You started the week with Labor Day and get to end the week with Retirement – Happy National 401(k) Day! Now is the perfect time to make sure you’re taking full advantage of your employer’s sponsored retirement plan.
You can make pre-tax contributions to the retirement plan through payroll deductions. “Pre-tax” means that your contributions are deducted from your pay and contributed into your plan account before federal (and most state) income taxes are calculated. This reduces the amount of income tax you pay now. Moreover, you don’t pay income taxes on the amount you contribute — or any returns you earn on those contributions — until you withdraw your money from the plan.
Your retirement plan might also offer a Roth account. Contributions to a Roth account are made on an after-tax basis. Although there’s no up-front tax benefit when contributing to a Roth plan, withdrawals of earnings are free from federal income taxes as long as they are “qualified.” (Note: With Roth accounts, taxes apply to withdrawals of earnings only; withdrawals of contribution dollars are tax free.)
The decision of whether to contribute to a traditional plan, a Roth plan, or both depends on your personal situation. If you think you’ll be in a similar or higher tax bracket when you retire, you may find Roth contributions more appealing since qualified income from a Roth account is tax free. However, if you think you’ll be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, then contributing to a traditional pre-tax account may be more appropriate. A tax advisor can help you decide.
Employers are not required to contribute to employee accounts, but many do through what’s known as a matching contribution. Your employer can match your pre-tax contributions, your Roth contributions, or both. Most match programs are based on a certain formula — say, 50% of the first 6% of your salary that you contribute. If your plan offers an employer match, be sure to contribute enough to take maximum advantage of it. The match is a valuable benefit offered by your employer. In the example formula above, the employer is offering an additional 3% of your salary to invest for your future. Neglecting to contribute the required amount (and therefore not receiving the full match) is essentially turning down free money.
The IRS imposes combined limits on how much participants can contribute to their traditional and Roth savings plans each year. In 2020, that limit is $19,500. Participants age 50 and older can make additional “catch-up” contributions of $6,500 per year. [Special catch-up limits apply to certain participants in 403(b) and 457(b) plans.]
An employer-sponsored retirement savings plan offers a tax-advantaged opportunity to save for your future. Participating in your plan could be one of the smartest financial moves you make.