Employer Match Counts Toward 401(k) Limit?

Dear Dr. Don,

Do employer contributions to a 401(k) plan count against the maximum limits you can contribute to the plan? Do they affect the amount you can put into a traditional or Roth IRA?

-Pat Plans

Dear Pat,

The employer matching contributions don't count toward the maximum limits that you can contribute to a 401(k) plan. There is, however, a combined contribution limit of $51,000 for the employer and employee contributions in 2013.

In 2013, the employee's contribution limit is $17,500. Plans may permit catch-up contributions of up to an additional $5,500 for employees ages 50 and older at the end of the calendar year, which raises the employee and combined contribution limits for these employees to $23,000 and $56,500 respectively.

For 401(k) plans that favor highly compensated employees, which for 2013 is defined as employees earning $115,000, contributions made by highly compensated employees may be limited. A highly compensated employee includes officers of the company, certain major shareholders, employees who are highly compensated "based on the facts and circumstances," and spouses or dependents of those above. Your plan administrator can provide you with additional information about highly compensated employee limits if you fall into that category.

Your participation in a 401(k) plan may limit your ability to make tax-deferred contributions to a traditional IRA, although you can make nondeductible contributions if you have sufficient taxable compensation to do so. As I point out in another letter, there are income limitations on contributing to a Roth IRA, but no income limitations on converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

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