401k, IRA and Roth IRA Contribution and Income Limits [Updated for 2015]

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This page contains a summary of the contribution levels, income limits and eligibility rules for popular tax-advantaged retirement plans. Links to detailed articles and additional resources are also provided. All data provided is for the most recent tax years, unless noted. I encourage you to subscribe (free) via Email or RSS to get the latest retirement plan updates.

Employer Sponsored 401(k) and 403(b) Plans

2015 401(k) contribution limits, which also applies to 403b, 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, rose by $500 from 2014 standard contribution limits. This is a result of final inflation figures per the latest cost of living adjustment (COLA) figures. Catch-up contributions for those over 50 rose by the same amount.

In addition to the limit on elective deferrals shown in the table below, annual employer and employee contributions to all of your retirement accounts may not exceed the lesser of 100% of your compensation or $53,000 for 2015 vs. $52,000 in 2014.

Year
Contribution Limit
Maximum Employer Contribution
Max. for ALL Contributions (excl. Catch-up)
Additional Catch-up Amount (age > 50)
2015
$18,000
$35,000
$53,000
$6,000
2014
$17,500
$34,500
$52,000
$5,500
2013
$17,500
$33,500
$51,000
$5,500
2012
$17,000
$33,000
$50,000
$5,500
2011
$16,500
$32,500
$49,000
$5,500

Your annual contribution limit is the combined total maximum contribution that you can make each year to ALL 401k plans in which you participate, including standard 401k plans and Roth 401k plans— and is the lower of: (1) the maximum percentage contribution limit allowed under each of your employers’ plans, or (2) the dollar limits shown in the table above. For example, if your employer’s 401k plan allows you to contribute up to a maximum of 10% of your salary, and you earn $50,000, your maximum contribution limit is $5,000, not the $17,500 (2014) contribution limit that applies only to higher-paid employees.

Additional total limits. In addition to the limit on elective deferrals shown in the table above, annual contributions to all of your accounts may not exceed the lesser of 100% of your compensation. Further, the compensation limitation that can be taken into account when determining employer and employee contributions is $265,000 for 2015 vs. $260,000 for 2014.  [Get more details]

Maximum Employer Contributions. Matching 401K or 403b contributions made by your employer are NOT counted toward your annual 401k contribution limits (elective deferrals), $17,500 in 2014. Even if you contribute the maximum amount each year, your employer’s matching contributions are in addition to these 401k limits.  Your employer’s 401K maximum contribution limit in 2014 is $34,500 ($52,000 –  $17,500) or 100% of your salary, whichever is the smaller amount. Though most employers rarely give anywhere near the maximum, with most generally matching 3% to 6% of employee contributions.

Catch-up contributions. If you are age 50 or over at the end of the calendar year, you are permitted to make additional, “catch-up”, elective deferral contributions. These catch-up contributions are not subject to the annual general limits that apply to 401k plans. The catch-up contribution you can make for a year cannot exceed the lesser of the annual catch-up contribution limit, or the excess of your compensation over the elective deferrals that are not catch-up contributions.

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Traditional IRA Plans 

An IRA (individual retirement account) is your personal savings plan for retirement, offering tax advantages and growth that compounds over time. Unlike employer sponsored 401k plans, where the administration is taken care of by the company, you are responsible for the opening and ongoing management of your IRA account. You can also rollover funds between the different IRA account types as your financial, employment or tax situation changes.

There are 3 things you need to consider when determining if you can make IRA contributions. The first is whether you (or your spouse if applicable) already contribute to an employer sponsored retirement account, like a 401k or 403b plan (discussed above). Secondly you need to see what you can contribute based on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income ( MAGI). Finally you need to determine how much you can contribute based on your filing status and age. The tables below provide a breakdown by these three considerations.

For workers already covered by an employer sponsored retirement plan (401k, 403b), contributions to a self-managed IRA plan are only tax deductible if their adjusted gross income (AGI) is within the limits shown in the first table below. The second table shows the IRA contribution limits who are not covered by a workplace retirement plan.

2015 IRA Income Limits

Get more details on IRA Plans including:

Roth IRA Plans

Roth IRA contribution limits remained unchanged in 2015, but income (AGI) increased moderately in line with inflation. The AGI increases mean more people are eligible to open a Roth IRA account. Updated details and a comparison to 2014 levels are shown in the table below. Note that 2014 Roth IRA levels are the ones you should be looking for 2014 taxes you file in 2015.

Unlike 401(k) and Traditional IRA plans, you cannot deduct contributions to a Roth IRA from your taxable income. But this is offset by the fact that gains and distributions are tax-free after you reach the qualified retirement age (59½). This is great for people who think that they will be in a higher taxable income bracket and/or that tax rates will be higher during their retirement years. There are however much more stricter limitations to contributing to a Roth IRA account based on your filing status, other employer retirement plan contributions and overall income.

2015 vs 2014 Roth IRA limits and Income Phaseout

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A Roth IRA also has the following benefits and constraints that you need to be aware of:

  • To avoid penalties and receive qualified tax free distributions from your Roth IRA account must meet ALL the following conditions:
    • Funds (via contributions) must have been in your account for at least 5-years, and
    • Distributions from the Roth IRA account are made on or after the date you reach age 59½ or made because you become permanently disabled
  • You can also take out up to $10,000 of your contributions to a Roth IRA, without penalty, for a first time home purchase
  • You can leave funds in your Roth IRA account as long as you live.  Unlike traditional IRA and 401(k) plans there is no required minimum distribution.  This makes a Roth IRA a very effective inheritance vehicle because you may potentially reduce or eliminate the taxes your beneficiaries will have to pay after inheriting your estate
  • The retirement account must be designated as a Roth IRA when it is set up

SEP IRA Plans

A SEP IRA is a popular and widely used retirement plan management approach because it provides self employed owners or small business owners with a few staff a simplified method to make contributions toward their employees’ retirement and, if self-employed, their own retirement.

For 2015, the annual contributions an employer makes to an employee’s SEP-IRA cannot exceed the lesser of:

  • 25% of compensation, or
  • $53,000,
  • Up to $265,000 of an employee’s compensation may be considered. Minimum compensation required to be eligible for a SEP IRA is $600.

For 2014, the annual contributions an employer makes to an employee’s SEP-IRA cannot exceed the lesser of: (changes in RED)

  • 25% of compensation, or
  • $52,000,
  • Up to $260,000 of an employee’s compensation may be considered. The minimum compensation amount is $550

The same limits on contributions made to an employees’ SEP-IRAs also apply to contributions made to a self-employed individual’s SEP-IRA.  Contributions must be made in cash (no stock) and you have up to April 15, to contribute for the past year’s SEP IRA. A SEP provides high maximum contribution limits and relatively low setup cost, but an employer sponsored Individual 401k may allow a greater contribution at the same income level. Also, for those age 50+ there isn’t an additional $5,500 catch-up contribution provision like there is with the Individual 401k. A final point to consider is IRS rules do not permit loans with a SEP IRA. You can see more on SEP IRAs in this article.

Simple IRA Plans

A simple IRA is also a small business IRA-based plan with a simplified method for employers to make direct contributions toward their employees’ retirement and their own retirement. Employees may choose (not mandatory) to make regular contributions and the employer makes matching or non-elective contributions. SIMPLE IRAs are ideally suited as a start-up retirement savings plan for small employers who do not currently sponsor a 401K retirement plan. The main advantage of a Simple IRA to other tax advantaged retirement plans is the much lower administration costs. In order to establish a SIMPLE IRA, the business must have 100 or fewer employees and it also cannot have any other type of retirement plan in place.

2014 Contribution Limits: An employee may defer up to $12,000 for 2014, with employees over age 50 allowed to make a catch-up contribution of up to $2,000 (for a total of $14,000).

2015 Contribution Limits: An employee may defer up to $12,500 for 2015 (a $500 increase over 2014), with employees over age 50 allowed to make a catch-up contribution of up to $2,000 (for a total of $14,500).

Contributions under a SIMPLE IRA plan that count toward the overall annual limit on elective deferrals an employee may make to tax advantaged retirement plans. The employer is generally required to match each employee’s salary reduction contribution on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to 3% of the employee’s compensation.

When Can I Withdraw my Retirement Account Savings?

The key ages at which you can withdraw funds from the most commonly used retirement accounts without paying a penalty are:

401K and 403b retirement plans are generally company sponsored and the age at which you can start taking penalty (10%) free withdrawals is 59½ . However, you must start taking the minimum distribution (based on a variety of factors) by age 70½. You will have to pay regular income taxes on any withdrawals from 401K plans.

IRA are self-run tax-deferred retirement plans with investors being able to deduct all or part of their contributions from pretax income if certain conditions are met. Like a 401K, the official retirement age at which you can make penalty free withdrawals is 59½. You also may owe an excise tax if you do not begin to withdraw minimum distributions by April 1st of the year after you reach age 70½.

Roth IRA. Because a Roth IRA does not permit a tax deduction at the time of contribution, the restrictions on withdrawals are a little different to a traditional IRA. Contributions can also be made to your Roth IRA after you reach age 70½, unlike a traditional IRA. There is no requirement to start taking distributions while the owner is still alive and in fact the entire proceeds can be passed to your heirs tax free, a very useful estate planning feature.  If you do take the tax free distributions, you can only do so after the savings have been in the account for a 5-year period beginning with the first taxable year for which a contribution was made (known as qualified distributions).  Also, the IRA age limit for withdrawal still applies where you can only take penalty (10%) free distributions after you reach age 59½. A Roth IRA also allows you to take a one-time penalty and tax free $10,000 withdrawal if buying your first home.

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There are exceptions to the above age limits based on special conditions and extenuating circumstances like spouse death, hardship, disability and qualified medical expenses. Also the payments from retirement plans can be provided as lump-sum distributions or via periodic payments (e.g. like an annuity) depending on the terms of the plan. Consult the IRS website and your plan administrator (e.g Vanguard, Fidelity etc) for detailed rules and regulations.

Can I Make Catch-Up Contributions to 401K, IRA, 403b and SIMPLE IRA Retirement Plans?

As detailed in this article, catch-up contributions allow people who feel that they do not have enough of a nest egg to make higher retirement plan contributions as they approach retirement.The catch-up contribution is not prorated or apportioned in the year you turn 50. This means that as long as you turn 50 by December 31st of the given year, you can make the full catch-up contribution amount.

In addition to standard deferral/contribution limits, eligible participants can make catch-up contributions up to $5,500. The following plans are covered by this maximum limit : 401(k), 403(b), and governmental 457(b). Plan contributions are not treated as catch-up contributions until they exceed the annual standard limit shown in the tables above. So for those over 50, the maximum contribution limit in 2013 would be $23,000. Catch-up contributions are generally made in the same manner as regular contributions, i.e. through an automatic payroll deduction or via the plan administrator. They must also be made before the end of the plan year which varies by plan and employer, but generally ranges from December 31st to April 15th.

For those over 50, SIMPLE IRA or SIMPLE 401(k) plans may permit catch-up contributions up to $2,500. This is above the standard $11,500  contribution limit for SIMPLE IRA plans. You can also make catch-up contributions of up to $1,000 to your Traditional or Roth IRA. Catch-up contributions to an IRA are due by the due date of your tax return (not including extensions). SEP-IRAs, which have higher maximum contribution limits, do not allow additional catch-up contributions like the other tax-advantaged retirement plans discussed above.

IRS Reference Sources:

To get more detailed information, forms and worked examples I suggest reviewing the official IRS publications which can be found via the following links. Leave a comment if you have any questions.

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