Few Retirement Savers Left The Stock Market Last Year

But those who did may be in dire financial straights, especially when they retire

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Only a small portion of retirement savers pulled their money out of the stock market last year. Just 14 percent of retirement plan participants made any kind of change to their 401(k) asset allocation in 2008, according to retirement plan administrator Mercer, which oversees 401(k) accounts for 1.2 million Americans.

Those who did make changes fled the stock market and sought safety, shifting their assets from equity markets into stable value and money market funds.

Mercer has also seen a jump in the number of people requesting withdrawals from their accounts compared to last year, especially in November and December, and an increase in the number of participants who have stopped contributing to their employer’s 401(k) plan. “Mercer has seen more participants decrease rather than increase their contribution rates throughout 2008, a trend rarely seen in more stable economic times,” the firm said.

The number of 401(k) participants taking these actions was relatively small, averaging less than one percent in both cases. But Eric Levy, retirement business leader of Mercer’s outsourcing business, called the growth in withdrawals and reduced contributions alarming. “This may point to the dire straits that a small but growing number of participants find themselves in where withdrawals and zero contribution rates are seen as a type of financial last resort,” he says.