Americans cracking nest eggs to get by

Fidelity says a record number of workers are borrowing against their retirement savings in tough times.

By Kim Peterson Aug 20, 2010 1:28PM
Rescue your retirement © Source, Brian Hagiwara/Brand X/CorbisA record number of U.S. workers are looking to money they've set aside for their golden years as they struggle to survive the economic downturn, according to a survey by Fidelity Investments.

It's not a move they're happy with, but options are running out in these difficult times.

Fidelity analyzed the 401k accounts it runs for about 11 million workers and found that 11% took out a loan from their accounts in the year ended June 30, according to CNBC. That's up from 9% in the previous year.

Overall, about 22% of workers had loans outstanding against their 401k accounts, CNBC reported. That was up from 20% a year earlier.

The numbers show that even people who are employed still struggle to make ends meet. Maybe they're stretching to help a laid-off family member. Or pay college tuition. Or keep up with an "underwater" mortgage. Post continues after video:
But the number of Fidelity participants who took a hardship withdrawal is still low, at 2.2%, up from 2% in the previous year. Those withdrawals, which can trigger penalty charges, were often used to pay for tuition or prevent eviction.

"We recognize that for some, taking a loan or a hardship withdrawal from their 401k may be their only option, because it's their only form of savings," a Fidelity executive told The Wall Street Journal.

But Fidelity had some good news for its participants. The stock market upswing has helped boost the average 401k balance to $61,800. That's up 15% from a year ago, when stocks were in the tank.

And 5.3% of participants actually upped their contributions in the quarter, compared with 2.9% who reduced them.

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