401(k) Plan Asset Allocation, Account Balances, and Loan Activity in 1998

February 2000
EBRI Issue Brief #218
Paperback, 28 pp.
PDF, 127 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2000

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Executive Summary

The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and the Investment Company Institute (ICI) have been collaborating for the past three years to collect data on participants in 401(k) plans. This effort, known as the EBRI/ICI Participant-Directed Retirement Plan Data Collection Project, has obtained data for 401(k) plan participants from certain of EBRI and ICI members serving as plan record keepers and administrators.

The report includes 1998 information on 7.9 million active participants in 30,102 plans holding nearly $372 billion in assets. The data include demographic information, annual contributions, plan balances, asset allocation, and loans, and are broadly representative of the universe of 401(k) plans. The database also includes three years of longitudinal information on approximately 3.3 million participants. Key findings include:

  • For all 401(k) participants in the 1998 EBRI/ICI database, almost three-quarters of plan balances are invested directly or indirectly in equity securities. Specifically, 49.8 percent of total plan balances are invested in equity funds, 17.7 percent in company stock, 11.4 percent in guaranteed investment contracts (GICs), 8.4 percent in balanced funds, 6.1 percent in bond funds, 4.7 percent in money funds, and 0.3 percent in other stable value funds.
  • Participant asset allocation varies considerably with age. Younger participants tend to favor equity funds, while older participants are more disposed to invest in GICs and bond funds. On average, participants in their 20s have 62.1 percent of their account balances invested in equity funds, in contrast to 39.8 percent for those in their 60s. Participants in their 20s invest 4.7 percent of their assets in GICs, while those in their 60s invest 20.6 percent. Bond funds, which represent 4.7 percent of the assets of participants in their 20s, amount to 9.0 percent of the assets of participants in their 60s.
  • Investment options offered by 401(k) plans appear to influence asset allocation. For example, the addition of company stock substantially reduces the allocation to equity funds and the addition of GICs lowers allocations to bond and money funds.
  • The average account balance (net of plan loans) for all participants was $47,004 at year-end 1998, which is 26 percent higher than the average account balance at year-end 1996. The median account balance was $13,038 at year-end 1998. The balances, however, represent only amounts with current employers and do not include amounts remaining in the plans of prior employers.
  • The average balances of older workers with long tenure indicate that a mature 401(k) plan program will produce substantial account balances. For example, individuals in their 60s with at least 30 years of tenure have average account balances in excess of $185,000.
  • The ratio of account balance to 1998 salary varies with salary, increasing slightly as earnings rise from $20,001 to $80,000, and falling a bit for salaries greater than $80,000. The increase in ratio likely reflects a greater propensity of higher-income participants to save, whereas the decline after $80,000 results from contribution and nondiscrimination rule constraints.