The average 401(k) loan size dropped from 14 percent of account balance to 13 percent from 2011 to 2012, the Employee Benefit Research Institute said in a new report.

The median amount owed on 401(k) loan stood at $3,858 in 2012, the last year studied by EBRI.

Retirement account loans have trended downward since a high of 16 percent at the start of the recession in 2008.

The number of 401(k) participants borrowing against their plans stayed stable at 21 percent in the four years following the meltdown. Workers in their 40s have been most likely to take out the loans, comprising 26 percent of loan holders in 2012, according to the institute. That was up from 25 percent a year earlier.  

Fifty-nine percent of all 401(k) programs offer loans. Generally, the bigger the plan, the more likely it is to let participants borrow. Twenty-four percent of plans with 10 or fewer participants allow loans, while 94 percent of employers with 10,000 or more workers offer loans.

The number of workers taking 401(k) loans and the percentage of workplaces offering the option have not seen huge fluxuations in the 17 years the think tank has been following the issue, according to EBRI.