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Here's how much Americans' 401(k) plans fell last year

Changing investment strategies for retirement
MoneyWatch: What to know about changing investment strategies for retirement 04:52

Saving for retirement requires looking at the big picture, but it can be dispiriting when your 401(k) or other retirement plan takes a beating — a common plight for American workers last year, according to new data from Fidelity. 

The average balance in a 401(k) plan tumbled 20.5% in 2022, reducing employee nest eggs to $103,900 at the end of 2022, Fidelity said on Thursday. That compares with an average balance of $130,700 a year earlier, the financial services firm said, citing an analysis of 22 million retirement plan participants.

401(k) account performance was slightly worse than the S&P 500's 19.4% slump in 2022. IRA accounts and 403(b) accounts, which are widely used by public schools and charities, also took a hit.

Not surprisingly, anxiety about having enough money socked away for your golden years are also on the rise, with Americans stressed over their declining balances and rising inflation. One recent study found that workers now anticipate they'll need $1.25 million for a comfortable retirement — a hefty 20% jump from 2021.

Despite the wallop to their retirement accounts, Americans continue to put money in their 401(k)s, according to Fidelity. The contribution rate held relatively steady at 13.7% last year, and about one-third of workers increased how much they put away, the company noted. 

Who saves the most?

Pre-retirement baby boomers are saving the most, contributing 16.5% of their income into retirement plans, Fidelity said. Including both employee and employer contributions to 401(k) plans, women tended to save slightly more than men at 11.7% versus 11.5%, Fidelity found. 

However, women generally have lower 401(k) balances than men, which could be a result of lower lifetime earnings. The gender pay gap, which results in women earning less than men for doing the same job or getting funneled into lower-paying roles, results in women earning 83 cents on the dollar compared with men. 

Women on average had about $84,000 in their 401(k)s at the end of 2022, compared with $124,200 for men, Fidelity said. 

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