2009 401k/403b Maximum Salary Contribution Limits

The 2009 inflation-adjusted limits for 401(k) and 403(b) defined-contribution plans are as follows:

  • The 401(k) elective deferral limit goes to $16,500, up from $15,500.
  • The “catch-up” amount allowed for those age 50 years and up increases to $5,500, up from $5,000.
  • The overall annual defined-contribution plan limit goes to $49,000, up from $46,000. This usually comes into play when you have additional employer contributions.
  • These numbers apply for both Traditional pre-tax and Roth after-tax contributions.

Maxing out pre-tax 401(k) contributions
$16,500 annually works out to $1375 per month. If you get paid bi-weekly that’s $635 per paycheck. But since this is gross income, if you are using pre-tax contributions (not the Roth 401k option*) your actual reduction in take-home pay will be less.

According to the calculators at PayCheckCity, if you are single with one allowance, earn a gross annual income of $60,000 per year ($5,000/month), and you live in a state with no income taxes, this works out to a reduction in your monthly take-home pay of $1,031. (It would go from $3,804 down to $2,773.)

You can also get to the same number by first finding your 2009 marginal tax rate. Since a such a person would be in the 25% bracket, taking 75% of $1375 is $1,031.

* If I were in the 15% tax bracket or lower, I would go with the Roth option (if available) because historically that is a low rate. Pay the low rates now, so you can avoid paying them later! For higher tax brackets, it depends on some personal variables like how much taxable income you expect to generate when withdrawing for retirement.


  1. When you say taxable income when you retire… do you mean if you are still working.. the money you take out will be taxed based on your salary… so if i am making 100k or something at that time and i have to take out my 401k… the 401k is taxed based on which tax bracket i am in?

  2. I’ve been itching to know the answer to this semi-related question, but can’t seem to find a valid answer and am always told to refer to an accountant in the end. I’ve a Solo 401(k) with $0 contributions thus far (I just opened it in 2009). I’ve made $ this year from self-employment (i.e. freelancing) and would like to contribute to it. Assuming the amount of waaaaay below the contribution limits, how much am I allowed to contribute, i.e. how do taxes come into play?

  3. Johnathan,

    Have you considered that the first money you take out in retirement will be taxed at 0% and 10% if rates stay the same? So if you put all your money away at 15% or more right now, you could be losing tax money on several thousand dollars of withdraws in retirement. Just something I wonder if people consider.

  4. Yeah, i’m totally digging that $1k increase in 401(k)s! Our company still matches 100% of 100% you put in (up to that max. amt), so i’m taking full advantage until that benefit goes away…which is always an option w/ the economy these days 🙁

  5. What is the limit for single persons? Everywhere I’ve looked online I’ve only found the contribution for married couples.

  6. Wouldn’t it be nice to be in danger of going over my contribution limit?

  7. Can anyone confirm if the $16500 limit includes both your own contributions and the company match, if any? All these years, I’ve been under the impression that the 401k limit includes all contributions, regardless of the source, but I recently got a newsletter from my company indicating that the limit applies to personal contributions only. Thanks for the heads up!

  8. As of this year, I have multi jobs at the same time. Right now, I will have 401(k) contibutions, 403(b) contributions bi monthly. Is the sum total for pre-tax and roth into each account; as well as the sum of both 401 (k) and 403(b) employee contibutions limited to $16500 for 2009? (roth 401(k) +pre-tax 401(k) + pre-tax 403(b) <= 16500 for 2009)?
    My personal business should be up and running later this year, what about a self employed 401(k) added to the above?

  9. Mike, who commented on March 6th:

    Your contribution limit, personally via payroll contributions, into a 401k is $16500. The limit including matching or any other employer contributions is $49000.

  10. @ Matt
    What is the limit for single persons? it is same 16,500 for 401K limit it really doesn’t matter if you are married or not. even if you are married both spouse can contribute 16,500 each to their 401K account.


    yes you can not contribute to your employer sponsored retirement A/C more than 16500 in any combination. in addition to 401K you can open roth IRA and contribute upto 5000

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