Overcontribution Definition


Investopedia / Jake Shi

What Is an Overcontribution?

The term overcontribution refers to any amount that a taxpayer contributes to a tax-deductible retirement plan that exceeds the maximum allowable contribution for a given period. Contribution limits are determined and regularly adjusted by a retirement plan's registrar or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Overcontributing to your retirement plan can trigger penalties if taxpayers don't deal with the excess amounts within a certain period of time.

Key Takeaways

  • An overcontribution is any amount that someone sets aside to a tax-deductible retirement plan that exceeds the maximum allowable contribution for a given period.
  • The IRS imposes a 6% penalty for each year that any excess amount contributed remains in a retirement account until it is rectified.
  • Taxpayers can withdraw the excess and related earnings or apply it to a future year's contribution.
  • Plan holders should notify the plan administrator or their employer to fix the problem.
  • Employer-sponsored plans require that amended W-2 forms be issued to employees.

Understanding Overcontribution

The IRS sets limits on how much taxpayers can invest each year in their retirement savings accounts. The agency imposes different limits for different plans and adjusts them annually for inflation. For instance, individual taxpayers can contribute a maximum of:

Although it's important to max out your contribution limits, don't go overboard. Any amount you invest in these accounts above the limits is considered overcontributions. As such, they're ineligible for any tax breaks you may receive—like those associated with IRAs, which reduce your tax bill. In fact, overcontributions run the risk of costing you more money in the tax year they're made.

The IRS imposes a 6% penalty on the amount of the excess every year until you fix the situation. And any excess contributions made toward an IRA cannot be used to reduce your taxable income. Here's what you can do to fix the situation:

  • You have until the tax filing deadline of that year (generally April 15) to withdraw the excess and any related earnings. The earnings on that excess must be reported as income on your tax return. Keep in mind that you'll incur a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you aren't 59½.
  • You may apply the excess to the following year's contribution limit. But this means that you'll have to pay the 6% penalty in the current year.

The limits to employer-sponsored plans like a 401(k) only apply to employee contributions, such as those made through payroll deductions. Any matches from employers do not count toward overcontributions.

Special Considerations

Be sure you notify your plan administrator or employer if you breach the IRS limit for your 401(k), 403(b), IRA, or any other kind of retirement account. The earlier you make the notification the year after the overcontribution, the better. It’s up to the plan administrator to return any excess payments to employees (in the case of an employer-sponsored plan), as well as any earnings on the excess contributions.

Sending this notification as early as possible provides plan administrators enough time to do the necessary paperwork—especially when the plans are held through an employer. This typically includes adjusting any contributions that came out of employees' checks on a pretax basis and counting them as wages on employees' W-2 forms. This allows employees enough time to issue new forms before the annual tax filing deadline.

Risks of Overcontribution

As noted above, it's important to correct overcontributions quickly. Otherwise, tax trouble often ensues. If the excess amount is not returned to affected employees in enough time to file taxes, employees run the risk of double taxation. That is, they could pay taxes in the year the excess occurred, and still need to pay the following year, as well.

To avoid double taxation, some employees can file an amended return with the excess contribution taken out, plus any related earnings from the overcontribution. This must be done by the tax extension deadline, however.

Overcontributions to IRAs are a bit easier to correct but they still result in penalties. Employees can leave their accounts alone and designate any overcontribution toward next year’s limit. Remember, that a 6% penalty applies on any excess per year. Of course, any individual contributions must be adjusted going forward to keep from again creating an overcontribution the following year.

How Do You Handle a 401(k) Overcontribution?

If you've overcontributed to your 401(k) account, contact your plan administrator and notify them of the overcontribution. Try and do this before the annual tax-filing deadline. Your plan administrator will then return the amount and adjust the earnings.

What Happens If I Overcontribute to My IRA?

If you overcontribute to your IRA, you will have to pay a 6% penalty every year on the additional amount until it is corrected.

How Much Money Can You Roll Over Into an IRA?

The amount you can roll over into an IRA is the IRA contribution limit amount set by the IRS. This is $6,000 in 2022 and $6,500 in 2023. For both years, if you are 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $1,000.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 590-A, Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs): Excess Contributions."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "401(k) Limit Increases to $22,500 for 2023, IRA Limit Rises to $6,500."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics - IRA Contribution Limits."

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "SEP Contribution Limits (Including Grandfathered SARSEPs)."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics - SIMPLE IRA Contribution Limits."

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "401(k) Plan Fix-It Guide - Elective Deferrals Weren't Limited to the Amounts Under IRC Section 402(g) for the Calendar Year and Excesses Weren't Distributed."

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "Issue Snapshot - Consequences to a Participant Who Makes Excess Deferrals to a 401(k) Plan."

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