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More US Workers Tapping Pensions Early: Fidelity

A record number of U.S. workers are tapping into their retirement accounts to make it through the economic downturn, Fidelity Investments found in a survey released Friday. Among the 11 million workers whose 401(k) plans are run by Fidelity, 11 percent took out a loan from their plan during the 12 months ended June 30, the company said, up from 9 percent at the same point a year earlier. By the end of the second quarter, plan participants with loans outstanding against their 401(k) accounts had reached 22 percent versus 20 percent a year earlier. Hardship withdrawals were also on the rise, although in absolute terms remain quite low. During the quarter, 2.2 percent of Fidelity's active 401(k) participants took a hardship withdrawal, up from 2 percent a year earlier, and another peak, Fidelity said. Often those withdrawals were used to prevent foreclosure on a home or pay college tuition. "People have been looking to their 401(k) plans as a source of relief to help them meet financial hardships," said Beth McHugh, a Fidelity vice president who oversees the area. "For many individuals that is their primary savings vehicle." Loans and withdrawals were highest among workers between 35 to 55 years old, Fidelity found, peak earnings years.

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