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RISMEDIA, January 8, 2010—(MCT)—Data from Fidelity Investments show that more participants increased the amount they were saving in the second quarter 2009 than decreased it. And account balances at the end of the second quarter were up 13.5% from the first quarter. The market’s bullish rise definitely had something to do with that increase; but account values are also up because more people kept contributing than did not, even in the darkest days.

Still, while things are looking up, let’s not squander this opportunity to consider the 401k’s flaws. A new Prudential Financial survey found the vast majority of Americans—84%—say we need to re-evaluate how we plan and save for retirement. Here is a list to help improve your 401k.

More help at work
Too few workplaces offer education and financial advice to their employees. Far too often, workers sit through a generic presentation about asset allocation after being handed a hefty packet of investment choices and are sent back to their desks to mull it over. When companies do make advice available, it’s not always from an unbiased source.

Transparent and reasonable fees
Do you know how much your 401k costs? While you’re probably familiar with the expense ratio that is charged by individual mutual funds within your 401k, did you know there are sometimes revenue sharing fees for marketing and administrative costs that take a bite out of your performance? And that some retirement plan providers will make more money pushing investors into certain funds?

Any near-retiree who took too much risk and lost large sums of money in this downturn is probably yearning for the pension-plan era and the steady paychecks that came for life. The retirement planning industry knows workers are hungry for guaranteed investment options and are devising products to save assets for retirement and convert those assets into an income stream during retirement.

Revise expectations
As the stock market tumbled, workers reevaluated their plans to leave the workforce and retirees adjusted their lifestyle. We need to let go of the image of a 30-year, all-expenses-paid vacation and plan on working longer. With pensions on the outs, Social Security feeling the squeeze and portfolios expected to grow more slowly going forward, it’s unrealistic for many of us to raise families, take care of aging parents and still save enough to afford this fabled decades-long retirement we’ve been hearing about.

(c) 2009, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.