401(k) participants saving more than ever

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Employees are socking away a record amount of money in their 401(k) accounts.

The average 401(k) contribution reached a record 13.2% of pay in the first quarter of 2018, according to new research out Thursday by Fidelity Investments. Over the past year, 30% of 401(k) savers increased their contribution rates, with millennials leading the charge at 36%.

Meanwhile, investors also increased their IRA contributions: The average first quarter contribution was $3,180, a 3% increase over the average contribution amount in the first quarter of 2017. The percentage of people contributing to their IRA in the first quarter increased 14% from a year ago.

Those statistics show that “retirement savers stayed on track and continued to contribute to their IRAs and workplace savings plans” despite market volatility at the beginning of 2018, says Kevin Barry, president of workplace investing at Fidelity Investments. “In addition, an increasing number of savers are contributing to both their IRA and workplace savings plan. Combining the benefits of these two savings vehicles helps build a diversified retirement savings strategy and can provide a significant boost to an individual’s retirement savings efforts.”

People who save money in both an IRA and a workplace savings account saw their account balances jump 9% in the first quarter of 2018 compared with the first quarter of 2017. Account balances rose to $299,600 from $275,700 in the past year.

Average individual 401(k), 403(b) and IRA account balances increased year-over-year, but dipped slightly from the fourth quarter of 2017, according to first quarter statistics from Fidelity Investments.

The average 401(k) balance dropped to $102,900 in the first quarter, about 1% lower than the fourth quarter but an 8% increase from the first quarter of 2017, according to Fidelity.

The average IRA balance dipped about 1% to $105,100 from the last quarter, but increased 8% year-over-year; and the average 403(b) account was $82,100, a 9% increase year-over-year.

People who have been saving for retirement for at least 10 years saw their 401(k) balances reach a record high $290,100 at the end of the first quarter, compared to an average of $250,500 a year ago. For those who have saved in their 401(k) for 15 years, account balances rose to $379,600 at the end of the first quarter compared with an average $330,200 a year ago.

Fidelity found that the number of 401(k) millionaires increased to 157,000 at the end of the first quarter, a 45% increase from the first quarter of 2017. Most of the 401(k) millionaires identified by Fidelity had been saving for about 30 years.

“Especially during periods of market volatility, it’s important to take a long-term approach to retirement savings,” Barry says. “Making regular contributions over time is a key part of building your savings, especially a retirement nest egg.”

Fidelity also found that Roth IRAs continue to grow in popularity, especially among millennials. In the first quarter, 75% of all IRA contributions from millennials went into a Roth IRA. The average contribution rate to Roth 401(k) plans rose to 6.7%, a slight increase over the previous year.

More than 5,300 employers are offering workplace managed accounts, which is more than double what was offered five years ago. Nearly 50% of the largest employers — those with more than 50,000 employees — offer a managed account as part of their Fidelity 401(k) plan.

Target-date funds are also growing in popularity, with 74% of individuals who save in a 401(k) or tax exempt plan investing in a target-date fund. Fifty-two percent of individuals were holding all of their savings in a target-date fund. For millennials, that figure was 70%.

“Today’s retirement savings plans have a variety of features and options that are designed to help individuals with a range of savings goals, strategies and levels of expertise,” Barry says. “Leveraging these features can help individuals feel more confident about their retirement savings efforts and help keep them on track to reach their retirement goals.”

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401(k) Retirement planning Financial planning Financial wellness Financial literacy Fidelity Investments