It appears young investors may have been paying attention as the market crash threw baby boomers’ futures into disarray.

That theory may help explain why Fidelity Investments’ clients age 30 and younger started pumping more money last year into their individual retirement accounts, says Keri Dogan, senior vice president of retirement, rollover and college products at the Boston-based fund giant.

“These customers are seeing their parents struggle,” she says. “I think that is making it poignant for them. They need to have a bigger focus on savings.”

Fidelity says its 2010 IRA contributions jumped across virtually all age segments compared with 2009, but investors under age 30 showed the biggest jump.

The number of investors under 30 who made contributions to a traditional IRA increased 16%, and those making contributions to a Roth IRA jumped nearly 9%. Interestingly, the increase is even more dramatic for investors under 25 years old. That demographic showed an increase of 24% for both traditional and Roth IRAs.

Of course, one simple explanation for the stronger IRA contributions that Fidelity is seeing is that Americans are feeling more confident. That is suggested by the average amounts contributed to company’s IRAs. In 2010, the average contribution was approximately $3,450, a jump of nearly 9% over 2009 and almost 16% over 2008.

The contribution level equates to nearly 70% of the $5,000 investors can legally contribute to their IRA for tax years 2010 and 2011. Those who are age 50 and over can make an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution, of course.

“As personal situations are starting to improve for people, that may be feeding a bit of improvement in optimism and confidence,” says Dogan.

Dogan also speculated that the IRA data reflect a more responsible post-crash mindset, one in which Americans are saving more and spending more thoughtfully. She offered her impressions based on anecdotal information. Fidelity hasn’t formally surveyed its clients about their IRA behavior.

Not surprisingly, Roth IRA openings were especially strong last year, as Uncle Sam allowed those converting from traditional IRAs to defer the tax hit and spread it over two years.

Roth IRA openings in 2010 were up nearly 90% over 2009. That’s compared with the 18% increase in openings of traditional IRAs. What’s more, interest in Roth IRAs continued to be strong through the early part of this year.

Roth conversions were 100% higher than they were during the same period in 2009. Roths offer investors tax-free growth and withdrawals in retirement, provided certain conditions are met.

“I certainly think there’s a heightened awareness and interest on the part of investors in tax diversification,” says Dogan.

Garmhausen is a freelancer writing for Financial Planning, a SourceMedia publication.

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