By the end of last year, 36 percent of 401(k) plans serviced byVanguard had implemented an auto-enrollment feature, a 50 percentincrease since 2009, according to its annual report, How AmericanSaves 2015.

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Last year, 60 percent of new plan entrants were automaticallyenrolled.

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"Over the past decade, we've seen a meaningful jump in totalparticipation rates,” said Jean Young, lead author of the reportand a senior analyst at the Vanguard Center for RetirementResearch.

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“Three-quarters of eligible workers now participate in theiremployer's plan, up from two-thirds ten years ago, underscoring theimpact of autopilot plan designs," she added.

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And that is moving the needle with target-date funds, as 95percent of all plans that utilize automatic enrollment directparticipant savings into a TDF.

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That means 45 percent of all participants inVanguard-administered plans invest only in TDFs, compared to 25percent at the end of 2009.

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Vanguard expects TDF adoption to hit 50 percent thisyear and reach 63 percent of the 3.9 million participants enrolledin Vanguard-administered plans by 2018.

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New plan enrollees are overwhelmingly being defaulted into TDFs, as eight in 10were solely invested in the professionally managed allocation.

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All told, 88 percent of plan sponsors are using TDFs, and 64percent of participants in the Vanguard universe own a TDF in theiraccount.

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Wide adoption of TDFs is lowering the incidence of what Vanguardcalls “extreme” allocations. By the end of 2014, onein eight employees were extremely allocated. Specifically, 8percent of participants held only stock funds, and 5 percent heldonly fixed-income funds.

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Ten years ago those figures were dramatically riskier, as one inthree participants was extremely allocated, with 21 percent holdall-stock allocations.

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While automatic enrollment is moving participation rates in apositive direction—it was 77 percent in 2014—average deferral ratesremained steady in 2014 at 6.9 percent, down from their peak of 7.3percent in 2007

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That’s because automatic enrollment leads to lower averagedeferral rates, as many participants participate at set minimumcontribution levels, which is often 3 percent.

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When factoring employer matches, the average contribution ratein 2014 was 10.4 percent.

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The average account balance was $102,682, up 28 percent from thedark days of 2009.

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The median balance in 2014 was $29,603, a 6 percent decline,likely the result of more new enrollees and accounts with limitedassets.

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The fund company that built its brand on low-cost, passivelymanaged index funds is reporting higher fee-consciousness insponsors, who are increasing index funds in investment menus.

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Just over half of Vanguard’s sponsor clients offered a “passivecore,” or a set of low-cost index options that span global capitalmarkets. That number has grown by nearly 90 percent over the pastdecade, according to the report.

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Only 10 percent of participants showed trading activity in thetheir accounts in 2014, and loan activity was down to 17 percent ofparticipants, a 4 percent improvement over the previous year.

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As of the end of March 2015, Vanguard serviced 4,700 plansponsors, accounting for $670 billion in plan assets.

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Nick Thornton

Nick Thornton is a financial writer covering retirement and health care issues for BenefitsPRO and ALM Media. He greatly enjoys learning from the vast minds in the legal, academic, advisory and money management communities when covering the retirement space. He's also written on international marketing trends, financial institution risk management, defense and energy issues, the restaurant industry in New York City, surfing, cigars, rum, travel, and fishing. When not writing, he's pushing into some land or water.