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Investing Specialists

100 Must-Know Statistics About 401(k) Plans

The costs of participating in company retirement plans have come way down, but investors in small plans pay far more than large-plan investors.

401(k) plans have gotten more scrutiny in recent years, and it's deserved. With the ebbing away of pension plans in the private sector, workers in the United States are largely on the hook for their own retirement security. And one of the key ways they achieve retirement security, along with Social Security, is by saving and investing via tax-sheltered investment vehicles like 401(k)s and IRAs.

Yet determining whether a 401(k) plan is a good deal is harder than it ought to be. Administrative and other plan fees can be buried in legal documents, and even participants who can unearth them are apt to have trouble discerning whether they're getting a good deal or a raw one. To help facilitate the benchmarking process and to provide an overview of where 401(k)s stand today, here's a closer look at 401(k)s from several angles: the amount of money that's at stake, the extent to which workers are (or are not) covered by such plans, contributions and balances, employer-matching contributions, fees, investment choices, and other features. The data show in stark detail how plan quality varies dramatically by plan size, as well as the fact that many workers don't have a plan at all.

Each statistic links through to its underlying source; the latest report on 401(k)s from BrightScope/ICI was a primary resource. Broad data on participant balances are scant; I relied on Vanguard's most recent "How America Saves" report, which encompasses data on 5 million plan participants, for statistics on contribution rates and balances, but these data will obviously vary by provider.

Where the Money Is
$6.4 trillion: Assets in 401(k) plans, 2019. 
$3.7 trillion: Growth in assets in 401(k) plans since 2009. 
$2.7 trillion: Assets in other defined-contribution plans (such as 403(b)s), 2019. 
$1.2 trillion: Growth in assets in other defined-contribution plans (such as 403(b)s) since 2009.
$11 trillion: Assets in IRAs, 2019. 
$6.5 trillion: Growth in assets in IRAs since 2009. 
$10.2 trillion: Assets in pension plans (private and government), 2019. 
$4.2 trillion: Growth in assets in pension plans (private and government) since 2009. 

Many Small Plans but Assets--and Participants--Are Concentrated in Large Ones
55.8%: Percentage of plans with less than $1 million in assets. 
32.7%: Percentage of plans with between $1 million and $10 million in assets. 
89.0%: Percentage of plans with fewer than 100 participants. 
48.8%: Percentage of all 401(k) assets in plans with more than $1 billion in assets
30.0%: Percentage of all 401(k) participants in plans with more than $1 billion in assets.

Who's Covered? Who Participates?
56%: Percentage of all workers participating in a workplace retirement plan of any kind, 2019.
43%: Percentage of all workers participating in a defined-contribution plan such as a 401(k), 2019. 
21%: Percentage of all workers participating in a pension plan, 2019. 
76%: Defined-contribution plan participation rates, all workers who have Vanguard plans, 2019. 
94%: Defined-contribution plan participation rates, workers earning more than $150,000 who have Vanguard plans, 2019. 
71%: Defined-contribution plan participation rates, workers earning $30,000-$49,999 who have Vanguard plans, 2019. 
89%: Defined-contribution plan participation rates, workers earning between $30,000-$49,999 who have Vanguard plans with automatic enrollment, 2019. 
33%: Percentage of African-American households with a family member participating in a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan, 2016. 
51%: Percentage of non-Hispanic white households with a family member participating in a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan, 2016. 
28%: Percentage of Hispanic households with a family member participating in a a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan, 2016. 

Contributions and Balances
7%: Average salary deferral percentage in Vanguard retirement plans, 2019. 
6%: Median salary deferral in Vanguard retirement plans, 2019. 
11%: Average aggregate contribution rate (employee and employer) in Vanguard retirement plans, 2019.
12%: Percentage of 401(k) savers in Vanguard plans who deferred the maximum allowable amount in 2019 ($19,000 under 50, $25,000 over 50).
$106,478: Average account balance, Vanguard, 2019.
$25,775: Median account balance, Vanguard, 2019. (Much larger average balances than medians reflect that some workers have very large balances, inflating the averages, whereas many workers have very small amounts.) 

Investment Options: What's Offered
28: Average number of investment choices, all 401(k) plans, 2017. 
21: Average number of investment choices, all 401(k) plans, adjusted for target-date funds (that is, counting a target-date option as a single fund), 2017. 
10: Average number of domestic-equity funds in plan lineups, 2017. 
3: Average number of international-equity funds in plan lineups, 2017.
3: Average number of bond funds (domestic and international) in plan lineups, 2017.
92.7%: Percentage of all plans that include index funds, 2017.
97.6%: Percentage of plans with more than $1 billion in assets that include index funds, 2017.
78.6%: Percentage of plans with less than $1 million in assets that include index funds, 2017.
37.9%: Percentage of plans that include employer stock. 
58.0%: Percentage of all plans that include target-date funds, 2009.
32.0%: Percentage of all plans that include target-date funds, 2006. (The Pension Protection Act was passed in 2006, which made target-date funds an allowable default choice in 401(k) plans.)
87.3%: Percentage of plans that offer a target-date fund as the default investment alternative. 

How the Assets Are Invested: Target-Date Funds and Index Funds on the Ascent
35%: Percentage of all plan assets that are in U.S. equity funds, 2017.
8%: Percentage of all plan assets that are in international-equity funds, 2017.
7%: Percentage of all plan assets that are in bond funds, 2017.
7%: Percentage of all plan assets that are in guaranteed investment contracts, 2017.
24%: Percentage of all plan assets that are in target-date funds, 2017.
8%: Percentage of all plan assets in target-date funds, 2009.
3%: Percentage of 401(k) assets in target-date funds, 2006.
20%: Percentage of all plan assets that are in target-date funds, plans with more than $1 billion in assets.
43%: Percentage of all plan assets that are in target-date funds, plans with less than $1 million in assets.
36%: Percentage of all 401(k) assets that were in index funds, 2017.
17%: Percentage of all 401(k) assets that were in index funds, 2006.
40%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with assets of more than $1 billion that are invested in index funds.
23%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with assets of less than $1 million that are invested in index funds.

Investment Types: Mutual Funds Dominate, but CITs on the Move
45%: Percentage of assets in all 401(k) plans that are in mutual funds.
31%: Percentage of assets in all 401(k) plans that are in collective investment trusts.
7%: Percentage of assets in all 401(k) plans that are in guaranteed investment contracts.
4%: Percentage of assets in all 401(k) plans that are in separate accounts.
26%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with more than $1 billion in assets that are in mutual funds.
46%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with more than $1 billion in assets that are in collective investment trusts.
7%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with more than $1 billion in assets that are in guaranteed investment contracts.
1%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with more than $1 billion in assets that are in separate accounts.
56%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with less than $1 million in assets that are in mutual funds.
7%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with less than $1 million in assets that are in collective investment trusts.
4%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with less than $1 million in assets that are in guaranteed investment contracts.
33%: Percentage of assets in 401(k) plans with less than $1 million in assets that are in separate accounts.

The Bigger the Plan, the Lower the Fees
0.58%: Total plan cost for average 401(k) participant, 2017. (Includes investment, administrative, and other fees.)  
0.65%: Total plan cost for average 401(k) participant, 2009. (Includes investment, administrative, and other fees.) 
1.42%: Total plan cost for average 401(k) participant in plan with less than $1 million in assets, 2017. (Includes investment, administrative, and other fees.) 
0.26%: Total plan cost for average 401(k) participant in plan with more than $1 billion in assets, 2017. (Includes investment, administrative, and other fees.) 
0.43%: Average asset-weighted expense ratio for domestic-equity mutual funds (including both index and actively managed funds) for all plans, 2017. 
0.79%: Average asset-weighted expense ratio for domestic-equity mutual funds (including both index and actively managed funds) for plans with less than $1 million in plan assets in 2017. 
0.34%: Average asset-weighted expense ratio for domestic-equity mutual funds (including both index and actively managed funds) for plans with more than $1 billion in plan assets in 2017. 
0.77%: Average asset-weighted expense ratio for target-date funds for plans with less than $1 million in plan assets in 2017. 
0.40%: Average asset-weighted expense ratio for target-date mutual funds for plans with more than $1 billion in plan assets in 2017. 
0.39%: Average asset-weighted expense ratio for equity mutual funds in 401(k) plans 2019.
0.52%: Average asset-weighted expense ratio for equity mutual funds overall (inside and outside of 401(k) plans), 2019.

Automatic Features
29.3%: Percentage of 401(k) plans that offer automatic enrollment, 2017. 
59.1%: Percentage of plans with more than $1 billion in assets that offer automatic enrollment, 2017. 
17.8%: Percentage of plans with less than $1 million in assets that offer automatic enrollment, 2017. 
4.6%: Average default contribution rate, large 401(k) plans, 2019. 
76.2%: Percentage of large plans that offer automatic escalation (contribution increases), 2019. 

Matching Contributions
86%: Percentage of all large 401(k) plans that offer employer contributions, 2017. 
98%: Percentage of 401(k) plans with more than $100 million in assets that offer employer contributions, 2017. 
78%: Percentage of 401(k) plans with less than $10 million in assets that offer employer contributions, 2017. 
58%: Percentage of of 401(k) plans with less than $1 million in assets that offer employer contributions, 2017. 
$115 billion: Employer contributions to 401(k) plans, 2017. 
$237 billion: Employee contributions to 401(k) plans that offer employer contributions, 2017. 
$9 billion: Employee contributions to 401(k) plans that do not offer employer contributions, 2017. 
6%: The most common salary deferral amount that large plans offer to make matching contributions on.
50% of match on 6% of salary: The most common matching arrangement for large 401(k) plans that use a simple match (19.4% of large plans use this configuration).
11%: Percentage of employers that suspended matching contributions in early 2020.

Roth, Aftertax Options
74%: Percentage of Vanguard plans that offer a Roth 401(k) option, 2019. 
12%: Percentage of participants in Vanguard plans with a Roth 401(k) option who utilize that option, 2019. 
19%: Percentage of Vanguard plans that offer an aftertax 401(k) option, 2019.
8%: Percentage of participants in Vanguard plans with an aftertax 401(k) option who utilize that option.

Other Features
78%: Percentage of all plans with loans outstanding, 2017.
95%: Percentage of large plans that offer some type of advice to participants (for example, online advice, in-house education, or managed accounts), 2019.  
51.9%: Percentage of large plans that offer managed accounts, 2019. 

Leakage
$92.4 billion: Amount of assets that "leak out" from 401(k)s each year because employees cash out early, mainly following job changes, 2015.