Also, ongoing contributions during March’s market declines and through the recovery may help make retirement accounts appear to be less negatively impacted, masking “the psychological impact of falling stock prices on participants," Vanguard said.

Even with the CARES Act and regulatory changes offering greater and easier access to loans and hardship withdrawals from retirement plan accounts, the number of participants taking advantage of such options actually fell through the first four months of 2020. Vanguard attributed this in part to a decrease in consumer spending and a decline in housing transactions.

Because the CARES Act allows for coronavirus-related distributions (CRDs) distinct from 401(k) hardship withdrawals, the declines may also indicate a preference for using a CRD over a hardship withdrawal. Still, fewer than 1% of participants in Vanguard plans took a CRD through the end of April.

Vanguard accumulated the date for its report from an analysis of about 1,800 qualified plans and five million participants for which Vanguard provides recordkeeping services.

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