The number of 401(k) plan millionaires surges 41 percent, hits a new high

  • The number of Fidelity 401(k) accounts with a balance of $1 million or more jumped to 168,000 in the second quarter of 2018, up 41 percent from a year earlier.
  • Retirees are now wealthier than any previous generation, according to a separate report by United Income.

With the stock market nearing all-time highs and the S&P 500 up 5.4 percent year to date, some retirement savers are feeling pretty good about their nest eggs.

And rightfully so: The number of Fidelity 401(k) plans with a balance of $1 million or more jumped to a record 168,000 in the second quarter, up from 119,000 a year earlier. That's a 41 percent surge.

"The stock market's performance over the past several years has definitely helped retirement savers, but now would be a good time for investors to take a moment and make sure they are doing their part to meet their retirement goals," Kevin Barry, president of workplace investing at Fidelity Investments, said in a statement.

About 3 in 10 savers increased their contribution rate during the last year, Fidelity found. The average 401(k) contribution rate is now 8.6 percent as of the second quarter, the highest percentage in almost 10 years and up from 8.5 percent last year — not including the employer match.

More employees are putting enough away to get the company match, Fidelity said, particularly millennials, who know they likely will not be eligible for pensions or other types of guaranteed benefits many current retirees enjoy. In addition, the number of 18-to-34 year-olds making contributions to an individual retirement account increased 19 percent from a year ago.

Average retirement savings balances are now in the six figures, according to Fidelity. The average 401(k) balance is $104,000, just shy of the all-time high balance of $104,300 from the end of 2017, while the average IRA balance is $106,900 as of the second quarter, Fidelity found.

While the increase is due in part to the recent stock market run-up, market volatility should not deter savers, according to Jeanne Thompson, a senior vice president of Fidelity Investments.

"You have to be in it for the long haul, especially if you are a millennial and you are under 40," she said. "Saving for retirement is a marathon, not a sprint."

Three tips to grow your 401(k)

1. Start saving as early as possible. "The story of the 401(k) millionaire highlights the beauty of compounding," Thompson said. "To save a million within a 401(k), it does take the better part of a career."
2. Take full advantage of a company match, when available. Roughly 1 in 5 workers still isn't contributing enough to get a full employer match, according to Fidelity. That's partly because many companies auto-enroll at a level that is lower than the match ceiling. To work your way up, Thompson suggests incremental changes. "Increase your savings 1 percent every year to a target of 15 percent."
3. Don't invest too conservatively for your age. For young investors, shying away from stocks in favor of bonds could short-change your long-term grown potential (less risk means less return), Thompson said.

Continue to contribute, Thompson advised, but if you're no longer comfortable managing the 401(k) yourself, "consider opting in to a target date fund or managed account," she said. "That can help determine the right amount of equities, bonds and cash."

As a rule of thumb, Thompson recommends saving 10 times your income by retirement age, in which case, "a million is a good savings target for someone earning $100,000," she said.

Retirees are now wealthier than any previous generation, according to a separate report by United Income, a start-up that aims to apply big-data analysis to financial planning.

Over the last three decades, the average wealth among retirees increased by over 100 percent to $752,000, United Income said, citing data from the Federal Reserve, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau.

The share of retirees who are millionaires also more than doubled over the same period, now accounting for 1 in 6 retirees.

"Relative to past generations, the current generation of retirees is much better off," according to Matt Fellowes, United Income's CEO.

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