2016 401(k) Contribution Limits, Rules, And More

Only Minor Changes in 401(k)s Limits for 2016

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Your 401(k) contribution limits are a combination of three things:

  1. Salary deferral contributions – this is money you contribute
  2. Catch up contributions – this is additional money you may contribute if you are age 50 or older (use your age as of the end of the calendar year)
  3. Employer contributions – this is money your employer contributes and it may be subject to a vesting schedule

There are two types of limits – a limit on the maximum amount you can contribute as a salary deferral – and a limit on the amount of total contributions which includes both your and your employer contributions.

Both limits are explained below.

The 2016 salary deferral 401(k) contribution limits (no change from 2015)

  • $18,000 Salary deferral (what you the participant can contribute out of your own salary)
  • 6,000 Catch up (additional 401(k) contributions allowed if you are age 50 or older - use age as of end of calendar year)

The limits above reflect the total you as an employee can contribute to your 401(k) plan.

401(k) total annual contribution limits for 2016 calendar year (no change from 2015)

Total contribution limits represent the maximum contribution amount allowed including both your and your employer's contributions.

  • $53,000 total annual 401(k) contribution limit if you are age 49 or younger
  • $59,000 total annual 401(k) contribution limit if you are age 50 or older

The larger dollar amounts listed above represent the total maximum amount that can be contributed as a combination of both your own and your employer’s contributions.

The age 49 and younger limit above is what is called a Section 415 limit. The catch up contributions can be made in addition to the Section 415 limit - which is what makes the age 50 total contribution limit equal to the Section 415 limit plus the maximum allowable catch-up contribution.

In addition to the allowable contribution amounts above sometimes you can contribute additional amounts to other types of plans, like a 457 plan, a Roth IRA, or a non-deductible IRA.

It depends on your income and the types of plans available to you.

401(k) for self-employed people

If you are self-employed you can set up what is sometimes called an “Individual K” or “Solo K” plan. This allows you to contribute salary deferral contributions as an employee and make profit sharing contributions as the employer. You can learn more in 4 Best Retirement Plans for Self-Employed People to evaluate the pros and cons.

Types of 401(k) contributions allowed

Many 401(k) plans allow you to put money into your plan in all of the following ways:

  • 401(k) pre-tax contributions - Money goes in on a tax deductible basis. You’ll pay tax on it when you withdraw it.
  • Roth 401(k) contribution (called a Designated Roth account) - Money goes in after-tax. All gain is tax free and you pay no tax when you withdraw it.
  • After-tax 401(k) contributions - Money goes in after-tax. Interest accumulates tax-deferred, but you will pay tax on any gain when you take withdrawals. These after-tax contributions can be rolled to a Roth IRA when you retire.

    How much should I contribute to my 401(k)?

    Most of the time, at a minimum, you want to contribute enough to receive all employer matching contributions that are available to you. Careful analysis and tax planning should be used to determine which type or types of 401(k) contributions will be most beneficial for you, deductible contributions or Roth contributions. See How Much Should I Contribute to my 401(k) Plan for additional details.

    How should I invest my 401(k) money?

    You’ll also need to consider how to invest your 401(k) money. Check out the article How to Find the Best Performing Mutual Funds to learn what to look for when you are checking out the fund choices offered by your 401(k) plan.

    How do I get money out of my 401(k)?

    Your 401(k) money is intended for retirement. It is not easy to get money back out while you are still working. It is structured that way on purpose so you let the money grow for your future use. Before you put money in, it makes sense to know the rules on how you get it back out. See What to Know Before You Cash Out Your 401(k) to learn more.

    Past 401(k) salaray deferral contribution limits

    Past 401(k) Contribution Limits
    YearSalary DeferralCatch Up
    2016$18,000$5,500
    2015$18,000$5,500
    2014$17,500$5,500
    2013$17,500$5,500
    2012$17,000$5,500
    2011$16,500$5,500

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