Section 457 Retirement Plan Contribution Limits

Individuals can save up to $19,000 with a 457 plan

Woman using smart phone to contribute to her retirement plan
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The maximum amount a person can contribute to a Section 457 deferred compensation plan is set each year by the IRS after taking inflation into account. You can contribute up to $19,000 as an elective deferral to your employer's 457 plan in 2019, and $19,500 in 2020. Additionally, participants who are age 50 or older can contribute an extra $6,000 as a catch-up contribution in 2019, and $6,500 in 2020. 

Total contributions to a 457 plan can't exceed 100% of your compensation for the year, and your employer can match your contribution, but this will count toward your annual limit. Some employers offer both a Section 457 plan and either a 401(k) plan or a 403(b) plan for their employees. In this situation, employees can contribute up to the annual maximum for both plans.

Catch-Up Contributions

A unique feature of some 457 plans is the three-year rule. Normally, you would only be able to make catch-up contributions after age 50, but 457 plans allow you to start three years before the retirement age set by your plan. If your plan sets the retirement age at 51, for instance, the three-year rule allows you to make catch-up contributions at age 48. You're allowed to either contribute twice the annual contribution limit—$38,000 in 2019, and $39,000 in 2020—or the annual limit plus the amount of the basic limit not used in prior years, whichever is less.

Basics of 457 Deferred Compensation Plans

These plans are non-qualified, tax-advantaged retirement plans, and many taxpayers invest in them as a supplemental cushion to their Social Security and pension income in retirement. There are two types of 457 plans: 457(b) and 457(f). A 457(b) plan is usually available to local and state government workers and those employed by tax-exempt organizations. Less common are 457(f) plans, which are offered to top-level employees and some non-government employees. Federal government employees have thrift savings plans instead.

You can make contributions to your plan with pre-tax dollars, which reduces your taxable income and can result in a decreased tax bill, particularly when you make annual contributions up to the limit. The money and its earnings are taxable later, however, when you make withdrawals in retirement. You also have the option to invest taxed dollars. These are considered Roth contributions, and you can withdraw them tax-free in retirement, but not all employers offer this option. Employers that offer this will provide you with various investment options for the money in your plan, and you can choose from among them.

There's no 10% penalty for early withdrawals before age 59.5 with a 457 plan, unlike with many other retirement vehicles. You can take withdrawals when you stop working, and you can usually roll your account into another retirement account, such as an IRA, if you change jobs. You also have the option of leaving your money where it is or cashing out the plan. Additionally, you can name a beneficiary or beneficiaries to receive the account at your death. 

Plan Contribution Limits by Year

Year Elective Salary Deferral Limit Catch-up contributions if age 50 or older Total Possible Employee Contribution Limit
2020 $19,500 $6,500 $26,000
2019 $19,000 $6,000 $25,000
2018 $18,500 $6,000 $24,500
2017 $18,000 $6,000 $24,000
2016 $18,000 $6,000 $24,000
2015 $18,000 $6,000 $24,000
2014 $17,500 $5,500 $23,000
2013 $17,500 $5,500 $23,000
2012 $17,000 $5,500 $22,500
2011 $16,500 $5,500 $22,000
2010 $16,500 $5,500 $22,000
2009 $16,500 $5,500 $22,000

The 457 plan contribution limit applies to all 457 plans you might have for the current year. For example, if you have two plans, you can contribute $9,500 to each. You might need to track your 457 plan contributions to ensure that you don't contribute more than the limit if you work at two or more jobs or switch jobs in the middle of the year. It can be easiest to break the annual limit into equal dollar amounts per pay period if you plan to contribute the maximum allowed. This will allow you to save the same amount each pay period, and it will be dollar-cost-averaging into your retirement investments.

Designated Roth Accounts

Employers have been permitted to offer designated Roth accounts inside their 457 deferred compensation plans since 2010. The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 enabled employers to revise their plans to allow employees to place salary deferrals into a designated post-tax Roth account and to permit employees to convert their pre-tax savings into a post-tax Roth. Before this, 457 plans held only tax-deferred accounts.

Article Sources

  1. IRS. "IRC 457(b) Deferred Compensation Plans." Accessed March 1, 2020.

  2. IRS. "Retirement Topics - 457(b) Contribution Limits." Accessed March 1, 2020.

  3. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. "Thrift Savings Plan." Accessed March 1, 2020.

  4. IRS. "Government Retirement Plans Toolkit." Accessed March 1, 2020.