Some investors grab the reins

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How long do you keep buying into "buy and hold," once what you're holding begins to feel like a boulder?

As an invest-for-retirement tactic, the setting up of a 401(k) account with a degree of balance and then letting it ride for decades seemed to have its time. When there was time.

Investors who put their faith in the stock market back in the early 1980s - when the advent of the tax-deferred 401(k) helped push market participation to new levels - got a nice little ride.

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The Dow that we all hunger to see cross back above the 10000 mark stood at around 900 then. Can you say "index fund"?

More than 50 million people are now said to be 401(k) participants. Most sit before a company-set menu of stock, bond, and money-market offerings, scratching their heads. For many, retirement looms.

And balances are bottoming out. Most growth-oriented accounts - the darlings of the 1990s - have melted, and 401(k)-holders appear unsure about how to react.

In the face of slumping stocks, only 13 percent of participants in Fidelity plans, for example, made changes last year, reported The Wall Street Journal early this month.

The paper, surveying the sorry state of the 401(k), also said some employers have begun to cut or suspend matching contributions, and cited evidence of a decline in plan enrollment as a result.

Monday's lead story looks at a more activist approach. A small but growing number of firms offer self-directed brokerage accounts within 401(k)s that give workplace-based investors unlimited options.

More ways to lose money, you scoff? Financial planners point to risks for do-it-yourself investors. Can they do that much worse than most fund pros have done?

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