We all need to save independently for retirement for one big reason: Social Security won't provide enough income for a comfortable lifestyle. Those benefits will generally replace about 40% of your former paycheck if you're an average earner, and most seniors need roughly twice that sum to cover their expenses.
That's why saving in a tax-advantaged retirement plan is a smart move, and if you have a 401(k), it's worth contributing to it. Not only do 401(k)s offer much higher annual contribution limits than IRAs, but many of the companies that sponsor them also match employee contributions to varying degrees. The result? Free money for you.
If you have a 401(k), you may be curious to know how its balance compares to that of the typical saver. And here's your answer: As of 2020's first quarter, the average 401(k) balance is $91,400, reports Fidelity. But that doesn't tell the whole story.
Retirement plan values are down
Though the average 401(k) balance may be $91,400 at present, balances were much higher as of 2019's final quarter. Back then, the average balance was $112,300, which means the typical 401(k) lost $20,900 of value in about three months' time.
The culprit? That would be COVID-19, and the stock market onslaught that came with it. But in all likelihood, that extreme hit will be nothing more than a temporary setback for savers on the road to building retirement wealth. Once the health crisis winds down and the economy opens back up, there's a strong chance the stock market will rebound -- namely, because historically, it's always managed to recoup its losses following downturns. Granted, that recovery may not happen in a matter of months, but if you're years away from retirement, fear not -- there's plenty of time for your 401(k) balance to come back up, and then some.
Are you saving enough?
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the average 401(k) balance was $112,300, as mentioned earlier, and while that's not a small amount of money, it's also not all that substantial if you're already in your 40s, 50s, or 60s. (If you're in your 20s with roughly $100,000 in your 401(k), you're doing a pretty job of saving.) As such, you'll need to assess where you are savings-wise and if you're behind, make an effort to ramp up on the contribution front once life normalizes again. Of course, if you've managed to retain your paycheck during the crisis and are able to set aside more money in your 401(k) immediately, go ahead and do so. Otherwise, pledge to do better at funding that account once things stabilize.
Currently, you can contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) if you're under 50. If you're 50 or older, you get a $6,500 catch-up that raises your limit to $26,000. Of course, most people can't afford to hit these thresholds, but your goal should be to set aside 15% or more of your income each year for retirement purposes under normal circumstances -- meaning, when we're not grappling with a pandemic.
Unfortunately, 401(k) plans across the board have not managed to escape the wrath of COVID-19. But it's still important to keep saving in one, especially if your employer matches contributions. And remember, while your 401(k) balance may be down right now, you should really try not to stress about it (or check your account too often). As long as you sit back, leave your investments alone, and give your 401(k) time to recover, you'll be doing your part to help ensure that you have enough money to retire comfortably when you want to.