A Brief History Of: The 401(k)

Steven Puetzer / Getty

Forget about rescuing banks or unfreezing credit markets. The question on most minds amid the recent market chaos: What does this mean for my 401(k)? With some $3 trillion invested, these plans are the most popular retirement-savings vehicle in the U.S.--and account for a big chunk of the $2 trillion the crisis has wiped from American nest eggs.

The 401(k) plan--named for a section of the Internal Revenue Code--came about thanks to a 1978 congressional provision intended to offer taxpayers breaks on deferred income. In 1980, while trying to streamline a client's profit-sharing plan, benefits consultant Ted Benna realized that the...

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