Simple mistake could thwart 401(k) savings

Voya's 'Born to Save'
Voya's 'Born to Save'   

Market swings appear to have overwhelmed at least some investors to the point that they're throwing up their hands and shouting, "Enough!"

According to a new report by Aon Hewitt, in October, as individuals put money to work into their 401(k) plans, they favored fixed-income or bond funds over equity or stock funds.

And the research suggests the preference for bonds became more pronounced after the stock market made a violent move to the downside.

401 (k) statement
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For example, the research says, "On Tuesday, October 14, a day after the S&P 500 was off 1.65 percent, 88 percent of trades saw money flowing to fixed-income."

Market pros often say favoring bonds right now, in a retirement account, is a mistake despite the swings in the market. Of course they understand that nobody likes to lose money and bonds are significantly safer than stocks, however, for the long-term, they say stocks are the better bet.

Looking at the numbers, the stock market's long-term annual return has been about 9.6 percent, based on data from IFA.com, which includes dividends. By contrast, the yield on a 10-year Treasury is sitting around 2 percent.

Voya CEO Rodney Martin said on CNBC's "Closing Bell" that he encourages individual investors to make smart decisions and then have the confidence to stick with them.

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"Don't trade in and out," he said, speaking to his preferred strategy for retirement savings. "Stay consistent."

Zachary Karabell, columnist and the author of "Leading Indicators" said, he too, had noticed retail investors were growing "equity scared and bond happy." And he added, the phenomenon could ultimately thwart returns.

"When you consider 10,000 people turn age 65 every day in America and will for the next 20 years, it really underlines the need to invest properly for retirement," Martin said.

And over the long-term, stocks have generated much stronger returns.