401k, 403b, TSP Historical Contribution Limits 2009-2019

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401k_limitsEmployer-based retirement plans like the 401(k), 403(b), and Thrift Savings Plan are not perfect, but they are often the best available option to save money in a tax-advantaged manner. For 2019, the employee elective deferral (contribution) limit for these plans increased to $19,000 (it is indexed to inflation). The additional catch-up contribution allowed for those age 50+ stays at $6,000 (for a total of $25,000).

Here’s a historical chart of contribution limits for the last 11 years (2009-2019).

Year 401k/403b Elective Deferral Limit Additional Catch-Up Allowed (Age 50+)
2009 $16,500 $5,500
2010 $16,500 $5,500
2011 $16,500 $5,500
2012 $17,000 $5,500
2013 $17,500 $5,500
2014 $17,500 $5,500
2015 $18,000 $6,000
2016 $18,000 $6,000
2017 $18,000 $6,000
2018 $18,500 $6,000
2019 $19,000 $6,000


The limits are the same for both Roth and “Traditional” pre-tax 401k plans, although the effective after-tax amounts can be quite different. Employer match contributions do not count towards the elective deferral limit. Curiously, some employer plans set their own limit on contributions. A former employer of mine had a 20% deferral limit, so if your income was $50,000 the most you could put away was $10,000 a year.

For 2019, the maximum contribution limit when you include both employer and employee contributions is $56,000, an increase of $1,000. The employer portion includes company match and profit-sharing contributions.

The employee salary deferral max limit applies even if you participate in multiple 401k plans.

Sources: IRS.gov, IRS.gov COLA Table [PDF], IRS on multiple plans.

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  1. The max limit of 56k does not apply across plans, it is a per-employer limit

  2. I just wish that I was smart enough to start maxing this out when I was younger as I do now.

    What is your take on putting more money in beyond this year’s $19,000? For us, we are putting that money in traditional brokerage accounts, but I am curious what you think. I do not see the value in it, but I wonder if I am missing something. Perhaps you have another post I missed on the subject?

    • Above maxing out the things that are available (IRA, Backdoor Roth IRA, 401k and similar, Solo 401k/SEP IRA and similar), yes I just invest in a taxable brokerage account (and some in a 529 plan). If you have a high income and and a high savings rate, it’s a good thing that you are maxing everything tax-advantaged and still buying productive assets like stocks, bonds, or real estate.

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