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Fidelity Investments says average 401(k) balance reaches 10-year high

Most 401(k) account holders 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 Investments to a 10-year high, the retirement plan provider said this week.

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 that baby boomers ages 46 to 54 should have about 14.6 times their final salary saved to 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 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, Aon Hewitt advises. Those 31 to 45 will need about 16 times their final pay, and the youngest workers — ages 18 to 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 percent 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 percent of your salary. That figure includes an employer match, which is most often about 3 percent. Assuming most workers receive the common match, they are at least reaching the low end of the suggested savings range.

The Fidelity study also indicated the recession and stock market downturn may have made more workers focus on retirement planning. About three out of four active participants contacted Fidelity by telephone or Internet in 2010.

Of those who used the savings tools, 47 percent increased contributions to their 401(k)s by an average of 3 percentage points, from 4 to 7 percent.

Fidelity Investments says average 401(k) balance reaches 10-year high 02/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 24, 2011 8:48pm]

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