Average Retirement Account Balance of Americans

ByAngelique Cruz
Edited byAliha Strange

Updated: December 9, 2023

ByAngelique Cruz
Edited byAliha Strange

Updated: December 9, 2023

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According to the Federal Reserve's 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), about half of all Americans (50.5%) had invested in retirement savings as of 2019. The average savings was $255,000, while the median was $65,000.

Looking at the average retirement savings by age, the Federal Reserve determined that the two age brackets with the most savings were those 55 to 64 and those 65 to 74 years old.

The first group's savings averaged $408,420, with a median savings of $134,000. The second group's average savings amounted to $426,070, with a median savings of $164,000 — the highest among all age groups.

2022 SCF data is pending release and is expected to be available in late 2023.

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US AVERAGE RETIREMENT SAVINGS: KEY FINDINGS

It’s never too early to begin saving for retirement. Understanding the results of the Federal Reserve’s 2019 SCF may give you insight into how much is recommended to be set aside based on the general population.

  • The average (mean) retirement account savings for Americans was $255,000; the median retirement savings was $65,000.
  • Approximately 50.5% of Americans had some form of retirement account.
  • Americans between the ages of 55 and 74 had the most savings in their retirement accounts.
  • Individuals with higher educational attainment had nearly 3x more saved up for retirement than those without a college or high school diploma.
  • Non-Hispanic White individuals had the most saved up for retirement — around 50% more than the non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic populations.

Source: Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2016 to 2019

How Americans’ Retirement Savings Have Changed Over Time

A retirement account is a good investment because it ensures a nest egg for your golden years. It ranks second in the Federal Reserve's 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances among common financial assets of individuals and includes products such as 401ks, IRAs and Keogh accounts.

Over 50% of Americans had at least one form of retirement savings account in 2019. However, that’s 2% lower than those with retirement accounts in 2016. The graph below shows how the amount of retirement savings has changed within the last three decades.

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The trend of the average retirement savings over the years is encouraging. From an average of under $76,000 in 1989, that number has grown to $255,000 among Americans in 2019 — over three times higher. It indicates that retirement planning has become more of a priority in recent years, ensuring financial stability during retirement years.

The most considerable increases in average retirement savings were between the following 3-year periods:

  • 1995 to 1998: $24,330
  • 1998 to 2001: $31,510
  • 2013 to 2016: $22,380

The median for retirement savings follows the same trend. Each 3-year period saw an increase from the one before it, excluding the following years:

  • 2007 to 2010: $3,710 decrease
  • 2013 to 2016: $980 decrease

From $21,880 in 1989, the median amount reached $65,000 in 2019 — almost triple the initial amount.

Percentage of Families Holding Retirement Accounts

Most Americans are fortunate enough to have retirement savings accounts. However, some do not have this nest egg to fall back on. The Federal Reserve's 2019 SCF shows the number of families with retirement accounts and those without them.

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The number of families with retirement savings accounts increased steadily from 1989 to 2001, reaching an all-time high of 52.8%. The most significant jump was between 1992 and 1995, when the percentage holding increased by over 5%.

From 2001 onward, only two periods showed an increase in percentage holding:

  • 2004 to 2007: 3.1%
  • 2013 to 2016: 2.9%

In 2019, approximately half of American families had savings from retirement accounts. However, it's crucial to note that this was 2% lower than in 2016. The Federal Reserve ties this to less participation in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) and defined contribution (DC) plans.

How Inflation Has Affected Retirement Savings

Inflation affects your money's purchase power. And it doesn't just apply to the funds you have on hand — it also affects the purchasing power of your retirement savings.

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The graph shows that the median savings from retirement accounts have increased from 1989 to 2019. However, just because this figure has tripled in the last three decades does not mean those savings are worth three times as much now.

While prices have increased in the last 30 years, the dollar's purchasing power has decreased. The median retirement savings in 1989 was $10,607 — equivalent to $21,878 in 2019 dollars. What this means is that you would need to add $21,878 to a new retirement account today in order for it to have the same value as an account with $10,607 saved in 1989.

Keep in mind when planning for retirement that the money you save today could have less purchasing power in the future when you need to spend it.

Retirement Savings by Age

Another interesting way to analyze the average retirement savings is how figures vary between various age groups.

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The trend for median and mean savings steadily increases with age. The sole exception is for those 75 and older. They have fewer savings which one could attribute to the fact that they've used some of their retirement savings by this point.

Generally, those of older age have higher savings. Their decision to put more importance on retirement savings could be rooted in several things. A few of them are:

  • Time
  • Life experience
  • Work experience

As for time and life experience, the more you go through, the more you realize the value of having something to fall back on when you retire.

Those with longer professional careers would have had more opportunities to contribute to employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401ks, increasing their savings.

Retirement Account Ownership by Age

The numbers in the previous section make it worth assessing the ownership rate between age groups. According to the Federal Reserve's 2019 SCF, retirement account ownership is higher in some age brackets than others.

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The number of people who have retirement accounts varies by age. The brackets with the lowest ownership rates as of 2019 are as follows:

  • Less than 35 years old: 45.3%
  • 75 or older: 38.1%

Like average retirement savings, the ownership rate also increases with age. However, it peaks for those aged 45 to 54 at 57.9%, followed by a decrease. Although fewer people between 55 and 64 have retirement savings than the generation before, those with retirement accounts have successfully set aside higher amounts.

The downward trend continues for the remaining age groups, with those 75 and older holding the lowest percentage at less than 40%.

Retirement Savings by Educational Attainment

Are you more likely to invest in a retirement savings account if you have a college degree? The 2019 SCF explored how average retirement account savings vary by the level of educational attainment.

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According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and similar studies, the higher your educational attainment is, the more likely you are to exert effort to prepare for retirement. That includes building a nest egg.

Educational attainment affects your retirement outlook. Those with college degrees are more likely to cite retirement savings as a financial priority rather than paying off existing debt or getting by. The EPI found that older workers with at least a bachelor's degree have greater access to retirement plans and are more likely to participate in one.

According to the 2019 SCF, those with college degrees had the highest median and average retirement savings at $119,000 and $381,190, respectively.

Retirement Savings by Race and Ethnicity

After exploring how age and educational attainment influence average retirement savings, it's worth focusing on the dimension of race and ethnicity. The Federal Reserve's 2019 SCF looks at non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic Americans.

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There is a significant gap in the average retirement savings across race. The average retirement savings of White Americans is $122,500. For non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic populations, it falls below $60,000. You'll notice the same pattern with median amounts — while the figure for White Americans is almost $70,000, it’s only $40,720 for Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black Americans.

Access to employer-provided retirement accounts contributes to this outcome. According to a report on the state of U.S. workplace retirement plan coverage from 2022, Black and Hispanic Americans are less likely to be covered by a workplace retirement plan than White Americans. Black and Hispanic Americans also earn considerably less than White Americans, regardless of gender.

Average US Retirement Savings FAQ

Understanding the average retirement savings can help you identify factors that affect retirement readiness. It can also give you an idea of how you compare to the general population.

What is a retirement savings account?
How much retirement savings does the average American have?
Does inflation affect an individual’s retirement savings?
Are there differences in the average retirement savings by age?
How does educational attainment affect retirement savings?
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Related Content

The idea of retiring can be overwhelming to many. During this transition, you don’t want to worry about remaining financially stable despite losing your regular source of income. This is when having a retirement savings account can be most beneficial. There are more than enough online resources to help you navigate your golden years.

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  • How Much Do I Need to Save to Retire?: Retirement is something to look forward to, but worrying about whether you will have enough can make it unattractive. MoneyGeek shares retirement insight so you don’t end up delaying the process too much.
  • The Basics of a Roth IRA: Many retirement plans are available, and a Roth IRA is a popular choice. Read more about what it is and how it works to see if it's worth considering.
  • Life Insurance vs. Roth IRA: Which Is Better for Retirement?: Compare and contrast the benefits these financial products offer so you can determine which one is suitable for you.

About Angelique Cruz


Angelique Cruz headshot

Angelique Cruz has been researching personal finance for three years, with expertise in macroeconomics, financial statistics and behavioral finance. After a decade-long stint as a management consultant creating professional and personal development programs, she now specializes in writing informative content around personal, auto and home loans. Angelique has a degree in psychology from the Ateneo de Manila University.


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