By Arielle O’Shea
One point that becomes increasingly important as participants age: Fidelity’s analysis treats each account separately, which means balances aren’t aggregated by account holder and then averaged. As people age and spend more time in the workforce, they’re more likely to hold more than one 401(k) , especially if they’ve changed jobs without rolling over or combining accounts.
Average 401(k) balance: $106,200.
Median 401(k) balance: $36,900.
Another solid jump by this age range, with both figures more than doubling — the last time we’ll see a percentage jump that large between age ranges. That’s likely at least partially a product of peak earning years: According to compensation research company Payscale, for women, pay tends to peak at age 39; for men, age 48.
Average 401(k) balance: $179,100.
Median 401(k) balance: $62,700.
This group has hit the age at which catch-up contributions are allowed by the IRS: Participants age 50 and older can contribute an extra $6,000 a year in 2019. That can be a helpful Hail Mary for those feeling behind at this point, assuming that extra cash is available to put toward retirement.
Average 401(k) balance: $198,600.
Median 401(k) balance: $63,000.
Growth has slowed here, likely due to the fact that the latter half of this group may actually be drawing down their 401(k) balance to start spending the money they’ve accumulated. IRS rules allow 401(k) distributions to begin at age 59½, though many people don’t retire until later: The average reported retirement age for Americans who are currently retired is 61, according to Gallup, and the Social Security full retirement age for people in this group is 67.
Following this, 401(k) balances begin to fall as more people start tapping their accounts. The average balance for those 70 and older is $186,800; the median is $52,400.
What you can learn from the average 401(k) balance
Again: not much. This is a fairly arbitrary benchmark. In the aggregate, it can speak to how workers in general are doing when it comes to saving for retirement, but it does little to help you analyze your own situation. It’s also limited to people who have a 401(k); many workers don’t.
A better approach to benchmarking your efforts: A retirement calculator, which will give you a more personalized recommendation for how much you should have saved now, and how much you’ll need at the end of the line.
Finally, it’s worth noting that you may or may not want to put all your retirement eggs into a 401(k) basket. Once you’ve earned your employer match, there can be benefits to spreading your money around among other retirement accounts, such as an IRA. Here’s how to decide how much to contribute to your 401(k).
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Arielle O’Shea is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org . Twitter: @arioshea.