(Dow Jones) It has been a tough decade for 401(k) savers, but new data suggest that being a consistent saver does pay off, at least somewhat and on average.
The average balance among people who stuck with their plan for the past 10 years more than tripled by the end of 2010, according to Fidelity Investments' latest analysis, published Wednesday, of the plans it manages for 11 million participants.
Among savers who were "continuously active" for the past decade--that means they were employed by the plan sponsor and had a balance for that decade--the average account balance rose to $183,100 in December 2010, from $59,100 in December 2000, according to Fidelity.
The average account-balance gain includes employees' and employers' contributions, plus market gains.
Looking at all of the plan participants, the average balance rose to $71,500, a 10-year high since Fidelity started tracking the data.
While saving consistently is a primary way for most people to have some semblance of retirement security, it won't protect you from market downturns. And widespread job losses and lack of wage growth don't help. Plenty of people saved consistently but saw their accounts take a severe hit in the 2008-09 downturn.
As a recent Wall Street Journal article noted: "The median household headed by a person aged 60 to 62 with a 401(k) account has less than one-quarter of what is needed in that account to maintain its standard of living in retirement."
As one would expect, the average account balance varies widely by age. For savers aged 60 to 64, the average balance was $120,600 at the end of 2010. For those aged 25 to 29, the average balance was $11,700.
Here's a look at average account balances by age, according to Fidelity's analysis of plans held by 11 million participants:
- 20 to 24, $3,500
- 25 to 29, $11,700
- 30 to 34, $25,300
- 35 to 39, $42,500
- 40 to 44, $59,900
- 45 to 49, $81,100