Since March 2009, when the S&P 500 plummeted to a 12-year low, 401(k) account balances have surged more than 55 percent to hit at $71,600 on average by the end of the first quarter 2010.

According to new data from Fidelity Investments, participants that stayed the course over the past 12 months of market recovery saw positive momentum for their account growth and performance.

Contribution growth also climbed, with 7.5 percent of participants increasing their contributions, while a smaller 3.5 percent decreased their contributions during the first quarter. Over the past year, average account balances rose 41 percent to $66,900 by the end of first quarter of 2010 and personal rates of return were a positive 42 percent.

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