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401(k) Contribution Limits in 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Contributing to your company-sponsored 401(k) is one of the easiest ways to make sure you’re set up when your golden years arrive. By starting early and maximizing your contributions, you’ll give yourself ample time to take advantage of the unique magic of compound interest — which, given enough years, can turn even modest savings into impressive cushions.

However, it’s important to remember that there are limits to how much you can sock away in a retirement plan, 401(k)s included. Furthermore, those limits have recently changed. Here’s what you need to know.

2019 401(k) contribution limits

Here’s a quick look at the IRS’ updated 401(k) contribution limits for 2019.

Type of Contribution

Limit Amount

Employee Contribution

$19,000

Catch-Up Contribution

$6,000

Employer Contribution

$37,000

Total Contribution

$56,000 or $62,000 with catch-up contributions

As you can see, the total contribution limit ($56,000) is broken down into different contribution methods, including elective deferrals — i.e., your own regular 401(k) contributions automatically taken out of your paycheck — as well as catch-up contributions and employer contributions, which are frequently made via an employer match program.

Let’s go over how each type of 401(k) contribution works in detail.

Employee contributions: the lifeblood of your 401(k)

The bulk of your 401(k) is likely to be made up of what the IRS calls “elective deferrals” — the percentage or dollar amount you contribute to your 401(k) from your wages each pay period.

Note that 401(k) contributions can be made either pre-tax or post-tax, depending on what kind of account you have. In a traditional 401(k), your contributions are tax-deductible and won’t count toward your taxable income for the year in which you make them. They will, however, be taxed when you withdraw them later.

In a Roth 401(k), on the other hand, your contributions will count as taxable income but won’t be taxed when you take them out. Furthermore, Roth 401(k)s are not subject to the same required minimum distribution rules as their traditional counterparts, said Malik S. Lee, a certified financial planner at the Atlanta-based Felton & Peel financial advisory firm.

“Most employers’ plans have Roth 401(k)s, but a lot of people don’t know to ask for it,” said Lee. Roth 401(k)s are “one of the hidden gems” you might find in your onboarding documentation, so be sure to read your paperwork carefully.

How employer contributions can maximize your stash of cash

Maximizing your 401(k) is the best way to rest assured you’ll be set when the time comes for retirement. In most cases, the easiest way to do that is to take advantage of your employer’s 401(k) match.

A match program works exactly as advertised: Your employer will “match,” dollar for dollar, the money you put into your 401(k) up to a certain percentage of your income, generally between 3% and 6%.

That might not seem like much, but it’s free money. Given the incredible power of compound interest, that small match can work out to a lot of money over time.

For example, let’s say you were making $50,000 and contributed 5% of your salary toward your 401(k). That works out to an annual contribution of $2,500. Now let’s say your employer matched up to 3%, which works out to an additional $1,500. You’ve just bumped your contribution from $2,500 to $4,000 — almost doubling your savings with zero additional effort. Pretty cool, huh?

Your employer also can make contributions outside of a matching program. For instance, the company might contribute a percentage of your overall salary regardless of how much you elect to pay in or a percentage of its annual profit. You have less control over these contributions, but they add to your total and count toward the limit.

Catch-up contributions: are you eligible?

If you’re age 50 or over, you’re eligible to make “catch-up contributions,” which means you can electively defer an additional $6,000 per year without incurring any tax penalties.

If you got a late start saving for retirement or were unemployed — and therefore unable to contribute to your 401(k) for a while — it makes good financial sense to make catch-up contributions to maximize your retirement savings.

However, if you’ve been steadily saving and already have a significant nest egg built up, it might make more sense to seek out alternative investment options, which can diversify your overall portfolio, said Lee. A financial advisor with fiduciary responsibility can help you decide which option is best for your personal goals.

What happens if you go over the limit?

Given the generosity of the 401(k) maximum contribution limit, it’s rare to exceed it. In fact, Lee said he hasn’t seen this financial faux pas happen in his career.

Although saving too much for retirement might sound like an oxymoron, if you do somehow exceed the limit, the tax benefits that make these accounts so powerful will stop working in your favor. In fact, you’ll be penalized by paying taxes twice: The excess contributions will count toward your taxable annual income, and they’ll be taxed when you withdraw them.

If you do overshoot the contribution limit, you should ask your account custodian to withdraw the excess amount by April 15 of the following year. Because it’s done to keep your account within the IRS guidelines, this money will not be subject to the 10% early withdrawal fee you would incur otherwise. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that any income earned on the excess deferral will be taxed as regular income.

Contributing to your 401(k) is an important step to take toward a well-deserved rest after a fulfilling career. Be sure to stay within the contribution limits to maximize your returns and minimize your taxes.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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Investing

Should You Pay Off Debt or Save Your Money?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

You have a regular source of income, you’re paying your bills on time and you have some extra dollars left over each month. What should you do with that extra cash?

If you don’t have debt (lucky you!), then the choice is simple — save or invest as much as possible. If you have debt, however, the choice can be a bit murkier: Should you pay off your debt first or save? Here are some things to consider when asking yourself that question.

Three times that saving your money might be smarter

1. If you don’t have an emergency savings fund

Just when you’re cruising along, life can throw some unexpected and expensive curves your way. A sudden job loss, medical bills or car repairs can pop up out of the blue, and if you don’t have the funds to pay for them, you can end up seriously in the red. To cover unexpected costs, some may resort to high-interest credit cards and loans. Those kinds of moves can dig you into a financial hole that can take years to pay your way out of.

Saving up a healthy emergency fund can protect you in instances like these. How much should you save? Experts generally suggest that you should save an amount equal to between three and six months of living expenses. Depending on your individual circumstances, however, you may need more than that. (Check out this article to figure out how much to save and where to keep it.)

2. Your employer offers matching retirement contributions

If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that offers a retirement plan with matching contributions, then consider making that method of saving a priority.

For example, if your employer offers to match your contributions dollar-for-dollar up to 6% of your salary in a 401(k) plan, then contribute at least that much, if possible. The money can then grow in a tax-free or tax-deferred 401(k) until you withdraw it in retirement — all that compound interest can really add up over the years. If you don’t contribute up to that amount, you’re leaving free money on the table.

Note, however, that If you need to withdraw these funds early (before the age of 59 and a half and before the account is five years old) there will be penalties to pay. That makes this a better tool for long-term savings rather than for the short-term or as an emergency savings fund.

3. Your debt has a very low interest rate

Debt gets a bad rap — often for good reason — but in some cases, carrying your low-interest debt and investing or saving your funds instead may be more beneficial. For example, the current fixed interest rate for direct subsidized and unsubsidized student loans is 5.05%, and the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate is about 4.3%. The stock market, on the other hand, has gone up an average of 10% a year since 1926.

Beyond comparing interest rates, however, you also need to assess how much risk you’re willing to take and how much access to your savings that you’ll need. Of course, there are no guarantees that your investments will perform well, and paying down debt comes with zero risk. Savings accounts are a less risky saving option, but the average interest rate is often less than 1 or 2%. Other options, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs), have restrictions on how the funds can be used outside of retirement.

Four times debt repayment may be more beneficial

1. You have high-interest debt

It’s hard to get ahead of high-interest debt, because compound interest is working against you. Credit card interest rates, for example, average between 15 and 20% — an amount which adds up quickly. If you make the minimum payment, you may not even be making a dent in the principal amount owed, and you can spend years just paying interest. Calculators like this one can help you figure out just how much interest you’ll pay and how long it will take to pay off.

If you have high-interest debt, make sure you explore all the options for paying it down, including consolidating your debt and researching balance transfer cards.

2. Your debt doesn’t offer any benefits

Though your debt is costing you in interest, you might find that some loans may offer useful perks. For example, federal student loans may offer tax benefits and even loan forgiveness programs for eligible borrowers. Similarly, there are tax write-offs for mortgages and in many cases, the money you invest in a home will pay off down the line when you sell your property.

On the other hand, the debt on the credit card you maxed out to pay for that trip to Cabo comes with no benefits — just a bunch of interest. High-interest debt with no benefits should be at the top of your pay-off priority list.

3. You want to raise your credit score

While there are many factors that go into determining your credit score, the amount of debt you carry is an important component. If you plan to buy a home or secure a loan in the near future, take a look at your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which many lenders consider before approving you for a loan. If your DTI is high, you may want to consider paying off some debt before applying for that new loan, which may result in lower interest rates for you later.

4. Your debt stresses you out

Debt can take an emotional and physical toll on people, ranging from depression to insomnia and more. When it feels like a black cloud hanging over your head and it’s affecting your life in negative ways, it may be in your best interest to prioritize paying debt off first.

Should you pay off debt or save?

Of course, saving vs. paying off debt early doesn’t have to be an either/or situation — ideally, you can do both at the same time. If, however, a choice must be made between the two, there are many factors to consider. As with most financial moves, there are no cut-and-dry rules, and the best one for you will depend on your individual circumstances.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Julie Ryan Evans
Julie Ryan Evans |

Julie Ryan Evans is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julie here

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Investing

How to Make Money in Stocks

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Putting money in the market is well-worn financial advice for a reason: Investing in stocks is one of the best steps you can take toward building wealth.But how, exactly, is that wealth built? How is money earned by purchasing stock market holdings, and what can you do to maximize the gains you make from your own portfolio?

How to make money in stocks: 5 best practices

The way the stock market works — and works for you — is as simple as a high school economics class. It’s all about supply and demand, and the way those factors affect value.

Investors purchase market assets like stocks (shares of companies), which increase in value when the company does well. As the company in question makes financial progress, more investors want a piece of the action, and they’re willing to pay more for an individual share.

That means that the share you paid for has now increased in price, thanks to higher demand — which in turn means you can earn something when it comes time to sell it. (Of course, it’s also possible for stocks and other market holdings to decrease in value, which is why there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment.)

Along with the profit you can make by selling stocks, you can also earn shareholder dividends, or portions of the company’s earnings. Cash dividends are usually paid on a quarterly basis, but you might also earn dividends in the form of additional shares of stock.

Micro-mechanics of how stocks earn money aside, you likely won’t see serious growth without heeding some basic market principles and best practices. Here’s how to ensure your portfolio will do as much work for you as possible.

1. Take advantage of time

Although it’s possible to make money on the stock market in the short term, the real earning potential comes from the compound interest you earn on long-term holdings. As your assets increase in value, the total amount of money in your account grows, making room for even more capital gains. That’s how stock market earnings increase over time exponentially.

But in order to best take advantage of that exponential growth, you need to start building your portfolio as early as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to start investing as soon as you’re earning an income — perhaps by taking advantage of a company-sponsored 401(k) plan.

To see exactly how much time can affect your nest egg, let’s look at an example. Say you stashed $1,000 in your retirement account at age 20, with plans to hang up your working hat at age 70. Even if you put nothing else into the account, you’d have over $18,000 to look forward to after 50 years of growth, assuming a relatively modest 6% interest rate. But if you waited until you were 60 to make that initial deposit, you’d earn less than $800 through compound interest — which is why it’s so much harder to save for retirement if you don’t start early. Plus, all that extra cash comes at no additional effort on your part. It just requires time — so go ahead and get started!

2. Continue to invest regularly

Time is an important component of your overall portfolio growth. But even decades of compounding returns can only do so much if you don’t continue to save.

Let’s go back to our retirement example above. Only this time, instead of making a $1,000 deposit and forgetting about it, let’s say you contributed $1,000 a year — which comes out to less than $20 per week.

If you started making those annual contributions at age 20, you’d have saved about $325,000 by the time you celebrated your 70th birthday. Even if you waited until 60 to start saving, you’d wind up with about $15,000 — a far cry from the measly $1,800 you’d take out if you only made the initial deposit.

Making regular contributions doesn’t have to take much effort; you can easily automate the process through your 401(k) or brokerage account, depositing a set amount each week or pay period.

3. Set it and forget it — mostly

If you’re looking to see healthy returns on your stock market investments, just remember — you’re playing the long game.

For one thing, short-term trading lacks the tax benefits you can glean from holding onto your investments for longer. If you sell a stock before owning it for a full year, you’ll pay a higher tax rate than you would on long-term capital gains — that is, stocks you’ve held for more than a year.

While there are certain situations that do call for taking a look at your holdings, for the most part, even serious market dips reverse themselves in time. In fact, these bearish blips are regular, expected events, according to Malik S. Lee, CFP® and founder of Atlanta-based Felton & Peel Wealth Management.

So-called market corrections are healthy, he said. “It shows that the market is alive and well.” And even taking major recessions into account, the market’s performance has had an overall upward trend over the past hundred years.

4. Maintain a diverse portfolio

All investing carries risk; it’s possible for some of the companies you invest in to underperform or even fold entirely. But if you diversify your portfolio, you’ll be safeguarded against losing all of your assets when investments don’t go as planned.

By ensuring you’re invested in many different types of securities, you’ll be better prepared to weather stock market corrections. It’s unlikely that all industries and companies will suffer equally or succeed at the same level, so you can hedge your bets by buying some of everything.

5. Consider hiring professional help

Although the internet makes it relatively easy to create a well-researched DIY stock portfolio, if you’re still hesitant to put your money in the market, hiring an investment advisor can help. Even though the use of a professional can’t mitigate all risk of losses, you might feel more comfortable knowing you have an expert in your corner.

How the stock market can grow your wealth

Given the right combination of time, contribution regularity and a little bit of luck, the stock market has the potential to turn even a modest savings into an appreciable nest egg.

Ready to get started investing for yourself? Check out the following MagnifyMoney articles:

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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