From the September 2010 issue of Treasury & Risk magazine

Employee Hardship Saps 401(k)s


More employees are borrowing from their 401(k) accounts or withdrawing funds outright, according to Fidelity Investments, which says the top reasons workers cite for drawing on their retirement accounts are avoiding foreclosure or eviction, paying college tuition or purchasing a home.

Of the 11 million participants in Fidelity 401(k) plans, 62,000, or 2.2%, took a hardship withdrawal in the second quarter, up from 45,000 in the first quarter. (Workers pay a 10% penalty on hardship withdrawals.)

Eleven percent took a loan from their 401(k) account over the last 12 months, and 22% now have a loan outstanding, up from 20% at the end of the first quarter. Fidelity says that's the highest level of participants with an outstanding loan in the 10 years it has tracked such loans.

Not all the 401(k) data are dismal. The average account balance at the end of the second quarter was $61,800, up 15% from a year earlier, but down from $66,900 at the end of the first quarter.

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