401(k) Documents: We Want Paper

As long as our retirement plan balances head north, does it matter whether we review our statements on paper or electronically?

Apparently, it does.

A new AARP survey finds that most adults prefer to read their 401(k)-type retirement documents on paper delivered by the U.S. mail rather than electronically via the Internet. Of 1,028 adults age 25 and older polled, a whopping 75 percent prefer the paper method. Likewise, three in four also say they’d be more likely to save the documents if they were delivered on paper rather than online (and had to be printed out).

AARP wanted to learn plan participants’ views amid proposals by financial services companies to change the process. The industry is seeking permission to send out retirement plan information electronically unless participants specifically ask for paper.

Personally, I like to read my statements online and get them by mail because I tend to file them away. I’ve never printed out my online statements but then I’ve never had to, knowing the paper version would soon follow by mail.

I may be deep into my 50s, but even younger folks are with me: two-thirds of people ages 25 to 49 say they preferred paper.

Other survey findings, which were published in the New York Times, include:

  • 62 percent currently get their documents in paper format only;  27 percent receive them both on paper and electronically; 7 percent get them electronically only
  • 70 percent are more likely to actually read the documents if they’re delivered on paper versus online
  • 74 percent believe retirement plan administrators should be required to provide documents on paper but allow people to request electronic delivery if they prefer that

Meanwhile, dare we say that 401(k) balances seem to be heading in the right direction? A recent study by  Fidelity Investments finds that average balances hit $75,900 at the end of the third quarter, an 18 percent increase over a year ago. That was its highest level since the company began tracking balances 12 years ago.

The news was even better for older workers: balances were higher.

Here’s the average balance broken down by age:

- 50 to 54        $110,600
- 55 to 59        $132,500
- 60 to 64        $130,700
- 65 to 69        $134,100
- 70-plus         $125,200

Photo: Mark Bowden/Getty Images