Eighty-four percent of workers who are automatically enrolled in a 401(k) plan stick with the plan, up from 77% in 2007, Charles Schwab found. Participation among all plans rose to 77%, up from 73% in 2007.

“The good news is that most employees are sticking with their 401(k) plan, which continues to be one of the best vehicles to save for retirement,” said Catherine Golladay, vice president of 401(k) participant education and advice at Schwab. “The even better news is that people are also contributing to their accounts at almost the same level as they were prior to the market downturn. In fact, the average contribution rate in our plans stayed around 7% from 2007 to 2008, which is a reflection of people getting more serious about saving.”

In the 401(k) plans that Schwab administers, relatively few employers eliminated their 401(k) match. As of July of this year, a mere 9% stopped making matching contributions, although sponsors in industries hardest hit by the recession, such as manufacturing and retail, were more likely to suspend the match. Roughly 69% of employers offer a match.

“Our plan sponsor clients tell us that the employer match is one of the most important 401(k) plan features for employees and eliminating it is a last resort, even in difficult economic times,” said Robyn Alcorta, vice president of 401(k) client services at Schwab.

Loan activity also showed commitment to 401(k) plans, with 5.67% taking loans in 2008, down from 5.91% the year before, and hardship loans rose barely to 0.91%, up from 0.8% in 2007.

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