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401(k) Contribution Limits for 2014

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After two years of increases, the IRS is not adjusting the retirement savings opportunities for American taxpayers this coming year. From 2009 through 2011, the maximum contribution to retirement accounts — 401(k) accounts, 403(b) accounts, most 457 plans, and Thrift Savings Plans, was $16,500. In 2012, this amount increased to $17,000. After considering inflation and cost-of-living increases, the IRS bumped the maximum contribution to these retirement savings accounts up to $17,500, and that’s where the limit is staying through 2014.

Savers and investors aged 50 or older can take advantage of a catch-up contribution, effectively increasing the limit for those approaching traditional retirement age. In 2014 as in 2013, taxpayers who meet this age-based criterion can contribute an additional $5,500 above the regular maximum of $17,500. As a result, if you are 50 or older, you can contribute a maximum of $23,000 into these tax-advantaged accounts.

The total contribution limit, including employer contributions, has increased from $51,000 to $52,000.

In 2013, new regulations required 401(k) plan administers to explicitly state in quarterly statements how much investors are paying in fees. Previously, this information was not easy to discover. While you could (and should) look at the various prospectuses in search of management expenses fees or expense ratios, expressed as a percentage of assets, there were at least two obstacles:

  • The expense ratios force you to do your own calculations to determine how much money you’re spending in fees.
  • Not all fees are included in expense ratios. Some funds, like annuity-based mutual funds, don’t have expense ratios but certainly have fees.

To maximize your 401(k) contribution in 2014, spread the $17,500 across the number of paychecks you plan to receive throughout the year. That’s a contribution of $1,458 (rounded to the nearest dollar) each month, $729 twice a month, $673 every two weeks, or $337 a week for those age 49 or younger. The calculation for those over 50 who want to max the contribution are $1,917 per month, $958 twice a month, $885 every two weeks, or $442 a week.

If your contributions are recorded in the form of percentages, don’t forget to change your contribution to take into account raises and bonuses. If you are expecting your company to match your contributions at some level, if you reach your 401(k) contribution limit before your last paycheck, you may miss out on free money.

This past year, I was purely self-employed, and with still receiving income as a result of the sale of an asset with installation payments, I won’t qualify for a tax-advantaged retirement plan. But in 2014, I will need to once again analyze my income and determine whether I’ll be taking advantage of Individual 401(k) plans or the SEP IRA.

In 2012, I was for about half the year an employee of a company, during which time I faithfully contributed a portion of my income to a 401(k). For the remainder of the year, I have been and will continue to operate this web site as a consultant for that company, and I have not been contributing to a tax-advantaged retirement plan during that time. Assuming no financial tragedies and modest desires, my retirement needs are met, though I’m not sure what I want my retirement to look like.

In 2011, I worked fully for myself. Without an employer, I had no access to a regular 401(k), but I did initiate an Individual 401(k), which follows the same rules. By the end of the year, I expect to have maximized the employee portion of my 401(k) contributions at $16,500 with extra invested for the employer portion.

My 2010 contributions fell short from the maximum by about $700, and a portion of that is due to leaving the company in the middle of December. I received the full company match, a 100% match on the first 4% of my salary that was contributed to the plan, in every pay period.

In 2009, I contributed the maximum $16,500, but I didn’t plan for an extra paycheck at the end of the year, so that last paycheck did not include a contribution to my 401(k). As a result my imperfect calculation, I missed out on a portion of my employer’s matching contribution. Some employers match after taking all contributions for the year into account, but mine contributes on a pay period basis. Any pay period that I did not contribute to my 401(k), the company did not match.

In 2008, I missed the full contribution amount by $1,000. That year, I made several changes to my contribution rate and lost track of what my rate needed to be in order to maximize my contribution.

The following table illustrates the change in 401(k) contribution limits over the past several years.

Year 401(k)
2014 $17,500 $5,500 $52,000
2013 $17,500 $5,500 $51,000
2012 $17,000 $5,500 $50,000
2011 $16,500 $5,500 $49,000
2010 $16,500 $5,500 $49,000
2009 $16,500 $5,500 $49,000
2008 $15,500 $5,000 $46,000

Photo: urban_data

Updated January 28, 2015 and originally published December 6, 2013.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Here’s a little Excel spreadsheet excercise I would recommend coming up with. Look into the future and try to precict the value of your tax deferred retirement accounts when you reach 70 1/2. Compare that to a prediction of the income level (SocSec, Pensions, annuities) you might be generating, then look at the tax consequences of the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD). If a RMD would push you into a higher tax bracket part way through retirement it might be better to pay some of those taxes now, by balancing your tax deferred contributions and ROTH IRA contributions earlier. I’m only 6 years away from RMD and each year I “convert” some of my traditional IRA to a ROTH in order to pay 15% now rather then 25% on those distributions on down the road. Assuming nothing shuts the road before my RMD :-0

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avatar 2 Luke Landes

Great recommendation, and the Roth IRA conversion is worth a bigger discussion.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Thanks for the update Luke. Great timing for people to start thinking about updating their contributions.

Readers should also think about re-balancing their accounts to match their allocations and take a second look at their fund’s holdings. I took a look at mine last week and was really bothered that half of the funds I invested in were not following their strategy/index. I promptly changed my investments to the lower cost index funds and re-balanced my portfolio (457, Roth IRA).

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Thanks for the reminder. Need to look into this with Open Enrollment just around the corner.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

I don’t work for myself, but my employer doesn’t offer 401(k). At my salary, it’s pretty much all I can do to max out the IRA — can I get a 401(k) once that becomes not enough?

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avatar 6 Luke Landes

Unfortunately, there’s no good equivalent of the 401(k) available if you don’t have self-employment income. The best you can do is the IRA. Or give your boss a hard time for not offering a 401(k) or 403(b) and maybe the company will change its policy. If you’re earning more than the tax-deductible limit for IRAs, even a non-deductible IRA is good — you can convert to a Roth if the taxes are better that way. But the low max on the IRA is not so great compared to the higher max with the 401(k).

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Pressure your employer to offer something! See if you can get some of your co-workers on board with that, too. Otherwise, just keep on maxing out your IRA and then start investing in a regular taxable account.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

I’m 67 and plan to max out my 401k ASAP this year, perhaps in about 5 or 6 months with the possibility of retiring before the end of the year. You recommend spreading the contributions evenly throughout the year. My question is, in the event I don’t retire this year, what will it cost me to have maxed out in six months instead of at the end of the year? Is there a tool to calculate this? Thanks, Dennis

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avatar 9 Anonymous

This will only impact you if your employer matches on a paycheck-by-paycheck basis. My current employer does a true up at year end to make sure we get the full match. My previous employer only deposited our match at the end of the year, so it didn’t impact me there, either. However, most employers calculate the match for each paycheck and don’t look at the contributions over the whole year. You should check with your employer to see how and when they calculate the match before determining if you need to be concerned.

If it did impact me, I would gain an additional $2,600 match by spreading contributions throughout the year, rather than accelerating the contributions and hitting the maximum midway through the year. As you can see, the impact can be pretty significant, but it depends on your salary, your match rate, your match methodology, your pay schedule, and your contributions.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

The company I work for now (They just bought us) will only let us put a max of 14% in our 401K and use the catch up if you are or will be 50 this year. Even if I max that out I am only able to put 17,400 in a year. Can I still put money in an traditional IRA to make up the difference I am loosing out on? Each year I was upping my percentage but I will it the max in a year or 2.


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avatar 11 Anonymous

Yes, you can contribute to an IRA. The limits for the IRA are separate from the limits from the 401k.

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avatar 12 Anonymous

I have two jobs. Is it possible to max out my 401K for each job, i.e. $ 23,000/- each or only maximum of $23,000/- combined from two jobs?. Pls clarify.


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avatar 13 Luke Landes

The 401(k) maximum would be a total, across any 401(k) accounts you contribute that year. You could contribute half to one and half to the other, or all to one and none to the other, or anywhere in between.

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avatar 14 Anonymous

Are their limits to the $ contributions to a 401k/self-401k plan for the employer? ..i’m thinking it’s the same limits as the employee? Also, if I’ am 50 or older, can I contribute $17,500 +$5,000 catchup of employee income, AND, have my employer (self-employer) contribute their share of +$17,500 +$5,000?..seems like a huge benefit for self-employed folks!

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