Changing 401k Contribution Rates During Year, Catch-Up Contributions

401k company matches are great ways to boost your retirement savings, but sometimes you have to be careful in order to capture it all. My wife’s company offers a 3% match, but only up to 3% of whatever you contributed that pay period. What if you contribute less than 3% for some period, and then a much larger amount a later period, with the overall total being much more than 3%? With some plans, you are simply out of luck and have missed out on potential money. Other plans offer what is called a “catch-up” or “true-up” contribution. Do you know which one you have?

I wrote about 401k true-up contributions and maxing out 401ks earlier, but finally got my hands on the employer’s Summary Plan Description which addresses it explicitly. Luckily, my OCR software was working, and I scanned it in below:

Is a year-end Matching Contribution provided if I changed my saving percentage during the year?

If you are employed by the Employer on the last day of the Plan Year, a true-up calculation is made so that your Matching Contributions will be maximized even if you changed the percentage of your Compensation that you elected to contribute during the Plan Year. The amount, if any, of the true-up Matching Contribution is the excess of (i) 100% of your Employee Contributions for the entire Plan Year that do not exceed 3% of your Compensation for the entire Plan Year that was paid to you while you were eligible for Matching Contributions, over (ii) the total amount of Matching Contributions already contributed to your Account for the Plan Year.

For example, John was eligible for Matching Contributions for all of 2010. John, who earned $40,000 evenly throughout the year, did not elect to contribute to the Plan from January 1 to June 30, 2010. From July 1 through December 31, 2010, John made Employee Contributions of 12% of his Compensation (12% of $20,000 = $2,400), and received Matching Contributions of $600. His year-end Matching Contribution is calculated as (i) minus (ii), as follows:

(i) 100% of John’s Employee Contributions to the Plan for the entire year that do not exceed 3% of his Compensation for the entire year. 100% x 3% x $40,000 = $1,200

(ii) The total amount of Matching Contributions already contributed to his Account for the year = $600

Year-end Matching Contribution to John’s Account for 2010 = 1,200 – 600 = $600

The year-end Matching Contribution generally is contributed to the Plan within a few months after the end of the Plan Year. hi some cases, IRS rules limit or reduce the amount of Matching Contributions the Employer can make on your behalf if you are Highly Compensated, as defined in Question 1, above. You will be notified if you are affected by this limit or reduction.

An important note here is that, at least for this plan, you must be employed on the last day of the Plan Year in order to be eligible for this catch-up contribution.


  1. When I asked about true-up in our place answer from 401k managing company was: No and to add that they should to approve our “custom plan” changes with IRS and it’ll cost too much to satisfy two or three employees who max out their contributions.

  2. No true-up at our company. I missed out on one matching contribution last year. I did not realize early enough that at our company there were 27 pay periods in 2009 instead of the usual 26. I maxed out the $16,500 on the 26th payroll. Therefore I could not contribute on the 27th payroll and did not get the 4% company match.

  3. is 401k any useful for folks in non immigrant category?

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