403(b) Plan Contribution Limits—Historical Chart

Save up to $20,500 through a 403(b) plan in 2022

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A 403(b) retirement plan is a thrift savings plan or tax-sheltered annuity plan offered by some charities and most public school districts. It's similar to a 401(k) plan in terms of how an employee contributes and an employer matches, as well as how an employee can elect to deduct money directly from their paycheck and redirect it into their plan.

The most a taxpayer can contribute as an elective deferral to a 403(b) plan in tax year 2022 is $20,500, up from $19,500 in 2021. You can contribute an additional $6,500 as a "catch-up" contribution if you're age 50 or older. Employers can match an employee's contribution for the year.

The total of elective deferrals and matching contributions is limited to $61,000 for the 2022 tax year—up from $58,000 in 2021. These limits are indexed for inflation, so they can be expected to increase periodically to keep up with the economy. 

Historical Limit Increases

This chart can help put it all in historical perspective. You'll see that limits have crept up incrementally to match inflation and the economy.

403(b) Contribution Limits by Year
Year Elective Salary Deferral Limit Catch-up Contributions if Age 50 or Older Total Possible Employee Contribution Limit Limit on All Sources Source
2022 $20,500 $6,500 $27,000 $61,000 2022 Limitations
2021 $19,500 $6,500 $26,000 $58,000 2021 Limitations and Income Ranges
2020 $19,500 $6,500 $26,000 $57,000 IRS  Limits
2019 $19,000 $6,000 $25,000 $56,000 IRS Limits
2018 $18,500 $6,000 $24,500 $55,000 IRS Limits
2017 $18,000 $6,000 $24,000 $54,000 IR-2016-141
2016 $18,000 $6,000 $24,000 $53,000 IR-2015-118
2015 $18,000 $6,000 $24,000 $53,000 IR-2014-99
2014 $17,500 $5,500 $23,000 $52,000
2013 $17,500 $5,500 $23,000 $51,000 IR-2012-77
2012 $17,000 $5,500 $22,500 $50,000 IR-2011-103
2011 $16,500 $5,500 $22,000 $49,000 IR-2010-108
2010 $16,500 $5,500 $22,000 $49,000 IR-2009-94
2009 $16,500 $5,500 $22,000 $49,000 IR-2008-118

The elective salary deferral limit increases from $19,500 to $20,500 for 2022. The catch-up limit for employees over 50 remains unchanged at $6,500. The total maximum contribution for employees at least 50 years old therefore increases to $27,000. 

Limits Apply to Two Plans 

These limits apply to any 403(b) and 401(k) accounts a taxpayer might have during the year. You may have to devote some time to tracking your contributions to your 401(k) and 403(b) plans to make sure that you don't contribute more than the amount allowed if you have two or more jobs or if you switch jobs in the middle of the year. Failure to pay attention to these limits across accounts can result in significant annual penalties.

You have until the tax filing deadline the following year to correct the mistake by withdrawing the excess amounts if you realize that you've contributed too much to these kinds of accounts.

Some Tips for Breaking Down the Limit 

It might be easiest to break the annual limit into equal dollar amounts per pay period if you plan to contribute the maximum amount allowed. This will allow you to save the same amount each pay period, and it will dollar-cost-average your contributions into your retirement investments. You can do this by taking your annual contribution amount and dividing that total by the number of pay periods you have during the year.

Elective Deferrals 

Elective deferrals are treated separately from the employer's matching contributions. Each has its own limits and tax treatment. Elective salary deferrals can be placed into a tax-deferred traditional 403(b) or a post-tax Roth 403(b) account, or a combination of traditional and Roth accounts. But the total of all salary deferrals must equal less than the annual maximum.

Matching funds are always contributed to the tax-deferred portion of your 403(b) plan. The total of your elective salary deferral plus employer matching contributions is limited to $61,000 for 2022. This amount increased $3,000 from the $58,000 limit that applied in 2021.