David Pitt, AP Personal Finance Writer
Most 401(k) accountholders continue to plug away at setting aside a portion of their pay. That consistency, along with a rising stock market helped push balances in plans managed by Fidelity Investment to a 10-year high, the retirement plan provider said Wednesday.
An analysis based on 11 million accounts showed the average balance rose to $71,500 at the end of December.
For participants continuously active in saving for the past 10 years, average balances rose to $183,100 at the end of last year from $59,100 at the end of 2000, Fidelity said.
To put the numbers in perspective, however, keep in mind baby boomers between 46 and 54 should have about 14.6 times their final salary saved in order maintain a similar lifestyle in retirement, according to calculations by human resources consultant Aon Hewitt.
Let's say you're a baby boomer making $60,000 a year. That's means you would need about $876,000 set aside. Total savings should include workplace accounts like a 401(k), accumulated Social Security benefits, and any pension or other retirement savings you may have available.
Younger workers will need even more, advises Aon Hewitt. Those between 31 and 45 will need about 16 times their final pay and the youngest workers — those between 18 and 30 — should save 18.7 times their final salary.
The Fidelity study shows workers are remaining consistent with their contributions. The average amount workers defer from their paychecks into their 401(k) plans remained at 8.2% for the eighth straight quarter.
That contribution level still falls short of the common advice of planning experts who recommend setting aside 10 to 15% of your salary.
That figure includes an employer match, which is most often about 3%. Assuming most workers receive the common match, they are at least reaching the low end of the suggested savings range.
About 8% of the companies offering 401(k) plans through Fidelity reduced or eliminated the employer match at the height of the recession. Since then 55% of those have indicated they plan to reinstate the match within 12 months.
"At the end of the day saving at appropriate levels, saving continuously and ensuring that you have the appropriate asset allocation are the most critical components to help ensure that you have sufficient savings for retirement," said Beth McHugh, vice president of market insights at Fidelity.
The Fidelity study also indicated the recession and stock market downturn may have turned the focus of more workers toward retirement planning. About three out of four active participants contacted Fidelity by telephone or Internet in 2010 and more than 1.1 million took advantage of online tools.
Of those who used the savings tools, 47% increased contributions to their 401(k)s by an average of three percentage points from 4% to 7%.