Compare Our 401k Balances With Others In America

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US News has a very interesting article that shows various interesting statistics on account balances Americans hold in his/her 401k accounts. If you are one of those people that always wonder how your 401k nest egg compares to others in the country, this article is for you.

First, here’s the median account balance separated by salary ranges for people in the 20s.

Salary Range

Median Account Balance









More than $100,000


I’m very surprised by this because I cannot believe the median account balance is so high. I know data are based on facts, but it’s hard for me to imagine that someone in their 20s earning $20,000 – $40,000 a year has ON AVERAGE $6,700 in their 401k.

Now, let’s look at the average 401k asset allocation for people in their 30s.

Type of Investment

Share of Account Balance

Equity funds


Balanced funds


Bond funds


Money funds


GICs*/stable value funds


Company stock






This chart shows that most Americans are too conservative in their investments and savings. We all know that stocks provide the most returns in the long term, so I would suggest people in their 30s to put more than 67.5% of their assets in stocks (equity funds + company stock), especially for money in their 401k as the investment time horizon is long.

People in their 40s might have worked for 20-30 years with the same company. Let’s see what the 401k stats are for this group of people.

Job Tenure

Average Account Balance

0-2 years


2-5 years


5-10 years


10-20 years




This is interesting because many people change jobs for higher pay. However, this chart shows people who worked at their latest job the shortest are also the ones that have smallest 401k nest egg. This is disappointing because it means that people are cashing out their 401k when they switch jobs, taking the 10% penalty. We should always try absolutely everything possible to keep our 401k growing, not shrinking.

Let’s compare the account balances for people in the 50s and 60s.

Salary Range


Median Account Balance







$20,000 – $40,000




$40,000 – $60,000




$60,000- $80,000




$80,000 – $100,000




More than $100,000




At 60 and above, we are allowed to withdraw our 401k without penalty. People in the low end of the income spectrum also decrease their 401k the most which is not surprise. It is intriguing that people with the most income at more than $100,000 (and the most money in their 401k balance) take out a bigger portion of their money (4.58%) compared with people with a smaller account balance. It is anyone’s guess why this happens but my guess would be that people with a big nest egg are thinking of diversification at retirement age and their financial advisor is helping them take out more money from their 401k into other types of investments.

There are a trillion ways to interpret any every set of data, so go check out the article and see how you compare. Report back with your thoughts.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Robin says:

    403b $660,000, 24 more years until retirement. I will continue to time the market like I have done the past 5 years, averaging a 25.02% gain. Nobody has to believe me and I don’t care. Today is July 16, 2013 and I am currently up 20.18%. Yeah Baby!

  • Panzer65 says:

    Never buy a house bigger than what you need. Home equity value is no longer guaranteed down the road as we learn from the lesson of Great Recession. Your 401K money down the road is real money. Borrow a tip from wealthy families, only small amount of their net-worth is tied up in the equities of their houses. So your 401K is a bigger priority than your dwelling.

  • maria says:

    I’m 45 years old and only have $60K in my my 401K, the company I work for doesn’t and I started participating for the first time back in 1998, before that I had no other option and being a single mom then couldn’t really afford to put away much. I’m worried that not much has been saved and I will not have enough for when I retired, also it really scares me how the market fluctuates and the big hit a lot of us took back in 2008. Now I have a dilemma I’m in the process of buying a house and wondering if I should cut down to 401K investing to have the extra money to fix the property. Let me know what you all think. Thanks

    • James says:


      You didn’t really provide enough information in your post. You write that “the company I work for doesn’t” but did not identify what they’re not doing. I assume that you were contributing enough to your 401K to get the company match. If you can continue doing that you won’t miss out on the “free” money.

      If your budget forces you to suspend contributing for a while, don’t beat yourself up about it. The amount you already have will, hopefully, continue to grow anyway.

      The important thing is to be aware of all the costs involved in owning a home and don’t overbuy. Keep in mind that you can always buy up later on when your circumstances have improved and you have built up some equity. Also, making sure that you can make your payments without outside assistance will enhance your credit rating for when you are ready to move on. If this means not contributing to your 401K, then so be it.

      Best of luck to you.

  • tiredatwork says:

    Hi James, I think living with one’s parents is by choice for most people than the longevity factor of most people’s parents these days. Of course if I choose not to live with my parents, I can have my freedom and do what I want but I won’t ever have the ability to save much.

    I really appreciate the help my parents are giving me since I can save a lot by living in instead of living out. I do not plan to work forever so I choose to have my parents boss me around the house than some stranger doing that to me at work ; it’s a choice that I have to choose because I’m a low wage earner.

    My rental property is doing pretty well, hope to pay it off in 8-10 years so at the moment I can’t have my cash freeze up in the 401k yet.

  • tiredatwork says:

    I do not have a 401k. I’m 32 single living at home with my parents. I make a little more than 38k/year in Orange County, CA. I have a rental property with equity worth $110k and a non-retirement investment account worth $30k. I have no debt (except the mortgage). Because of living at home with my parents, I’m able to save $18k/year in a savings account. I do not/cannot participate in the crappy 401k plan at work as I plan to use the cash to pay off my rental property in 8-10 years. People like me will never show up on the 401k statistics because we don’t need to.

    • James says:

      Congratulations, tiredatwork, for not needing or wanting a company match on your investments or deferred taxes on the growth of your investments. Your plan, as described, appears to be working well for you.

      You’re right, you won’t show up in the 401k statistics; however, that’s because they are letting us know what is happening, in aggregate, for those who are participating.

      You are also fortunate that your parents are still alive for you to live at home with them. I hope you appreciate the advantages they are providing to you.

      Have you shared your results with a real estate investment discussion group?

  • Buy XOM says:

    The FAIR TAX is a CONSUMPTION tax and not only will the 47% who do not pay INCOME TAX pay “their fair share”, the “underground economy” as Travis pointed out, (drug dealers, prostitutes, under the table workers, etc.) will also pay “their fair share”.

    Tom Ryu: Absolutely correct. A diverse portfolio is the right thing to do, but as long as leftists are bashing XOM for “making too much profit” (a 9% Profit Margin ($40 billion PROFIT on $450 billion in SALES = about 9%), XOM must be doing something right, like doing what businesses are supposed to do – make money!

    • Alex says:

      How much do the prostitutes and the “under the table workers” make under your assumption?

      Unless these people are making middle-class money, they’re probably already paying an effective tax similar to you or I. Sad thing is very few “under the table workers” and prostitutes make a solidly middle-class living, let alone will they ever become “rich”.

  • James says:

    Section 401K of the IRS regulations was set up in response to the Revenue Act of 1978. The IRS issued proposed regulations in 1981 and they were not finalized until 1984. Even though the regulations weren’t finalized, several companies to include Johnson & Johnson, FMC, PepsiCo, JCPenny, Honeywell and Hughes Aircraft Company went ahead and developed plan proposals and many began operation in January 1982.

    We’re talking about 30 years since the first plans were started; so, only people under 50 may have had 401K accounts available during their entire careers.

    I am over 60 and did not work for a company that operated a 401K plan until 1991 which I participated in as soon as I was eligible. Unfortunately, due to “downsizing” (they called it “rightsizing”), I was unable to continue contributing to a 401K plan from 1994 until 2005. I have been contributing to my current plan for the past seven years.

    I wonder if similar issues for other people over 60 explain why we tend to have smaller accounts than people younger than us.

  • Giben says:

    My siblings and their spouses lost their jobs that had pensions. After 20 to 30 years on the job. So they have worked a limited number of years with their 401k. Millions like this, including many of my coworkers. So when they do in fact retire they will still have pension money and 401k money.
    The article misrepresents the actual situation when they just speak of 401k balances.

  • Plain Joe says:

    “I’m 45 years old and have over 2 million dollars in my 401K.” is almost a mission impossible based on my personal experience. I have worked 21 years and always contributed max. My company matches 7% on average. The return is about 6% over the years. I even avoided the financial meltdown 2008 with the luck. But I can only come up with 3 quarters million in 401K.

    It will be very interesting knowing the story behind the statement above.

  • Cynthia says:

    I have been at ExxonMobil for 20 years. I rarely put the maximum percent contribution in my 401k, I just didn’t think I could afford to with four children.(now I know better) But, anyway, I have $400,000 in my 401k. I still have not recovered totally from the bank/insurance induced meltdown in 2008. I noticed no one is including the company lump sum pension amount. When I retire in two years, in addition to my 401k balance I will be getting a lump sum payment for my pension of approx. $350,000. So, even though I will have $800,000, give or take, I will still be far short of the recommended amounts for a “comfortable” retirement. I will make do.

  • Alejandro says:

    “I’m 45 years old and have over 2 million dollars in my 401K.” I don’t believe this. This guys is not telling us something. This person would have had to put away way more money then the government would have allowed.

    • James says:

      I agree with you, Alejandro. Either he maxed his contributions every year and has quintupled his investments over the past 25 years or his company’s match was about $2 for every single dollar he put in. Maybe, he is referring to a fantasy 401K account he keeps on his computer.

  • P. Cossu says:


    I would agree that long-term investment in 401K is a must for anyone working and has a plan with their company, especially if the employer matches. I am an example of making my 401K a success for 25 years prior to converting it into an IRA. I started low at only 4% and gradually worked my way to 8% with my company matching from 1% of salary to ultimately 3%. I never saved more than 8%. I had a few bad years, couple flat years and the rest were very good yielding years. Almost 1/2 of the good years I had net growth above 20%; for an 25 year average, including losses, of 14+ percent net growth.

    I am definitely not a financial person and claim to have much knowledge in business affair but I do know if you spend a little less than you make every year and put it aside, after 40 years of earning, you are more than likely to be a millionaire. I was hoping, from the onset, to become one at 65, meaning I now have a 7 digits number in my IRA at retirement account. Well it turn out that I did it in 27 years and was able to retire at 58.

    There was nothing special about me I just spent 92 cents for every dollar I made for 27 year and on pennies I became reasonably comfortable. I have my company pension and will eventually get SS, then I will or should be at 110+% of my last year salary. I often try to encourage my son to do the same and recently read the millionaire next door and do have many of the characteristics mention in that book.

    Some people have asked how I mange so well, I don’t feel I did well and wish I had 5 times what I have now so I could buy my dream sailing yacht, but my answer is one day at the time the very same one gets into debt. So I suggest that one read and learn to discipline oneself to spend a little less than they make and save that part and with the rest live and enjoy life. I do I ski, have motorcycle, travel extensively, eat well, have a glass of wine everyday with dinner and have a comfortable home to live in.

    Thank you for your time and for you site.


  • Darren says:

    I would imagine they have high balances because they continued to invest while the market was down the last few yrs and got allot more shares for there money when the prices were lower. As the market recovers they have more shares making them money rather than less and it is inflating there balances.

  • Jason says:

    I also came here to see what the average values were for people in my age group. I am 44, and I have $613,000.00 in my 401-K plan. The problem is that the company I am working for will most likely close down in early 2011. I have never touched the funds in my plan, and I have seperate savings and investments totaling about $230,000.00. I do NOT own a home, but rather lease a condo in Los Angeles. I am thinking I may want to start my own business, using my NON 401-K plan funds to get it up and running, and using my 401-K funds (up to 75,000) as a fall back if I need additional funds to live off of. I was just wondering where others are, and where I need to be. I have never had an employer match, and my average has been around 13.50%, and I was in cash in all of 2008 and early 2009.

  • Austin says:

    It would be interesting for this article to be updated and to include 5 year groups vs 10 as well as IRA accounts. I just turned 28 and with 100K in my 401K I seem to be ahead of the curve based on this article. I wonder what the numbers are like today.

  • Kyle says:

    Very interesting comments on here. I am 27 yrs old and began working for a company in 2006 which allowed me to invest in a 401k plan. The company matches my contributions at a certain percentage, I am not exactly sure what that is at the moment. I started investing in the 401k in 2006, and currently today I am $53,000 vested. I currently am putting in about $500 a month. My account return since inception is 5.90%. I am a little confused and disapointed though. The calculator that estimates my monthly income at retirement is telling me that I will only be bringing in about 5k a month. I have yet to invest in any IRA’s, but would like to. I tend to fill that I am on the right track by having 53k in my 401K already. But with the market fluctuations, it kills me to watch my money disapear before my eyes……

  • Steve says:

    You can save for retirement. But you need to save early. I’m 45 years old and have over 2 million dollars in my 401K.

    1.) Put in as much as you can when your young, time is your friend.
    2.) If your older their our catch up plans for people over 50.
    3.) Don’t invest your money and forget about it. Check your investments. If you don’t have the time hire someone. It doesn’t matter if you put alot of money in retirement if you lose it all.
    4.) Invest in Roths IRA. Pay taxes up front don’t pay taxes at the end. All interest earn is tax free when you take it out. I wish I would have put more money in them.

  • TB says:

    The only problem with these 401K assumptions is that the financial planners sell you crap like 12% annually. In reality that might be true over the last 100 years, but practically speaking what only matters is our own investment lifespan. And history is full of decades with flat 0r 0% return…case in point last 10year return of S&P 500 is 3%, which means at that rate it’ll take you 25 years to double your money..basically your entire life..

  • Fred says:

    Over the past 10 years I have seen great growth and hugh losses.. Bottom line over the past 10 years it seems the bulk of the money I have made has been on my contributions, not my returns. Sitting on 600k and watching it go up and down like a yo yo…. Flat out…. not good times at all….

  • Tom Ryu says:

    Just curious whether the data shown here is still up to date?

  • Bill says:

    One reason why you might see a smaller median account balance for earners over 100K in their 60’s than that of those in their 50’s is: income tends to increase over time for many people. Those in their 60’s earning over 100K may not have earned that much in their 50’s. Those in their 50’s earning over 100K are more likely to have been high earners for a greater period, meaning they have the ability to save more.

  • Jazz says:

    Uh….me thinks the term “median account balance is being mistaken for “average account balance”. Perhaps someone has already pointed this out………if so I missed it.

    Employee Account Balance
    Bill 1000
    Joe 1000
    Mary 3000
    Bob 4000
    Susan 4000
    In this example, the AVERAGE account balance is 2600, but the MEDIAN account balance is 3000. The median is the mid-point of the disribution (50% of the participants and more than the median and 50% have less).

  • Dan says:

    Here’s something else nobody is talking about: this doesn’t count the IRA balances people have. How much average IRA balance does an average person have?

  • Patrick says:

    I would disagree that employees should distribute contributions to their 401(k) to company stock, but there’s a catch. If the employees can get a discount on stock, or if they get preferred shares, or if their company offers healthy (3.5% or higher) dividends, then go for it. If however the company already gives stock to their employees as a benefit of working there, or if they do not offer the incentives I listed, then I would consider to plow the 60% of equities to the other funds available in the 401k that invest in stocks. An additional 15% of their distributions should be to international stock funds or indices, and then the rest in GICs and bonds.

    Of course this advice are only for those who still have 30-40 years of investing left, and are aggressive growth. For those who are more conservative but have a similar timeline, 50% goes to large cap stock, 35% goes to bonds and GICs, and the rest to small-cap stock and international.

  • Promotional Companies says:

    Interesting article and some good replies to it to continue the debate….We are going through scary times..

  • Buy XOM says:

    Folks / Moneyning,

    I am living proof of the greatness of 401k plans. Niethe rof my parents graduated from HIGH SCHOOL and neither ever owned stocks or funds until very late in life.

    1) It’s not hard to imagine a person in their 20s earning $20-$40k per year having MORE than $6,700 in their plan. I saved about 10% of my salary (usually around $30k per year) in my 401k and was matched with 7% by ExxonMobil. By the time I was 30 (in 1994), my account was valued at $53,000.

    2) My account hit $100k in 1997 (I was earning around $35k per year).

    3) My account today (5/03/2008) is 4,993 shares at $89.68 per share is worth $447,772.24. I also have other ROTH IRAs worth about $60,000. So at age 44, I am at over $500,000 in investments.

    4) Using the “rule of 72”, where one’s money doubles when years are divided by return percentage; If I get 12% average return, my money will double every 6 years (72/12=6), so in 18 years (2026) when I am 62 and can get to my 401k, my $500k should have turned into $4,000,000. I will then withdraw 10% per year ($400k) and even with inflation and taxes factored in , I will be living quite well.

    5) Do NOT believe politicians and DEMAND to privatize Social Security, which is the biggest impedement to you and your family’s financial freedom.

    • ricky says:

      And then came 2009………………………………………………………

      • Buy XOM says:


        Down to $330,000 in XOM, but the lower price per share allows me to PURCHASE more shares, which will benefit me when the price per share recovers…

        Still looking at over $1,000,000 in stock by 2024 averaging 10% growth after Obama and his fellow socialists/democrats are voted out and businesses are not afraid to spend their Capital and expand their businesses.

        BTW: Did I mention that SOCIAL SECURITY IS A SCAM?.?.

        • Tom Ryu says:

          I know XOM is a good company and I also own shares as well. It does not matter how much you love your company. You should NEVER put all of your retirement monies into one company. On top of that, ExxonMobil is closely linked to the price of oil and other energy prices. If the energy price tanked, so goes the stock price as well. People of your age group, myself included, should keep a diversified portfolio in our 401K and IRA. Let me know what you think…

          • A Word of Caution says:

            As Tom Rye mentioned, please do not follow Buy XOM’s pattern and invest all of your retirement in your company’s stock. Enron is the easiest and most obvious example, as others have mentioned, as to why you shouldn’t.

            Also, Buy XOM’s expectation of 12% and then 10% returns are too generous. For example, the average S&P 500 return from 1962 to 2012 (50 years) is 10.86%. The annualized return, however, is 9.41%. Adjust for inflation, and you are looking at 5.13%. Don’t forget to account for fees. Pick any other time range and the returns vary widely (wanna begin your retirement shortly after 2008?).

            Live well below your means. Save a large percentage of your income. Diversify your investments. Favor indexes and avoid high expense ratios.

            And whoever is in the White House is roughly irrelevant. Buy XOM’s should be counting his lucky stars that his main investment opportunity (i.e. staying employed at a company in an extremely lucrative market position with a much higher than average 401(k) match and that company not having a BP gulf oil spill moment or some other corporate screw-up) haven’t yet bitten back and destroyed his one egg in his one basket. And I wouldn’t doubt that should things have gone less swimmingly at Exxon Mobil, Buy XOM would be counting his other lucky stars that Social Security was there to help out somewhat.

          • Tom Ryu says:

            Exxon ironically has not done very well this year. It is underperforming S&P 500 and Dow. Investing only in XOM would miss out the stock market rally. So it is important to keep a diversified portfolio.

        • Hey XOM says:

          Not everyone works for Exxon Mobil. Ever heard of Enron. If you worked there, you would be broke with your un-diversified investments. You got lucky. And you really know nothing if you want to push for privatizing social security after the recent bubble.

    • Travis says:

      At 54 and after woking for the last 12 years at XOM, I have about the same amount and I max out my 401k each year including the $5,500 catch-up for the last 4 years. Changing the Fed Tax code and not taxing people to work would be the best thing for all people. Taxing people as they spend is more fair because some people work under the table but everyone spends money.

      • Alex says:

        Re: “taxing people as they spend is more fair”.
        – –

        It might be more fair to you, but that isn’t the reality for most Americans.

        Look, I get it. You’re looking out for yourself. That’s human nature but let’s not pretend that doing away with the income tax in favor of a consumption tax is the “best thing for all people”. It’s not. Most Americans don’t have the luxury to max out their 401Ks and the “catch-up” provision. You’re doing okay.

  • Frugal MoneyMan says:

    The article is quite useless. A well written article would have considered the current worth of all retirement accounts (401k, IRA, Roth, 403b, etc.) And even if the article had been based on total retirement savings, does comparing oneself to others really matter? What matters is whether your current balance and future contributions will grow to allow you to have the lifestyle you want when you retire. If you’re not saving enough, you either need to save more or change your expectations.

  • Mark @ TheLocoMono says:

    CNN has a similar calculator where you can compare your assets and income with your age group. I tried it out and the stats were kind of hard to believe either. For one, it was based on age range like 25 to 35 and those who made 30k or less only had a few thousand dollars. I have triple the amount but I am closer to 35. When I was 25 I had a car loan so my net was a negative so that’s a pretty broad range to average out by.

    I think the stats would be more accurate if it was broken down into 5 year ranges instead of 10 year ranges.

    In other words, someone at the bottom of the age range saving 1K a year would have 1K where as someone at the top who saved 1K a year for ten years would have 10K but if you divide the total, 11K by 2 people you would have an average of 5.5K for both people regardless of their age in a ten year range.

  • says:

    Wow… I too was surprised to see how much the average American in their 20s has saved in their 401(K) account. If you had asked me prior to reading this article, I would have guessed someone in their 20s making 20 – 40k might have 2k saved. I guess people really are starting to think about their financial future earlier in life.

  • Benjamin Devey says:

    What this survey doesn’t take into account is that someone who has changed jobs may (and should.) rollover his 401(k) into a self-directed IRA account.

    So, even though he is starting over on a 401(k) balance, possibly even contributing to the allowable limit of 20%, his balance, after starting over at the new job might be only $14,000 after a couple years. But combined with an IRA balance of $72,000, the combined total reflects “retirement savings” of about $86,000.

    Like you, I want to get out of the rat race and be independent of salary stress. It takes a long time, but eventually, your investment earnings will exceed your allocations. That’s when time pays off.

  • MoneyNing says:

    warmylove: Thank you for subscribing.

    Even though $300k is not enough to retire on, it is a good sized nest egg depending on where you live.

    You are doing the right thing with adding to your nest egg and letting the account grow for another 10 years which will make your best egg that much bigger.

  • wamylove says:

    Unfortunately, $300K in the IRA’s and savings (not counting my home equity) is not enough to retire on. I hope it keeps growing and will add $7 to $10K per year as I have been and maybe by my mid 60’s I can consider that. I do live cheaply and always pay cash for cars.
    I plan to subscribe now…

  • MoneyNing says:

    wamylove: Good for you. It must feel quite good to be way ahead of everyone else to financial freedom 🙂

    Have you thought about early retirement or are you going to keep saving?

  • wamylove says:

    I’m self employed and have been for over 17 years, so I have a Sep IRA and IRA. I’m in my 50’s and have about double for the category that represents my average income.

  • MoneyNing says:

    J2R: Average balance is for all the 401k account balances that fall under the category.

    The chart does not say about anything related to the number of people enrolled. The median being $163,769 for people in the 30s making more than $100,000 means that there the same number of people with 401k account balances that have more than $163,769 and less than $163,769.

  • J2R says:

    k, I need some help understanding these numbers

    for 30s Job Tenure

    the highest average account balance is 37,438 if you worked for 5-10 years

    Does that mean that for every 1 guy that makes over $100,000 and has $163,769 in his 401k, there are some 9 people making between $20k and $40k?

    I guess that doesn’t sound that far off from reality.

  • MoneyNing says:

    Joe: Good observation. That’s why stats are sometimes misleading…

    Engineer: Another bunch of great points. It’s quite sad that many people cash out their 401k. I guess the lure to get a bunch of money at once is so too tempting.

  • Engineer says:

    There are a few other things you should recognize when looking at this data.

    The 401(k) hasn’t been around that long, so people in their 60’s didn’t have 401(k)s available their entire career. Also, many people retire at the age of 62 when they can get Social Security and start withdrawals from their retirement savings.

    When you leave a job, your 401(k) can remain in the custody of your former employer (provided their plan allows it) or you can roll it over to an IRA (recommended if your former employer has cruddy fund options). You could also roll it over to your new 401(k) plan if the rules allow. I expect few people roll their 401(k) to the new employer’s plan, all too many cash out and spend it.

    So the tendencies are for people in their 60’s or with less tenure in their current job to have lower balances.

  • Joe says:

    I suspect that the reason why the median account balance is so big is because it only counts the people that have a 401k.

    For example, if I do not have a 401k, I’m not counted is having a $0 account balance.

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