The overwhelming majority of investors continued to fund their 401(k)s in the first quarter, Fidelity reports, citing an analysis of the 11.3 million participants it serves through 17,500 defined contribution plans.


A full 97% of investors continued to make contributions averaging $1,700, only slightly down from the average $1,860 invested in the first quarter of 2008. Combined with employers’ contributions, the average total amount invested in 401(k)s in the first quarter was actually much higher, $2,780, only slightly down from the combined total of $3,080 in the first quarter of 2008.

“There is no doubt that many employers and employees are feeling the impact of this challenging economy, but the vast majority of workers are maintaining their commitment to saving for retirement,” said Scott B. David, president of workplace investing at Fidelity. “In addition to the money that workers contributed, when you add up the employer contributions and the significant tax advantages from putting away pre-tax dollars for your retirement, the combination of these is what makes workplace savings accounts so beneficial for retirement savings.”

That said, both workers and employers are asking for financial workshops and tools to help get back on track for retirement. Nearly half of participants contact Fidelity during the quarter, seeking guidance.

In response, Fidelity held nearly 4,000 financial seminars at company headquarters in the first three months of the year, which 208,000 workers from 920 plans attended. In addition, 236,000 individual participants used one of Fidelity’s planning tools.

Overall, nearly half of the participants who attended a seminar or met with a representative took some action, either by rebalancing their account or increasing their contribution.

More than 51% of new contributions to 401(k) plans are going into equities, and 25% is going into target-date or other lifecycle options. The remaining quarter of new contributions is going into conservative short-term, stable-value or fixed income investments, up only slightly from the fourth quarter of 2008.

In total, nearly 69% of new contributions are going into equities, due to the target-date options.

In addition, participation in auto enrollment by employers has been increasing, with 16% of plans covering 50% of the participant base using it, obviously led by the larger companies. The Roth IRA is also becoming more popular, with 14.7% of workplace plans offering it by the end of the quarter, up from 13.2% at the end of 2008.

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