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Can You Contribute to Both a 401(k) and an IRA?

By Rebecca Lake · December 20, 2023 · 17 minute read

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Can You Contribute to Both a 401(k) and an IRA?

“Can I contribute to a 401(k) and IRA?” It’s a question many individuals ask themselves as they start planning for their future. The short answer is yes, it’s possible to have a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan at work and also make contributions to an individual retirement plan, either a traditional or a Roth IRA.

If you have the money to do so, contributing to both a 401(k) and an IRA could help you fast track your retirement goals while enjoying some tax savings. But your income and filing status may affect the amounts you are allowed to contribute, in addition to the tax benefits you might see from a dual contribution strategy.

Read on to learn more about the guidelines and restrictions for having these two types of accounts and to answer the question “Can I contribute to a 401(k) and IRA?”

Introduction to Retirement Savings Accounts

Although both IRAs and 401(k)s are retirement savings accounts, there are some important differences to know. The main one is that a 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan that allows both the employee and employer to contribute to the account.

IRAs are Individual Retirement Accounts that anyone can set up for themselves. There are two main types of IRAs: traditional and Roth.

Here’s a closer look at key differences between 401(k) plans and IRAs.

Understanding the Basics of 401(k)s and IRAs

A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Employees sign up for a 401(k) through work and their contributions are automatically deducted directly from their paychecks. The money contributed to a 401(k) is tax deferred, which means you are not taxed on it until you withdraw it in retirement. Some employers match employees’ contributions to a 401(k) up to a certain amount.

An IRA is a tax-advantaged savings account that you can use to put away money for retirement. Money in an IRA can potentially grow through investment. While there are different types of IRAs, two of the most common types are traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. The main difference between the two is the way they are taxed.

With a Roth IRA, you make after-tax contributions, and those contributions are not tax deductible. However, the money can potentially grow tax-free, and typically, you won’t owe taxes on it when you withdraw it in retirement (or at age 59 ½ and older). Individuals need to fall within certain income limits to open a Roth IRA (more about that later).

With a traditional IRA, your contributions are made with pre-tax dollars. Your contributions may lower your taxable income in the year you contribute. The money in a traditional IRA is tax-deferred, and you pay income taxes on it when you withdraw it. Traditional IRAs tend to have fewer eligibility requirements than Roth IRAs.

The Importance of Investing in Your Future

Retirement might seem like a long way off, but it’s vital to keep in mind that saving for it now can help you to meet your lifestyle needs and goals in your post-working years.

As you start planning your retirement savings, it’s a good idea to determine the estimated age you can retire, as the timing can influence other choices — like how much you choose to save, and what investments you might pick.

There are plenty of resources available online, including SoFi’s retirement calculator to help you determine potential retirement timelines and scenarios.


💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that opening a brokerage account typically doesn’t come with any setup costs? Often, the only requirement to open a brokerage account — aside from providing personal details — is making an initial deposit.

Can I Contribute to a 401(k) and an IRA?

This is a good question to ask if you’re just getting started on your retirement planning journey. For example, if you’re already contributing to a plan at work, you may be wondering if you can also save money in an IRA.

Or maybe you opened an IRA in college but now you’re starting your career and have access to a 401(k) for the first time. You may be unsure whether it makes sense to keep making contributions to an IRA if you’ll soon be enrolled in your employer’s retirement plan.

Having a basic understanding of how 401(k)s and IRAs work can help you make the most of these accounts when mapping out your retirement strategy.

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Rules and Regulations for Multiple Retirement Accounts

There is no limit to the number of retirement accounts you can have. However, there are IRS rules about how much you can contribute to these accounts. And if you have multiples of the same type of retirement account, like two IRAs, you need to stay within the overall limit for both accounts combined. In other words, there is one single annual contribution limit for multiple IRAs.

Key Takeaways for Dual Contributions

When contributing to a 401(k) and an IRA you’ll want to remember these important points:

•   You can contribute up to the limit on your workplace 401(k) and up to the limit on your IRA annually.

•   If you have multiples of the same type of retirement account, such as two IRAs, you cannot exceed the single annual contribution limit across the accounts.

•   If you have a 401(k) at work, the tax deduction on your contributions for a traditional IRA may be limited, or you may not be eligible for a deduction at all.

2023 Contribution Limits for 401(k) and IRA Plans

The IRS sets annual contribution limits for 401(k) and IRA plans and those limits change each year. These are the contribution limits for 2023.

401(k) Contribution Limits and Considerations

As noted, a 401(k) plan may be funded by employer and employee contributions. Here are the annual 401(k) contribution limits for 2023:

•   $22,500 for employee contributions

•   $7,500 in catch-up contributions for employees age 50 or older

•   $66,000 limit for total employer and employee contributions ($73,500 including catch-up contributions for those 50 and older)

IRA Contribution Limits and Income Thresholds

IRAs are funded solely by individual contributions. Here are the annual contribution limits for traditional and Roth IRAs for 2023:

•   $6,500 for regular contributions

•   $1,000 catch-up contributions for those age 50 and older

These limits apply to total IRA contributions, as mentioned earlier. So if you have more than one IRA, the most you could add to those accounts combined in 2023 is $6,500 — or $7,500 if you’re 50 or older.

The Intricacies of IRA Contributions

There are some rules about IRA contributions that it’s vital to be aware of. For instance, you can’t save more than you earn in taxable income in your IRA. That means if you earn $4,000 for a year, you can only contribute $4,000 in your IRA.

Plus, as discussed above, the most you can contribute, whether you have one IRA or multiple IRAs, is the annual contribution limit.

And finally, the type of IRA you have affects the portion of your contributions (if any) you can deduct from your taxes.

Traditional vs Roth IRA: What You Need to Know

The main difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA is how and when you are taxed. There are also some eligibility requirements and deduction limits.

IRA Deduction Limits and Eligibility Requirements

Traditional IRAs offer the benefit of tax-deductible contributions. The money you deposit is pre-tax (meaning, you don’t pay taxes on those funds), and contributions grow tax-deferred. You pay tax when making qualified withdrawals in retirement.

However, if either you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work and your income is higher than a certain level, the tax deduction of your annual contributions to a traditional IRA may be limited.

Specifically, if either you or your spouse has a workplace retirement plan, a full deduction of the amount you contribute to an IRA in 2023 is allowed if:

•   You file single or head of household and your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $73,000 or less

•   You’re married and file jointly, or a qualifying widow(er), with an MAGI of $116,000 or less

A partial deduction is allowed for incomes over these limits, though it does eventually phase out entirely.

Roth IRAs allow you to make contributions using after-tax dollars. This means you don’t get the benefit of deducting the amount you contribute from your current year’s taxes. The upside of Roth accounts, though, is that you can typically make qualified withdrawals in retirement tax-free.

But there’s a catch: Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is based on your income. So how much you earn could be a deciding factor in answering the question, can you have a Roth IRA and 401(k) at the same time.

For 2023, you can make a full contribution to a Roth IRA if:

•   You file single or head of household, or you’re legally separated, and have a modified adjusted gross income of less than $138,000

•   You’re married and file jointly, or are a qualifying widow(er), and your MAGI is less than $218,000

The amount you can contribute to a Roth IRA is reduced as your income increases until it phases out altogether.


💡 Quick Tip: The advantage of opening a Roth IRA and a tax-deferred account like a 401(k) or traditional IRA is that by the time you retire, you’ll have tax-free income from your Roth, and taxable income from the tax-deferred account. This can help with tax planning.

How Contributing to Both a 401(k) and an IRA Affects Your Taxes

Both 401(k) plans and IRAs can offer tax benefits. Here are the key tax benefits to know when contributing to these plans:

•   401(k) contributions are tax-deductible

•   Traditional IRA contributions can be tax-deductible for eligible savers

•   Roth IRA contributions are not tax deductible, but Roth plans allow you to make tax-free withdrawals in retirement

Understanding the Tax Implications

You might choose to contribute to a Roth IRA and a 401(k) if you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket when you retire. By paying taxes now, rather than when you’re in the higher tax bracket later, you could limit your tax liability.

However, if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket when you retire, you may want to opt for a traditional IRA so that you pay the taxes later.

Strategies for Minimizing Taxes on Withdrawals

Both 401(k) plans and IRAs are designed to be used for retirement, which is why the taxes you pay are deferred (and why these accounts are typically called tax-deferred accounts). As such, early withdrawals from 401(k) plans are discouraged and you may trigger taxes and a penalty when taking money from these plans prior to age 59 ½.

Here are the most important things to know about withdrawing money from 401(k) plans or traditional and Roth IRAs:

•   Withdrawals from 401(k) and traditional IRA accounts are subject to ordinary income tax at the time you withdraw them. If you withdraw funds before age 59 ½, you would owe taxes and a 10% penalty — although some exceptions apply (e.g. an emergency or hardship withdrawal).

•   Roth IRA contributions and earnings are treated somewhat differently. Withdrawals of original contributions (not earnings) to a Roth IRA can be made tax- and penalty-free at any time.

•   If you withdraw earnings from a Roth account prior to age 59 ½, and if you haven’t owned the account for at least five years, the money could be subject to taxes and a 10% penalty. This is called the five-year rule. Special exceptions may apply for a first-time home purchase, college expenses, and other situations.

In addition to taxes, a 10% early withdrawal penalty can apply to withdrawals made from 401(k) plans or IRAs before age 59 ½ unless an exception applies. But the IRS does allow for several exceptions. In terms of what constitutes an exception, the IRS waives the penalty in certain scenarios, including total and permanent disability of the plan participant or owner, payment for qualified higher education expenses, and withdrawals of up to $10,000 toward the purchase of a first home.

You might also avoid the penalty with 401(k) plans if you meet the rule of 55. This rule allows you to withdraw money from a 401(k) penalty-free if you leave your job in the year you turn 55, although you would still owe ordinary income taxes on that money. This scenario also has some restrictions, so you may want to discuss it with your plan administrator or a financial advisor.

Finally, once you reach a certain age, you are required to withdraw minimum amounts from 401(k) plans and traditional IRAs or else you could be charged a significant tax penalty. These are known as required minimum distributions or RMDs.

The IRS generally requires you to begin taking RMDs from these plans at age 73 (as long as you reach age 72 after December 31, 2022). The amount you’re required to withdraw is based on your account balance and life expectancy, and many retirement plan providers offer help calculating the exact amount of your required distributions.

This is critical, because if you don’t take RMDs on time you may trigger a 50% tax penalty on the amount you were required to withdraw.

RMDs are not required for Roth IRAs.

Choosing Between a 401(k) and an IRA

If you are deciding between a 401(k) and an IRA, there are a number of factors you’ll want to weigh carefully before making a decision.

Factors to Consider When Making Your Choice

Overall, IRAs tend to offer more investment options, and 401(k)s allow higher annual contributions. If your employer matches 401(k) contributions up to a certain amount, that’s another important consideration. Additionally, you’ll want to think about the tax advantages and implications of each type of account.

Comparing Benefits and Drawbacks of Each Plan

Both 401(k)s and IRAs have advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to consider all variables in determining which account is best for your situation.

401(k)

IRA

Pros

•   Larger contribution limits than IRAs.

•   Employers may match employee contributions up to a certain amount.

•   Wide array of investment options.

•   A traditional IRA may allow tax deductions for contributions for those who meet the modified adjusted income requirements.

Cons

•   Limited investment options.

•   Potentially high fees.

•   Contribution amount is much smaller than it is for a 401(k).

•   Roth IRAs have income requirements for eligibility.

Neither plan is necessarily better than the other. They each offer different features and possible benefits. If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k) plan, you may want to set up a traditional or Roth IRA depending on your personal financial situation. And if you’re already contributing to a 401(k), you may still want to think about opening an IRA.

The Combined Power of a 401(k) and IRA

Instead of investing in only an IRA or your company’s retirement plan, consider how you can blend the two into a powerful investment strategy. One reason this makes sense is that you can invest more for your retirement, with the additional savings and potential growth providing even more resources to fund your retirement dreams.

How to Strategically Invest in Both Accounts

Since employers often match 401(k) contributions up to a certain percentage (for instance, your company might match the first 3% of your contributions), this boosts your overall savings. The employer match is essentially free money that you could get simply by making the minimum contribution to your plan.

Now imagine adding an IRA to the picture. Remember, with an IRA you have flexibility when investing. With a 401(k), you have limited options when it comes to investment funds. With an IRA, you’re able to decide what you’d like to invest in, whether it be stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchanged-traded funds (ETFs), or other options.

To strategically invest in both accounts, consider contributing to 401(k) and IRA plans up to the annual limits, if you can realistically afford to. Make sure this is feasible given your budget, spending, and other financial goals you may have such as paying down debt or saving for your child’s education. And do some research into how this approach may affect your retirement tax deductions.

Not everyone is able to max out both retirement fund options, but even if you can’t, you can still create a powerful one-two punch by making strategic choices. First, think about your company-matching benefit for your 401(k). This is a key benefit and it makes sense to take as much advantage as you can.

Let’s say that your company will match a certain percentage of the first 6% of your gross earnings. Calculate what 6% is and consider contributing that much to your 401(k) and opening an IRA with other money you can invest this year.

And, if you end up having even more money to invest? Consider going back to your 401(k). There still may be value in contributing to your 401(k) beyond the amount that can be matched — for the simple reason that company-sponsored plans allow you to save more than an IRA does.

Now, let’s say you have a 401(k) plan but your employer doesn’t offer a matching benefit. Then, consider contributing to an IRA first. You may benefit from having a wider array of investment choices. Once you’ve maxed out what you can contribute to your IRA, then contribute to your 401(k).

These are all just options and examples, of course. What you ultimately decide to do depends on your financial and personal situation.

Long-term Growth Potential

By investing in both a 401(k) and IRA, you are taking advantage of employer-matched contributions and diversifying your retirement portfolio which can help manage risk and may potentially improve the overall performance of your investments in aggregate.

In addition, while a 401(k) offered by your employer may have limited investment options to choose from, with an IRA, you have more access to different investment options. That could, potentially, help grow your money for retirement, depending on what you invest in and the rate of return of those investments.

Plus, by contributing to both kinds of retirement accounts, you are likely putting more money overall into saving for retirement.

Step-by-Step Guide to Contributing to Both 401(k) and IRA

If you’ve decided to open and contribute to both a 401(k) and an IRA, here’s how to get started.

Eligibility Verification and Contribution Processes

To determine if you’re eligible to contribute to a 401(k), find out if your employer offers such a plan. Your HR or benefits department should be able to help you with this.

If a 401(k) is available, fill out the paperwork to enroll in the plan. Decide how much you want to contribute. This will typically either be a set dollar amount or a percentage of your paycheck that will usually be automatically deducted. Next, select the type of investment options you’d like from those that are available. You could diversify your investments across a range of asset classes, such as index funds, stocks, and bonds, to help reduce your risk exposure.

Individuals with earned income can open an IRA — even if they also have a 401(k). First, decide what type of IRA you’d like to open. A traditional IRA generally has fewer eligibility requirements. A Roth IRA has income limits on contributions. So, in this case, you’ll need to find out if you are income-eligible for a Roth.

You can typically open an IRA through a bank, an online lender, or a brokerage. Once you’ve decided where to open the account and the type of IRA you’d like, you can begin the process of opening the account. You’ll need to supply personal information such as your name and address, date of birth, Social Security number, and employment information. You’ll also need to provide your banking information to transfer funds into the IRA.

Next decide how much to invest in the IRA, based on the annual maximum contribution amount allowed, as discussed above, and choose your investment options. Remember, diversifying your investments across different asset classes and investment sectors can help manage risk.

Examples of Diversified Retirement Portfolios

To build a diversified portfolio, one guideline is the 60-40 rule of investing. That means investing 60% of your portfolio in stocks and 40% in fixed income and cash.

However, that formula varies depending on your age. The closer you get to retirement, the more conservative with your investments you may want to be to help minimize your risk.

No matter what your age, make sure your investments are in line with your financial goals and tolerance for risk.

The Takeaway

Not only is it possible to have a 401(k) and also a traditional or Roth IRA, it might offer you significant benefits to have both, depending on your circumstances. The chief upside, of course, is that having two accounts gives you the option to save even more for retirement.

The main downside of deciding whether to fund a 401(k) and a traditional or Roth IRA is that it can be a complicated question: You have to consider your ability to save, your risk tolerance, and the tax implications of each type of account, as well as your long-term goals. Then, if you decide to move ahead with both types of accounts, you can work on opening them up and contributing to them.

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FAQ

Can you max out both a 401(k) and an IRA?

Yes, you can max out both a 401(k) and an IRA up to the annual amounts allowed by the IRS. For 2023 that’s $6,500 for an IRA ($7,500 if you’re 50 or older), and $22,500 ($30,000 if you’re 50 or older) for a 401(k).

How do employer contributions affect your IRA contributions?

Employer contributions to a 401(k) don’t affect your IRA contributions. You can still contribute the maximum allowable amount annually to your IRA even if your employer contributes to your 401(k). However, having a retirement plan like a 401(k) at work does affect the portion of your IRA contributions that may be deductible from your taxable income. In this case, the deductions are limited, and potentially not allowed, depending on the size of your salary.


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