Median 401(k) account balances on the rise: EBRI

Median 401(k) account balances jumped 11.5 percent between 2008 and 2011, to $42,082, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Even though the average defined contribution account saw a decline of 34.8 percent in 2008, the year the recession began, balances rose swiftly between 2009 and 2011 to an average of $94,492.

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EBRI analyzed a group of 401(k) participants to gauge the impact of consistent participation during the recession and after. It found that those who continued to participate had a 60 percent higher account balance than those who did not. The consistent group’s median balance was about two and a half times the median balance across all participants at year-end 2011, the organization found.

Not surprisingly, younger participants or those with smaller initial balances experienced higher percentage growth in account balances compared with older participants or those with larger initial balances. There are three primary factors that impact account balances: contributions, investment returns, and withdrawal/loan activity.

The percentage change in average account balance of consistent participants in their 20s was heavily influenced by the relative size of their contributions to their account balances and increased at a compound average rate of 41 percent per year between year-end 2007 and year-end 2011.

401(k) participants tend to concentrate their accounts in equity securities. The asset allocation of the 8.6 million 401(k) plan participants in the consistent group was broadly similar to the asset allocation of the 24 million participants in the entire year-end 2011 EBRI/ICI 401(k)database. On average, about three-fifths of 401(k) participants’ assets were invested in equities, either through equity funds, the equity portion of target date funds, the equity portion of non–target date balanced funds, or company stock, EBRI said.

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