401(k) Contribution Strategies: The Pros and Cons of Maxing Out

By Brett Gottlieb

Planning for retirement is a fundamental part of managing your finances which requires careful thought and planning. One of the most popular retirement savings options in the United States is the 401(k) plan, which allows employees to allocate pre-tax or post-tax funds into a dedicated investment account. While many financial professionals advocate for maximizing 401(k) contributions to fully leverage the tax advantages, does this approach support every person’s financial strategy? Read on to understand why it may not always be the right decision.

You May Have Other Financial Priorities

While saving for retirement is important, it’s not the only financial goal you may have. For example, you may be saving for a down payment on a home, paying off debt, or building up an emergency fund. If you funnel all your extra money into your 401(k), these other areas of your finances may end up neglected. Make sure you have a well-rounded financial plan that addresses all your priorities. To start, consider the following to help you assess other potential goals:

  • Pay down any high-interest credit card debt.
  • Build up an emergency fund with 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses.
  • Make sure you have adequate health insurance.
  • Review your estate plan: do you have a basic will or trust in place to safeguard your loved ones in your absence?
  • Consider disability insurance in case an accident or injury prevents you from working for an extended period of time.
  • If you are married or have dependent children, consider obtaining adequate life insurance.

You May Have Access to Better Investment Options Elsewhere

Most 401(k) plans offer a limited selection of investment options, which may not be the right fit for your strategy. Suppose you have other investment accounts, such as an IRA or taxable brokerage account. In that case, you may have access to a wider variety of investment options.

For example, let’s say your 401(k) plan only offers mutual funds but you’re interested in investing in individual stocks or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). In this case, an IRA or taxable brokerage account may be the better option. By diversifying your investments across multiple accounts, you can improve your returns and invest in the right mix of assets for your financial goals.

You May Want More Flexibility in Accessing Your Money

Contributions to a traditional 401(k) are tax-deductible, but withdrawals in retirement are taxed as income. Withdrawals prior to age 59.5 are subject to tax and a 10% penalty if you don’t meet the strict criteria for a hardship withdrawal. If you’re planning to retire early or have other income streams in retirement, you may want more flexibility in accessing your money. Roth IRAs, for example, allow you to withdraw your contributions at any time without penalty, and qualified withdrawals of earnings are tax-free. Consider whether a Roth IRA or other investment vehicle might give you more flexibility both now and in retirement.

You May Pay Less in Fees With Other Investment Accounts

When considering whether to max out your 401(k) contributions, it’s also important to take into account the fees associated with these plans. Though 401(k) plans are convenient, they can also be expensive, with costs including administrative fees, investment fees, and expense ratios, among others. These fees can eat into your investment returns over time and can be especially costly if you’re not paying attention to them. Make sure you understand the fees associated with your 401(k) plan and consider whether there are lower-cost investment options available to you. It’s worth seeking the advice of a financial advisor to help you navigate these fees to help you get the most bang for your buck.

If You Do Max Out Your 401(k), Know Your Limits

If you choose to max out your 401(k), it’s important to know your contribution limits. For 2023, you can defer as much as $22,500 into your 401(k). An additional $7,500 in catch-up contributions is allowed for those over 50.

One of the best parts of a 401(k) plan is that many employers offer matching contributions. The most common matching formula is 50% of employee contributions up to 6% of salary. This means your employer will contribute a maximum of 3% of your salary if you contribute 6%. Since employer matches are essentially free money and not considered income in the year received, it’s generally advised to contribute at least enough to get the maximum matching contribution, even if you don’t max out the full contribution amount.

What’s the Choice That’s Right for You?

Although contributing the maximum to your 401(k) can be a sound strategy for certain individuals, it may not fit everyone’s financial plan. At Comprehensive Advisor, we’re here to help you determine the most ideal choice for your specific retirement savings strategy. If you’re ready to move forward, we invite you to reach out to us by emailing us at info@ComprehensiveAdvisor.com or calling (760) 813-2125.

About Our Advisors

Brett Gottlieb is the founder of Comprehensive Advisor and a financial advisor with nearly two decades of industry experience. He graduated from California State University-Chico with two bachelor’s degrees, in business administration and economics, and is Life Insurance licensed in several states. He is passionate about guiding his clients on retirement income planning, helping each client pursue their specific retirement goals, and defending the assets his clients have worked so hard to achieve. Brett is a California native and currently resides in San Elijo Hills with his beautiful wife and three children.

Our team of qualified professionals have experience in the financial service industry, and our advisors hail from some of the largest independent broker/dealers and banking institutions in the country. They have dedicated their professional careers to creating personalized financial solutions for individuals and families who seek successful retirement planning and currently offer investment advisory services through AE Wealth Management, LLC. Our advisors take a common-sense approach to the planning process and work with clients to create a retirement road map to help ensure their assets are protected and they receive the income needed to enjoy their future. Based in Carlsbad, California, they work with clients throughout San Diego County and beyond. Learn more by connecting with Brett on LinkedIn or email them at info@ComprehensiveAdvisor.com.

Investment advisory products and services made available through AE Wealth Management, LLC (AEWM), a Registered Investment Advisor.  C.A. Financial & Insurance Services, CA Ins. Lic. #6000262. This material is intended to provide general information and is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. Any references to protection benefits, safety, security, lifetime income, etc., generally refer to fixed insurance products, never securities or investment products. Insurance and annuity product guarantees are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Neither the firm nor its agents or representatives may give tax or legal advice. Individuals should consult with a qualified professional for guidance before making any purchasing decisions.  2082434- 11/23


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