Americans are saving more in 401(k) retirement plans

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If there’s a bright side to the troubled economy and ever-rising medical costs, perhaps this is it: A new survey shows American workers are saving more in their 401(k)s to fortify themselves against the financial gloom they see around them.

Over the last year, 41% of people with 401(k) retirement accounts have boosted their contribution rates (up from 31% last year), while 11% expect to stash away the maximum $16,500 allowed under federal tax law (it was 8% a year ago), according to an annual survey by Mercer, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos.

The change is driven largely by deepening concerns about the economy.

Of those surveyed, 45% fear losing their jobs (up from 36% a year ago) while 44% expect to delay retirement (it was 35% last year). And the seemingly unstoppable rise in retiree health costs is registering with American workers: 36% said saving for healthcare is a major goal, up from 24% a year earlier.


‘Participants seem to be saying that they can no longer rely on market performance, their employer or the government to build their retirement savings for them, but must take control of every aspect they can in order to provide for a successful retirement,’ said Suzanne Nolan, marketing and communications director for Mercer’s U.S. outsourcing business.

It’s positive that people are taking greater control of their finances -- even if for depressing reasons -- but it’s only part of the story.

The survey depicts Americans who already participate in 401(k) plans -- i.e., a self-selected group that tends to be financially aware and motivated. And to contribute to a 401(k), you have to have a job in the first place.

The bigger risk is for the millions of Americans who have little retirement savings, or who have lost their jobs and are raiding their nest eggs to buy food or pay the mortgage.

For them, their retirement hopes may rest on the ability of the economy to turn around.


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Smart money is a rare positive for the stock market

-- Walter Hamilton