will likely see multiple periods of market volatility during their careers, so sticking to the retirement savings fundamentals can help keep them on the path to their retirement goals.”

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Retirement benefits Retirement planning Retirement income Retirement readiness 401(k)