SURVEY SAYS: Have You Touched Your Retirement Account (Recently)?

August 11, 2011 ( - The past week has been a rough one in the markets, and for those retirement savings accounts. 
In fact, a number of providers have reported significant upticks in call, if not activity, volumes.  This week I  asked readers what, if anything, they had done – and what they were hearing from participants. 

First off, more than two-thirds had checked their account balance – though two thirds of those (43.4%) of the total said they “routinely” check such things.  Only 3.6% had made an account transfer, and only 1.2% had taken out a loan or withdrawal (albeit one unrelated to the markets).


However, another 42% opted for “other” – many apparently because in constructing the survey responses, I neglected to allow for a “did nothing” option – among those, the following responses:

Invested more money than usual

None of the above.  Not worrying about it.

I have not checked my balance.  What I don’t see can’t scare me, right?

Where’s “none of the above”?

Absolutely nothing!  I cannot control the market and I really don’t want to know how bad my balance is right now.

Ignored the whole thing.  I am just holding pat and hoping I won’t be sorry.

Congratulated myself for putting most of the money into the Guaranteed Account.

Ignored the pain.  It will not matter what I do.  I can only ride it out. 

I have done nothing as I'm riding it out.  What choice to I have?  Sell low, buy high?

Thought about transferring funds, but didn't.

Refused to look while chanting, "I'm in it for the long haul. (repeat)"

Didn't check, didn't touch.  I'm in for the long haul - when market is lower I get more shares - my utopia would be for the market to hit new high as I retire and pull out full distribution!

sold off 1/2 of my portfolio after the initial 5% decrease, but before Monday's decrease and moved into cash. I will be allocating 1/3 of my portfolio into a retirement annuity to porvide for guraranteed income

reviewed personal rate of return for 1 year; 2 year, and 3 years

Didn't do anything.  Just waiting for the dust to settle.

Checked market action but not my investment accounts

Checked the markets but not my balance (I don't like to cry)

Might even open quarterly statement, will wait until 2014 for recovery!

Bought stock - added to one position and bought another 'on sale' that I'd been watching


Did nothing, I'm past normal retirement and still working.  Don't want to know how much I've lost.

I checked my balance and stressed over the decrease then put myself in check that I have 15 years to retirement so I had better quit stressing and get back to work.

None of the above - Whats happened has happened - We need to get over it

Why ruin your day - there is nothing you can do but ride it out


Nope. But I've done all of the above assisting plan participants. Some are still shaking from 2008.

broke out into a cold sweat.

Deposited more money in stocks.

I didn't do any of the above...except hold on for dear life!

I've not had the heart to check.  I hope it somewhat recovers before I have to look at the balance again.

Did nothing


Relied on my good sense to stay the course well diversified


I also asked readers what they had heard from participants:

Again, roughly two-thirds said they had gotten no calls from participants – but then, two-thirds of those said that they don’t normally field those calls anyway.  Among the rest:

22.5% - had gotten no calls from participants

18.8% - had gotten a few calls from, participants

13.8% - had gotten about the same number of calls as usual

Indeed, a mere 2.5% said they had gotten a LOT of calls from participants.


As for other comments on the topic, here are some other verbatims:

I didn't do anything because my personal time horizon is fairly long - and the bank is taking care of my investments (though I do check up on them periodically).  But who's really making money in all of this?  The brokers.

I didn't bother checking because it's depressing. Instead, I've been fighting off urges to liquidate my entire account, go to Vegas, and lay it all down on black. After all, I don't need anyone else's help (ahem, Wall Street, US Government) in losing my money. I have found that I can be pretty good at it myself!

As the old Chinese blessing (curse) goes:  May you be blessed with living in interesting times.

I have received several visits from participants who want very much to retire, who have had their plans dashed again.  It's a good thing we're on the west coast and cannot get within striking distance of Washington, where the blame is aimed.

I didn't want to check my DC balance, but our vendor (AonHewitt) had a server issue that prevented participants from logging in all weekend. We were getting calls about this issue at our internal HR number, so I logged in to check it out myself, and unfortunately saw my depressed balance. Pretty much ruined my day. 

I don't touch my asset allocation when the market goes haywire.  I'm not sure if that reflects confidence in my allocation or denial.

I think it's a crime that politicians and certain industries (banking) have the ability to mess with the average person's ability to retire.

I checked because I lost about 40% in the last market downturn and had to postpone retirement.  I don't want to put retirement off much longer, but had to stay aggressive with my investments to make back the loss and hoped there wouldn't be as a heavy drop.

every day i checked my balance and watched it sink lower and lower and lower - at $18,000 in the red, i decided to move half of each account to . . . hmmm . . what is a safe account these days . . .. chose the gnma - it was still in the + when i moved the $$$$

It amazes me how so many people want to get on the Ark after it starts to rain.

No changes

More on-line checking activity than usual during work hours.

I did check my accounts.  It helps to check at the low points so that when I check later I can see the move back up.  We have 20 years to retirement so I am not moving anything around yet.

I wanted to move my old money in my retirement account but never got around to doing so.  All current contributions for some time have been going to a lifetime fund so I left that alone.  On some personal investments though I cashed out last week.  Being within three years of retirement age I don't have "time to recover".


It's long-term money - I didn't even look at it.  I'm not retiring for about 25 years!

Easy come, easy go.

The few I heard from were concerned about retirement.  One individual is about 10 years away, the other about 4.  The one who is closer had just met with a financial planner the week before and was questioning an in-service distribution to invest in some other retirement vehicle.  Needless to say they were distressed to see the market tank just when they were considering such a move.

Over time I've seen participants make good, bad and just plain stupid moves at times like this. I'd cringe, counsel, provided alternatives and ask them to consider different choices. Now, it's "whatever floats your boat, pal." It's not that I'm a cold-hearted bas****, but people are gonna do what they do regardless of their best interests.

While I have not checked my balance, I have been listening to news reports and talking heads.  The most consistent data point I'm hearing is don't panic and don't cash out or you're likely to miss any recovery.   

And the market was back up 400 points yesterday.  So I think this is probably the best 'advice' I've heard in a while.

Already knew the market was down, why look at it and see how bad it was.  Better to wait when it goes back up.

Believe the guaranteed income products will be very appreciated.

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said, “I hadn't checked my account in the past week, but now that you've piqued my interest, I am going to RIGHT AFTER I submit this survey (so my checking doesn't count for the survey :-))”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!