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What are the 401(k) Contribution Limits?

401(k) retirement savings plans serve as a critical pillar for retirement planning in the United States, providing a tax-advantaged way for employees to save for their future. Yet, as with any financial planning tool, it comes with a set of rules and limitations that are crucial for individuals to understand, most notably the contribution limits.

401(k) Contribution Limits: What Are They?

401(k) contribution limits represent the maximum amount an individual can contribute to their 401(k) account each year. These limits are typically adjusted annually for inflation and published by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These limits apply to pre-tax contributions, with separate regulations for employer contributions and catch-up contributions for employees aged 50 and above.

As of 2016, the contribution limit for an individual was $18,000 or 100% of their compensation, whichever is less. However, keep in mind that this only represents the employee's contribution and does not include any contributions made by their employer.

Employer Contributions and the Total Annual Limit

In addition to the employee's own contributions, a 401(k) plan may also include contributions from the employer. These contributions could take the form of a match to the employee's own contributions or a profit-sharing component. As of 2016, the total annual limit for combined employee and employer contributions was $53,000.

Catch-Up Contributions: A Boost for Older Employees

For employees aged 50 and above, the IRS allows additional contributions known as "catch-up contributions." These contributions allow older employees to save more in their 401(k) accounts as they approach retirement. In 2016, catch-up contributions were capped at $6,000, potentially raising the total individual contribution limit to $24,000 and the total combined limit with employer contributions to $59,000.

It's important to note that not all 401(k) plans permit catch-up contributions, and the maximum allowable contribution can differ among plans, influenced by factors such as the participation level of non-highly compensated employees (NHCEs).

Deadlines for 401(k) Contributions

The deadline for making 401(k) contributions falls at the end of the calendar year. Therefore, for the tax year 2022, the contribution deadline would be December 31, 2022. This contrasts with Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), which allow contributions until the tax filing deadline in mid-April of the following year.

Understanding Roth 401(k) Contributions

A Roth 401(k) is a variant of the traditional 401(k) plan. It differs in that contributions are made with after-tax dollars, meaning taxes are paid at the time of contribution rather than upon withdrawal in retirement. This tax structure can offer significant advantages for those who anticipate being in a higher tax bracket during their retirement years.

In terms of contribution limits, Roth 401(k)s follow the same rules as traditional 401(k) plans. For example, in 2023, the contribution limit is expected to be $22,500, with an additional $7,500 allowed for catch-up contributions. Employers can also contribute to an employee's Roth 401(k), though not all employers offer this type of retirement plan.

Understanding the contribution limits of 401(k) plans is crucial to effectively leveraging these retirement savings vehicles. Whether it's a traditional 401(k) or a Roth 401(k), these plans offer significant benefits that can help secure a comfortable retirement. However, it's essential to stay informed about the annual adjustments in contribution limits and the rules governing employer and catch-up contributions. By doing so, employees can optimize their contributions and maximize their retirement savings.

Summary

The contribution limits of 401(k)s are generally increased year-to-year and published by the IRS.

As of 2016, an individual can contribute up to $18,000, or 100% of compensation, into their 401(k) account on a pre-tax basis. This is the employee’s contribution only, and does not include employer contributions.

There is a $35,000 window that can hold employer contributions, which may contain matching contributions as well as a profit-sharing component for a total of $53,000 in employee/employer contributions per year.

If an employee is over 50 years old, he or she may be able to contribute $6,000 more a year in Catch-Up contributions, for a total of $24,000 in employee contributions, or up to $59,000 per year from the employee and employer combined, but not all 401(k) plans are required to allow catch-up contributions.

Also, the maximum allowable contributions will be different for each plan, depending on the degree of participation by non-highly compensated employees (NHCEs), and other factors. Excess contributions, which are amounts that make the plan too top-heavy per testing requirements, will be returned to the employee.

The 401(k) plan contribution limits are generally increased year-to-year for cost-of-living adjustments.
 

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