Average 401(k) balances hit a record high by the end of 2013, nearly double what they were in March 2009 when the market hit bottom, according to Fidelity Investments, the nation's largest provider of 401(k) plans. The average for all savers is $89,300, up from $46,200 in March 2009.
The average balance for those 55 and older is $165,200. Average balances are lower -- $152,300 -- for those between the ages of 60 and 64, and still lower -- $152,100 -- for people 65 through 69.
Those who have watched their account balances recover and grow are those who didn't panic and who kept saving, says Jeanne Thompson, vice president of Fidelity Investments.
Thompson points out that for people who have saved steadily in balanced accounts over the past 10 years, 56 percent of their increase is from market returns and 44 percent comes from their contributions. "Over the long term, it is the combo that drives growth in account balances," Thompson says. "It's important for people to remember that they can't just save or invest. They have to do both."
This is a lesson that increasing numbers of people are learning, she says. Ten years ago, 40 percent of participants in Fidelity-provided 401(k) plans had 100 percent of their money in either cash or equities. The number of people with such extreme allocations has dropped to 16 percent. Not only are people getting smarter, but the increasing availability of target-date funds and other kinds of managed accounts is making it easier to make better choices, Thompson says.
If you are someone who wants to take a hands-off approach to retirement investment, and at the same time, you don't have the stomach for risk, Thompson suggests that you investigate whether your employer offers a managed account option where a financial adviser invests your money based on your age and financial concerns.
Of course, that advice will cost you more than if you choose your own investments. But delegating this important task to an expert may be a good retirement planning move.