SURVEY SAYS: Account Balance Performance

August 16, 2001 - The experience of the "average" 401(k) investor may be more interesting than practical to most of us, but when people start trying to make policy decisions based on those numbers, well --we figured it was time to bring the experience a bit closer to home. This week's survey asked how YOUR account balance performed (though we didn't ask for age).

Those who had a rough year had a lot of company — over three-fourths of our survey respondents lost money last year. More than 43% lost 10% or more, while over a third (33.65%) lost less than that. Roughly 5% managed to eke out a small gain, while 7% did better, but gained something less than 5%. Nearly 10% of our respondents saw their account rise more than 10% last year, and roughly 2% weren’t sure.

As for 2001, over half (56.4%) have lost money, 36% have gained ground and the rest are roughly even (most noted a strong Q2 overcoming a bad Q1).


“This was really inconvenient. I’ll have to work longer and take the beach house, yacht and membership to the Augusta National out of my retirement plans. There went my dreams of opulence and splendor.”

“Fall by more than 10%… Company Stock… Not Good…”

“This time unlike 1987 Market timing worked and asset allocation did not.”

“Well, you did it! You forced me to look at something short term I was trying to avoid. I have always been the “don’t think about it, this is a long term investment” person. But I knew if I analyzed the actual losses, I would freak out. So you piqued my curiosity and now I know how bad it really is. But I’m going to be strong and not do anything rash, just worry more now. Thanks a lot!”

“OK OK. So I didn’t want to look, but I did just for you. ick…… where’s the caffeine… I think everyone’s running for shelter is hurting my returns… oh well.”

“Sadly, my 2000 balance fell in excess of 10% – no doubt the reason I am not employed by an investment management company?”

“I’ve got more than 30 years to go before retirement, so I’ll just hope that the market behaves as it has historically by bouncing back to a higher number than ever before. Besides, if I worry about one year’s performance, I’m not such a good salesperson to the employees here. I try to be a cheerleader for participation – if I can be honest about my own account, perhaps they will feel comfortable with the occasional loss.”

And this week’s Editor’s Choice: “It’s ugly.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey (and we’re sorry for making you “look”)!