SURVEY SAYS: When Did You Last Look at Your Account?

April 1, 2010 ( - Well, today is the first day of a new quarter, as we bring to a close a quarter – and a year – that, by most counts, has brought some healing to those battered retirement savings accounts. 

This week I asked readers when was the last time they/you looked at YOUR retirement plan balance – and how you felt when you did. 

Nearly half (49.4%) had done so in the past week – and, when you take into account another 8.2% from the “other” category (“other” because they generally had done so in the past day, or couple of days) – or as one reader noted “I looked at it just this morning before finishing reading News Dash”.  Another said they had checked it “Today, because you reminded me about it.” 

Indeed, regular checking of account balances seemed to be something of an occupational “hazard” with many of this week’s respondents.  One reader noted that they reviewed it “Daily. It helps to know what’s happening in the market and personally so that I can respond to questions from employees.”  Another said they checked it “Almost daily, the pitfall of looking up participant accounts is that it is right there!”      

Another quarter (24.7%) had done so in the last month, and 14.1% had checked it out since the beginning of the year.  A mere 2.4% said they had done so “in the past year”, and only 1.2% said they couldn’t remember when they had checked out their balance.

Now I also asked how people who had looked at their accounts felt after they did.  A plurality (25.9%) said they were “happy”, and nearly as many (23.5%) were either “relieved” or “ambivalent” (23.2%).  About 6% were “depressed”, and another 6% were “really depressed”.  Nearly 5% said they were “ecstatic”, while a full one-in-ten opted for “other” – a category that, this week, anyway, seemed to be a proxy for “satisfied.” 

In that category were the following:

I'm steadily gaining back my losses and I choose not to think about where it should be.. 

I'm feeling OK about it. I've been steadily buying all through the downturn, and my balance has rebounded very nicely.

Relieved, as I also did a two year look back and I am now in the positive territory. i was up over 405 last year but was still down on a two year rolling, now I am up on a two year rolling. This calc does not take into account new deposits, just returns on old money.

I'm happy that its going up, but not so happy that it's still down about 8%. Of course its not like last year when it was down about 65%. So everything is relative.

It went up by more than I put in, OK by me.

Wary. Being closer to retirement, it' a nice sum, but not enough and I'm never sure which direction it's going to head tomorrow regardless of the amount of hedging I do. It's difficult to think long-term the closer one gets to actual retirement and the need to use the funds. I could take most of the risk out but then the returns won't keep up with inflation at the current short term rates. It'd be my luck I'd make that decision and then live to 110.

Well, I had my current statement and one from three years ago, and the balances were almost the same. First thought was "I've made back what I lost," and then I added, "but I am still behind when you consider three year's worth of my contributions and employer matches only get me to where I was three years ago." But then I get a little happier thinking, "Dollar cost averaging! I've bought lots of shares at a bargain price! Now please just let them go up!"

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said “I felt much better about my account than I have recently....until I was reminded to add @ $250,000 for healthcare!”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!  You’ll want to check out the rest of this week’s verbatim on the following pages!

How the heck am I supposed to get to a $1 million account balance?  I'm 49 and will never get to my goal despite all my saving!  I guess I'll be lucky to have  a paid off house and part time job to keep me going when I'm 67.

It's very disheartening to know that my retirement balance is still off 30% from its high and that my home's value has dropped off close to 50% from its peak. I've worked very hard to save. I had high hopes of retiring around 62 and that's not going to happen now.

Only 3 years, 3 months and 1 day to retirement, but who’s counting????????

Not only did I lose a huge chunk of my 401k due to the economic downturn in 2008, I also got divorced at the same time and lost another 50%.  I am thrilled at the upturn in the market, as I have made significant gains, however due to my age, I am way too heavy in stock for my own good.  My joke is my 401k is like playing roulette in Vegas - all on stock and let it ride!

Plan for the worst, hope for the best and don't obsess over it.  In making your decisions, don't forget to live for today.  Twenty and thirty years later, my regret is that my kids remember when I wasn't there for Dad-for-Donuts Day or 3rd grade field day, and they could care less about the financial security I was trying to build which caused me to miss those events.

It's not back where it was, but at least it's a positive number!

I am encouraged to see the balance climb a little each week instead of decreasing a lot!!!  I have regained at least two thirds of my losses.

My provider has a screen where I can see the total contributions that have been made to my account.  After almost nine years, my account balance is almost equal to my total contributions.

I don't have that much time to make up any losses, too close to when I'd like to retire.

Recently, I've started feeling better when I look at my account; however, I can't help but wonder when it's going to tank again.  I just have to hope that it survives all the fluctuations and is at its best when it comes time to retire!

I calculated how much above my contributions/employer match my current balance is and was pleased that I'm in the black by double digit figures. Maybe someday I will really be able to retire.

It's long term.  Track it, but don't obsess.

Glad to see my investments are on the upward track but I'd like to see more.

My account still has not recovered to pre September 2008 values, but it has been improving.

Almost back to where I was a year ago.

I have such a long way to make up (not only from the market, but bad financial decisions in the past), that I've quit worrying and just keep plodding along - hoping that consistent contributions and market increases provide like I've been taught and like I've been teaching!

Of course, your question should really be about ALL one's balances, in or out of retirement, since it is the whole picture that counts.

I have been through downturns before and had switched my account to fixed income to stop the bleeding. Two years later, I began to put half of it back in the market in increments, saw it go down again, but left it in the market waiting for the recovery, which has now started.  Still keeping the half in fixed income.

Over the past year I have not touched my allocation, rebalanced once, and slightly increased my deferral.  It seems to have worked, as my rate of return is looking good for those 12 months.

If the events of the last year prove anything, it is that you should not react to current market turmoil by changing your long-term retirement investment strategy.  I was heavy in equities in the Fall of 2008 because I have a long investment horizon, and I'm still heavy in equities now.  In between then and now, I fell into the trough of the wave, but I've climbed back out the other side.  Had I been spooked into fixed income in the Winter/Spring of 2009, I would have locked in massive losses, throwing away a large chunk of my retirement future.  Shifting to fixed income in a down market when you have a 15+ years to retirement means you are doing one of several things (1) you are trying to market time your retirement--big mistake because if you bet the wrong way you get slaughtered, (2) you don't have a plan, so you are just reacting to the moment--big mistake because you're on the back of the trend, or (3) you think the economic picture is so grim that your equities can't recover by the time you plan on retiring--in which case, you are so pessimistic that you might as well move to your compound in Idaho and rig claymore mines around the perimeter to keep the post-apocalyptic refugees away from your still, because you've decided moonshine will be the currency of the future.  Bottom line--work a long term plan, or it will cost you.  And if you really feed the need for some insurance, get on the internet and learn how to make your own booze--who knows, there is a small chance that economic collapse is coming, and making White Lightning has kept many an American family whole in tough economic times.

Staying 100% in equities has really paid off over the last 12 months.  Though the end of the tunnel seemed far off at the time, I knew I had to stick with my plan.

I'm at least thinking/talking/planning about retiring sometime in the near future, rather than thinking that I'll be working until the day I die.  So, that's progress.

When the market started tanking a couple years ago, I had the good sense NOT to overreact.  I kept my allocations unchanged and it's paid off - although I lost a bit of money during a couple rough quarters, I've more than made it back.  Meanwhile, some of my worrywart friends have done significant damage to their portfolios by overreacting and tinkering with it.

When the market started tanking a couple years ago, I had the good sense NOT to overreact.  I kept my allocations unchanged and it's paid off - although I lost a bit of money during a couple rough quarters, I've more than made it back.  Meanwhile, some of my worrywart friends have done significant damage to their portfolios by overreacting and tinkering with it.

I have gone against the grain and chose to get into cash while we were on the downturn.  With luck, I got back into the market full steam in late March of 2009 and have probably 1.5'd my money.  Not a recommended strategy with your retirement assets but I will say that I am way ahead of the people who rode it out!

Stay with equities, they are still the best in the long run, don't try and time the market, and a penny saved is a penny earned.

Inviting comments about " in general"?  Feeling rather masochistic this week??

It has just now occurred to me that life is not good nor will it be good if most of my retirement money is dependent upon the stock market.  The basis of which consists of mostly greedy, self-indulgent company officers backed by an unstable government full of the similar greedy, self-indulgent elected officials.  I'm thinking that the mattress might be a safer place although, that form of investment doesn't outpace inflation.

Although I'm happy my retirement plan balance has nearly recovered it's previous losses, I'm still nervous about market volatility.  Guess I'll just reallocate and balance again, and keeping hoping for the best.

My balance is 150% of what it was at its low point!  Of course 150% of nothing is still nothing...

retirement plan balances are just a constant reminder that we have just not saved enough to meet retirement needs which is always a moving target anyway.

I've invested by the rule - if you read about it in the paper, it's too late to make changes.  If you don't like what the current balances are doing, put new money someplace else; this way the old money has a chance to recover and you don't "capture" all the losses.  Don't know exactly how this translates into life in general, but I do get to RETIRE at the end of June (at 64).  It's hard to believe there is actually light at the end of the tunnel ------

The market activity of 2007-2009 was well within historical norms. Guess what, folks: The stock market is a crazy place! This is just the most recent reminder of that. If you don't like investing in it, then don't!

I felt much better about my account than I have recently....until I was reminded to add @ $250,000 for healthcare!

Normally a market like this signals an improvement  in participant understanding.  However, with target date funds - those who were surprised by this downturn ("because the advisor said stock funds always go up over time") will still claim ignorance when these funds show a negative.

I'm still trying to figure out how my balance is doing post-divorce.  I keep looking at the funds performance to see if I'm ahead  or not.

I'm putting in about one thousand dollars a month and still not back to my peak balance.  It's depressing and maddening.  As individuals, we are paying for the greed of the "price setters" who ran the market up to ridiculous and unsustainable levels.  Next time the market gets that crazy, I think I'll start putting the money under my pillow top mattress.

Still not back to pre-crash levels.  Hoping to get there in four months.