Are Catch-Up Contributions Included in Actual Deferral Percentage Testing?

When it comes to tax-deferred retirement savings plans, like 401(k) plans, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) carefully scrutinizes the contributions of highly compensated employees (HCEs) to ensure they do not benefit unfairly. To do so, it uses a method called actual deferral percentage (ADP) testing. But catch-up contributions by employees of a certain age are not included in the measure, because they can skew testing results.

What Is ADP Testing?

For an employer-sponsored retirement plan to retain its tax-qualified status, it must meet certain stringent non-discrimination tests to ensure wealthier employees are not benefiting more from the plan than the average wage earner. The IRS uses Actual Deferral Percentage (ADP) testing to verify that plan participation remains relatively equal for employees across all income levels.

Under the requirements of ADP testing, the average salary deferral made by HCEs may only exceed the average contribution of regular employees by a certain percentage. If HCEs are found to have exceeded the contribution limit required by ADP testing, the plan must return excess contributions or risk losing its tax-qualified status.

Catch-Up Contributions

The IRS imposes strict limitations on the amount that may be contributed to a qualified plan in any given year. For 2022, the maximum employee contribution for those under age 50 is $20,500, with a maximum total contribution limit (including employer participation) of $61,000 (vs. $19,500/$58,000 for 2021).

However, to encourage those nearing retirement to ramp up their savings, the IRS allows plan participants over 50 to make annual catch-up contributions that exceed these limits. For 2022, eligible employees may contribute an additional $6,500, increasing the total limit to $27,000 for employee contributions and $67,500 overall for 2022.

Why Are Catch-Up Contributions Excluded?

Catch-up contributions are excluded because not all employees are eligible to make them in any given year. Including them in ADP testing risks skewing the results.

If a number of non-highly compensated employees (NHCEs) over the age of 50 maximize their contributions, for example, their aggressive participation increases the average contribution of all NHCEs, even if their peers are not yet eligible to make catch-up contributions.

Though this scenario may be good news for HCEs who would enjoy increased contribution limits, the opposite would be true if it were they who were over age 50. If catch-up contributions made by HCEs were included in testing, the average HCE contribution might exceed the ADP limit more quickly, requiring the plan to return contributions.

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  2. Internal Revenue Service. "401(k) Plan Fix-It Guide - The Plan Failed the 401(k) ADP and ACP Nondiscrimination Tests." Accessed Dec. 24, 2021.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS announces 401(k) limit increases to $20,500." Accessed Dec. 24, 2021.