Although the majority of 401(k) participants exhibited steady savings behavior in the second quarter, the number of loans and hardship withdrawals also increased, according to data from Fidelity Investments.

The average 401(k) balance as of the end of the second quarter was $61,800, up 15% from a year earlier, but down from the end of the first quarter. The average deferral rate, or the percentage of a participant’s salary saved, stayed on track at about 8%. One-in-three- participants deferred at 10% or higher. As in the first quarter, more participants increased their deferrals (%.3%) than decreased (2.9%) in the second quarter.

Yet, Fidelity also found that the percentage of 401(k) participants either initiating a loan or a hardship withdrawal also increased. Loans initiated over the past 12 months grew to 11% of total active participants from 9% a year ago. The number of participants with loans outstanding also increased two percentage points to 22% in the second quarter. The average loan amount at the end of the second quarter was $8,650 with an average loan duration of three and a half years.

“First and foremost we do see that average account balances are still up and people are still committed and continue to save, said Elizabeth McHugh, vice president of Market Insights at Fidelity.  “But what we’re seeing is that based upon the environment we’re in today unfortunately some people are forced to borrow form 401k accounts to pay for key expenses.”

In fact, McHugh said that the number of people initiating loans and number of people having loans outstanding is at the highest level in the 10 years Fidelity has tracked that data. The number of participants who initiated a hardship withdrawal grew to 62,000 in the second quarter from 45,000 in the previous quarter. As of the end of the second quarter, the number of Fidelity’s active participants who took hardship withdrawals grew to 2.2% from 2% the prior year. Approximately 45% of participants who took a hardship withdrawal one year ago also took a hardship withdrawal in the 12-month period ending at the end of the second quarter.

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