DEFINITION of 'Catch-Up Contribution'

A catch-up contribution is a type of retirement savings contribution that allows people over 50 to make additional contributions to their 401(k) and/or individual retirement accounts (IRAs). The catch-up contribution provision was created by the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA), so that older individuals would be able to set aside enough savings for retirement.

BREAKING DOWN 'Catch-Up Contribution'

Originally, the ability to make catch-up contributions under EGTRRA was set to end in 2011. However, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 made catch-up contributions and other pension-related provisions permanent.

Although using catch-up contributions is a great way for many people to expand their retirement savings, several studies show that few eligible candidates use catch-up contributions. For 2018 the IRS limit on annual contributions to an IRA remains at $5,500, while the catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is $1,000. For those employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, along with the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, this catch-up rate is $6,000.

Catch Up Contribution and General Mechanics of Retirement Plans

Individuals may make catch-up contributions in a variety of retirement plans, including the popular employee-sponsored 401(k). For those who do not have employee sponsorship, they may set up and contribute to a Traditional or Roth IRA. It’s important to have one of these retirement options (other options include the SIMPLE and SEP IRA plans) and to begin contributing early so that you do not need to make catch-up contributions later in life.

As of December 2017 there were 55 million active participants in 401(k) plans with total holdings of $5.3 trillion in assets. 401(k) plans historically have been criticized for their high fees and limited options; however, plan reform in recent years has benefited employees. In addition to offering catch-up contributions, the average plan offers approximately two dozen different investment options that balance risk and reward, according to the employees’ preferences. Many fund expenses and management fees have remained level and/or even declined, making the 401(k) option feasible for more Americans. More widespread understanding of 401(k)s, through education and disclosure initiatives, will continue to boost participation.

While the 401(k) plan is funded with pre-tax dollars (resulting in a tax levy on withdrawals down the line), a Roth 401(k) is another type of employer-sponsored investment savings account that is funded with after-tax money.

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