Want some highlights of how Americans save for retirement? We read Vanguard’s latest “How America Saves” 2019 report issued on Tuesday for trends and other takeaways.

Here are some key highlights from Vanguard’s report on the popular workplace “defined contribution” (DC) retirement plans, those filled by matching contributions from the employee and the employer and do not promise specific benefits. More than 100 million Americans are covered by DC plan accounts, with assets of more than $7.5 trillion.

In 2018, the average account balance for Vanguard participants was $92,148; the median balance was $22,217.

In 2018, Vanguard participants’ average account balances declined by 11 percent compared with 2017 and median account balances declined by 16 percent. (Note that this report looks at “defined contribution” retirement plans typically tax-deferred, like a 401(k) or a 403(b), not pension plans).

Three reasons: a changing business mix — new plans converting to Vanguard recently have lower account balances; the rising adoption of automatic enrollment, which results in more individuals saving, but with smaller balances; 4 in 10 investors had joined their plan under automatic enrollment; and finally, U.S. markets dropped 6 percent in 2018.

Vanguard’s median one-year investor total return was a loss of 6.5 percent in 2018. Five-year total returns averaged 5.2 percent annually.

Among continuous investors — those with balances at year-end 2013 and 2018 — the record was far better. Median account balance rose by 78 percent over five years, reflecting ongoing contributions and the bull market.

Very little trading

During 2018, only 8 percent of “defined contribution” plan investors traded within their accounts, while 92 percent did not. That means more than 9 out of 10 Vanguard investors did NO trading last year. Talk about sticky assets!

On a net basis, there was a shift of 1.1 percent of assets to fixed income in 2018, with most making only small changes to their portfolios, the report said.

Over the last decade, Vanguard has seen a decline in trading that is "partially attributable to participants’ increased adoption of target-date funds. Only 2 percent of participants holding a single target-date fund traded in 2018.”

Employer match

Among plans offering a matching contribution in 2018, seven in 10 (covering two-thirds of Vanguard investors with this type of retirement plan) provided a match, such as 50 cents on the dollar on the first 6 percent of pay.

In 2018, seven in 10 employers’ retirement plans had a participation rate of 80 percent or higher, while less than 10 percent of plans had a participation rate of less than half.

Women vs. men, older vs. younger

Men and women invest at about the same level, but those figures fail to account for the income differences between men and women. At all income levels, women are more likely than men to join their employer’s plan. For example, in 2018, 87 percent of women earning $50,000 to $74,999 participated in their employer’s plan— compared with 78 percent of men in the same income group.

During 2018, only 13 percent of investors saved the maximum dollar amount of $18,500 ($24,500 for participants age 50 or older). Investors who contributed the maximum tended to have higher incomes, were older, had longer tenures with their current employer, and accumulated substantially higher account balances.

Account access trends

Vanguard investors have four ways to check accounts: phone calls to humans, phone calls to an automated voice-response system, a mobile application, and the website.

Overall, the website remained the most widely used channel in 2018 — half of investors used the website, compared with 12 percent who used telephone with humans.

Introduced between 2009 and 2011, mobile applications were used by 28 percent of investors.

In terms of total contacts, the website dominates, but mobile is also becoming a preferred channel. Website interactions accounted for 53 percent of all contacts in 2018, averaging about 12 website interactions per year. Each distinct logon is counted as a unique contact. Mobile access, though relatively new, was the second most popular channel, accounting for 41 percent of all contacts.