401(k) Catch-Up Contributions: What Are They & How Do They Work?

By Rebecca Lake · January 30, 2024 · 7 minute read

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401(k) Catch-Up Contributions: What Are They & How Do They Work?

Retirement savers age 50 and older get to put extra tax-advantaged money into their 401(k) accounts beyond the standard annual contribution limits. Those additional savings are known as “catch-up contributions.”

If you have a 401(k) at work, taking advantage of catch-up contributions is key to making the most of your plan, especially as retirement approaches. Here’s a closer look at how 401(k) catch-up limits work.

What Is 401(k) Catch-Up?

A 401(k) is a type of defined contribution plan. This means the amount you can withdraw in retirement depends on how much you contribute during your working years, along with any employer matching contributions you may receive, as well as how those funds grow over time.

There are limits on how much employees can contribute to their 401(k) plan each year as well as limits on the total amount that employers can contribute. The regular employee contribution limit is $22,500 for 2023 and $23,000 for 2024. This is the maximum amount you can defer from your paychecks into your plan — unless you’re eligible to make catch-up contributions.

Under Internal Revenue Code Section 414(v), a catch-up contribution is defined as a contribution in excess of the annual elective salary deferral limit. For 2023 and 2024, the 401(k) catch-up contribution limit is $7,500.

That means if you’re eligible to make these contributions, you would need to put a total of $30,000 in your 401(k) in 2023 to max out the account and $30,500 in 2024. That doesn’t include anything your employer matches.

Congress authorized catch-up contributions for retirement plans as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA). The legislation aimed to help older savers “catch up” and avoid falling short of their retirement goals, so they can better cover typical retirement expenses and enjoy their golden years.

Originally created as a temporary measure, catch-up contributions became a permanent feature of 401(k) and other retirement plans following the passage of the Pension Protection Act in 2006.

Who Is Eligible for 401(k) Catch-Up?

To make catch-up contributions to a 401(k), you must be age 50 or older and enrolled in a plan that allows catch-up contributions, such as a 401(k).

The clock starts ticking the year you turn 50. So even if you don’t turn 50 until December 31, you could still make 401(k) catch-up contributions for that year, assuming your plan follows a standard calendar year.

Making Catch-Up Contributions

If you know that you’re eligible to make 401(k) catch-up contributions, the next step is coordinating those contributions. This is something with which your plan administrator, benefits coordinator, or human resources director can help.

Assuming you’ve maxed out your 401(k) regular contribution limit, you’d have to decide how much more you want to add for catch-up contributions and adjust your elective salary deferrals accordingly. Remember, the regular deadline for making 401(k) contributions each year is December 31.

It’s possible to make catch-up contributions whether you have a traditional 401(k) or a Roth 401(k), as long as your plan allows them. The main difference between these types of plans is tax treatment.

•   You fund a traditional 401(k) with pre-tax dollars, including anything you save through catch-up contributions. That means you’ll pay ordinary income tax on earnings when you withdraw money in retirement.

•   With a Roth 401(k), regular contributions and catch-up contributions use after-tax dollars. This allows you to withdraw earnings tax-free in retirement, which is a valuable benefit if you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket when you retire.

You can also make catch-up contributions to a solo 401(k), a type of 401(k) used by sole proprietorships or business owners who only employ their spouse. This type of plan observes the same annual contribution limits and catch-up contribution limits as employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. You can choose whether your solo 401(k) follows traditional 401(k) rules or Roth 401(k) rules for tax purposes.

401(k) Catch-Up Contribution Limits

Those aged 50 and older can make catch-up contributions not only to their 401(k) accounts, but also to other types of retirement accounts, including 403(b) plans, 457 plans, SIMPLE IRAs, and traditional or Roth IRAs.

The IRS determines how much to allow for elective salary deferrals, catch-up contributions, and aggregate employer and employee contributions to retirement accounts, periodically adjusting those amounts for inflation. Here’s how the IRS retirement plan contribution limits for 2023 add up:

Retirement Plan Contribution Limits in 2023

Annual Contribution Catch Up Contribution Total Contribution for 50 and older
Traditional, Roth and solo 401(k) plans; 403(b) and 457 plans $22,500 $7,500 $30,000
Defined Contribution Maximum, including employer contributions $66,000 $7,500 $73,500
SIMPLE IRA $15,000 $3,500 $18,500
Traditional and Roth IRA $6,500 $1,000 $7,500

These amounts only include what you contribute to your plan or, in the case of the defined contribution maximum, what your employer contributes as a match. Any earnings realized from your plan investments don’t count toward your annual or catch-up contribution limits.

Also keep in mind that employer contributions may be subject to your company’s vesting schedule, meaning you don’t own them until you’ve reached certain employment milestones.

Tax Benefits of Making Catch-Up Contributions

Catch-up contributions to 401(k) retirement savings allow you to save more money in a tax-advantaged way. The additional money you can set aside to “catch up” on your 401(k) progress enables you to save on taxes now, as you won’t pay taxes on the amount you contribute until you withdraw it in retirement. These savings can add up if you’re currently in a high tax bracket, offsetting some of the work of saving extra.

The amount you contribute will also grow tax-deferred, and making catch-up contributions can result in a sizable difference in the size of your 401(k) by the time you retire. Let’s say you start maxing out your 401(k) plus catch-up contributions as soon as you turn 50, continuing that until you retire at age 65. That would be 15 years of thousands of extra dollars saved annually.

Those extra savings, thanks to catch-up contributions, could easily cross into six figures of added retirement savings and help compensate for any earlier lags in saving, such as if you were far off from hitting the suggested 401(k) amount by 30.

Roth 401(k) Catch-Up Contributions

The maximum amount you can contribute to a Roth 401(k) is the same as it is for a traditional 401(k): $22,500 and, if you’re 50 or older, $7,500 in catch-up contributions, as of 2023. For 2024, it is $23,000 and, if you’re 50 or older, $7,500 in catch-up contributions. This means that if you’re age 50 and up, you are able to contribute a total of $30,000 to your Roth 401(k) in 2023 and $30,500 in 2024.

If your employer offers both traditional and Roth 401(k) plans, you may be able to contribute to both, and some may even match Roth 401(k) contributions. Taking advantage of both types of accounts can allow you to diversify your retirement savings, giving you some money that you can withdraw tax-free and another account that’s grown tax-deferred.

However, if you have both types of 401(k) plans, keep in mind while managing your 401(k) that the contribution limit applies across both accounts. In other words, you can’t the maximum amount to each 401(k) — rather, they’d share that limit.

The Takeaway

Putting money into a 401(k) account through payroll deductions is one of the easiest and most effective ways to save money for your retirement. To determine how much you need to put into that account, it helps to know how much you need to save for retirement. If you start early, you may not need to make catch-up contributions. But if you’re 50 or older, taking advantage of 401(k) catch-up contributions is a great way to turbocharge your tax-advantaged retirement savings.

Of course, you can also add to your retirement savings with an IRA. While a 401(k) has its advantages, including automatic savings and a potential employer match, it’s not the only way to grow retirement wealth. If you’re interested in a traditional, Roth, or SEP IRA, you can easily open an IRA account on the SoFi Invest® brokerage platform. If you’re age 50 or older, those accounts will also provide an opportunity for catch-up contributions.

Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.

FAQ

How does the 401(k) catch-up work?

401(k) catch-up contributions allow you to increase the amount you are allowed to contribute to your 401(k) plan on an annual basis. Available to those aged 50 and older who are enrolled in an eligible plan, these catch-contributions are intended to help older savers meet their retirement goals.

What is the 401(k) catch-up amount in 2023?

For 2023, the 401(k) catch-up contribution limit is $7,500.


Photo credit: iStock/1001Love

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