How much should you contribute to your 401(k)?


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Once you set up your retirement plan at work, the next natural question is: How much should I put in my 401(k)? While there’s no ironclad answer for how much to save in your employer-sponsored plan, there are some important guidelines that can help you set aside the amount that’s right for you: the tax implications, your employer match (if there is one), your own retirement goals, and more.


Here’s what you need to think about when deciding how much to contribute to your 401(k).


Related: What is wealth management?

How Much Can You Contribute to a 401(k)?

There are several factors to consider when weighing how much to contribute to a 401(k) account, which are detailed in the sections below. The main thing to consider off the bat, however, are the IRS contribution limits themselves.


The IRS may change the retirement contribution limits and other parameters of various retirement accounts from time to time, so it’s always a good idea to double check before you decide how much you want to contribute.

2022 vs 2021 401(k) Contribution Limits

Like most tax-advantaged retirement plans — for example, 403(b)s, 457 plans, different types of IRAs — 401(k) plans come with caps on how much you can contribute. The IRS puts restrictions on the amount that you, the employee, can save in your 401(k); plus, there is a cap on total employee-plus-employer contributions.


For 2021 the contribution limit is $19,500, with an additional $6,500 catch-up provision for those 50 and older, for a total of $26,000. The combined employer-plus-employee contribution limit for 2021 is $58,000 ($64,500 with the catch-up amount).


For 2022, you can save up to $20,500 in your 401(k) — a $1,000 increase. The catch-up amount is unchanged at $6,500, for a total of $27,000 if you’re 50 and up. The employer-employee max is $61,000 for 2022; it’s $67,500 with the catch-up amount.

2022 vs 2021 401(k) Contribution Limits

How Much Should You Put Toward a 401(k)?

Next you may be wondering, OK, those are the limits, but how much should I put in my 401(k)?


One rule-of-thumb is to save at least 10% of your annual income for retirement. So, if you earn $100,000, you’d aim to set aside at least $10,000. But 10% is only a general guideline. In some cases, depending on your income and other factors, 10% may not be enough to get you on track for a secure retirement, and many experts suggest aiming for 15% or even 20% — to make sure your savings will last given the cost of living longer.


In addition, you may want to consider the following:

  • Are you the sole or primary household earner?
  • Are you saving for your retirement alone, or for your spouse’s/partner’s retirement as well?
  • When do you and your spouse/partner want to retire?

If you are the primary earner, and the amount you’re saving is meant to cover retirement for two, that’s a different equation than if you were covering just your own retirement. In this case, you might want to save more than 10%.


However, if you’re not the primary earner and/or your spouse also has a retirement account, setting aside 10% might be adequate. For example, if the two of you are each saving 10%, for a combined 20% of your gross income, that may be sufficient for your retirement needs.


All of this should be considered in light of when you hope to retire, as that deadline would also impact how much you might save as well as how much you might need to spend.


Here are some other factors that should be weighed carefully as you decide how much to save in a 401(k).

Factors That May Impact Your Decision

Before you decide to go with the general rule-of-thumb above, it’s wise to think about taxes, your employer contribution, your own goals, and more.

1. The Tax Effect

The key fact to remember about 401(k) plans is that they are tax-deferred accounts, and they are considered qualified retirement plans under ERISA (Employment Retirement Income Security Act) rules.


That means: The money you set aside is typically deducted from your paycheck pre-tax, and it grows in the account tax free — but you pay taxes on any money you withdraw. (In most cases, you’ll withdraw the money for retirement expenses, but there are some cases where you might have to take an early 401(k) withdrawal. In either case, you’ll owe taxes on those distributions, as they’re called.)


The tax implications are important here because the money you contribute effectively reduces your taxable income for that year, and potentially lowers your tax bill.


Let’s imagine that you’re earning $100,000 per year, and you’re able to save the full $20,500 allowed by the IRS for 2022. Your taxable income would be reduced from $100,000 to $79,500, thus putting you in a lower tax bracket.

2. The Employer Match

Some employers offer a matching contribution, where they “match” part of the amount you’re saving and add that to your 401(k) account. A common employer match might be 50% up to the first 6% you save.


In that scenario, let’s say you save 10% of your $100,000 salary, or $10,000 per year. But your employer might match 50% of the first 6% ($6,000), which comes to $3,000. So the total would be $13,000.


If your employer does offer a match, you likely want to save at least up to the matching amount, so you get the full employer contribution. It’s free money, as they say.

3. Your Retirement Goals

What sort of retirement do you envision for yourself? Even if you’re years away from retirement, it’s a good idea to sit down and imagine what your later years might look like. These retirement dreams and goals can inform the amount you want to save.


Goals may include thoughts of travel, moving to another country, starting your own small business, offering financial help to your family, leaving a legacy, and more.


You may also want to consider health factors, as health costs and the need for long-term care can be a big expense as you age.

4. Do You Have Debt?

It can be hard to prioritize saving if you have debt. You may want to pay off your debt as quickly as possible, then turn your attention toward saving for the future.


The reality is, though, that debt and savings are both priorities and need to be balanced. It’s not ideal to put one above the other, but rather to find ways to keep saving even small amounts as you work to get out of debt.


Then, as you pay down the money you owe — whether from credit cards or student loans or another source — you can take the cash that frees up and add that to your savings.

Consider 401(k) Alternatives Like an IRA

You don’t have to limit your savings to your 401(k). You may also be able to save in other retirement vehicles, like a traditional IRA or Roth IRA.


Can you contribute to 401(k) and IRA plans simultaneously? For example, if you’re already contributing to a 401(k) plan at work, you may be wondering if you can also save money in an IRA.


Or maybe you opened an IRA in college, but now you’re starting your career and have access to a 401(k). Does it make sense to keep making contributions if you’ll soon be enrolled in your employer’s retirement plan?

Contributing to a Traditional IRA and a 401(k)

The short answer is yes, according to the IRS you can contribute to a 401(k) at work and a traditional IRA. But there are limits on the amount of IRA contributions you can deduct in this scenario. You can deduct the full amount of your IRA contributions if:

  • You file single or head of household and your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $68,000 or less.
  • You’re married filing jointly, or a qualifying widow(er), with a MAGI of $109,000 or less.

For incomes over these limits, the amount you can deduct phases out gradually.

Contributing to a Roth IRA and a 401(k)

Can you have a Roth IRA and a 401(k)? You fund a Roth IRA with after-tax dollars, meaning you don’t get the benefit of deducting the amount you contribute from your current year’s taxes. The upside of Roth accounts, though, is that qualified withdrawals in retirement are tax free.


But there’s a catch: Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is based on your income. So how much you earn — not necessarily whether you have a 401(k) at work — could be a deciding factor in answering the question, can you have a Roth IRA and 401(k) at the same time.


The rules for combining a 401(k) account with an IRA can be complicated. It’s best to consult a professional.

The Takeaway

Many people wonder: How much should I contribute to my 401(k)? There are a number of factors that will influence your decision. First, there are the contribution limits imposed by the IRS. In 2022, the maximum contribution you can make to your 401(k) is $20,500, plus an additional $6,500 catch-up contribution if you’re 50 and up.


While few people can start their 401(k) journey by saving quite that much, it’s also possible to follow the common guideline and save 10% of your income. From there, you can work up to saving the max. In fact, many plans offer an automatic savings increase that bumps up your savings rate by a small amount, like 1% per year.


In addition, you’ll want to consider whether your employer offers a matching contribution — and at least save that amount, to get the additional funds from your company.


Of course, the main determination of the amount you need to save is what your goals are for the future. This is where you should focus, because saving is never easy. But by contemplating what you want to spend money on now, and the quality of life you’d like when you’re older, you can make trade-offs.


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This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by


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What happens to your debt when you die?


Do you know what will happen to your debt when you die? Some debts are forgiven while others may be passed down to heirs. Read on for the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to death and debt.


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In order to accurately answer this question, we need to examine the most common types of debt people accumulate. In other words: Not all debt is equal. The type of debt you have and when you accumulated the debt will determine how and if your debt is passed on to others when you die.

The Most Common Types Of Debt


If you die with credit card debt, there are two things that may happen:

  1. Your debt may be forgiven and written off by the credit card company
  2. The debt will be passed on and the responsibility of a survivor


If you are the sole owner of the debt when you die, (not married or a cosigner) the credit card companies will be involved in the probate process. The money left in your estate, any retirement accounts, or other items worth money will be sold and the outstanding debts will be paid.

If there is not enough money in your estate to pay off the remaining credit card balance, your children or beneficiaries will not be required to pay the remaining balance. The outstanding debt will be “forgiven” by the credit card company.


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If the credit card is a joint account with a living spouse or a cosigner, the other account holder will be responsible for the debt. If you have authorized users on the account but they are not the account owner, the users will not be responsible for the debt.


bernardbodo / istockphoto


This is one of those myths that continues to live on. Credit card debt does not go away after seven years. The confusion with the seven-year time frame comes from the credit report time requirement.

After seven years, old debts begin to fall off of your credit report. Your debt, however, is still very much alive and owed. Lenders can and will continue to pursue the amount owed until it is paid, settled, or charged off. Do not be fooled into thinking your credit card debt will go away after seven years.


Farknot_Architect / istockphoto


The quick answer? It depends. There are several factors that determine if a deceased spouse’s credit card debt will be passed along to the surviving spouse. If the credit card debt was incurred before marriage and the deceased spouse was the sole owner of the account, in most cases, the debt will not be the responsibility of the surviving spouse.

If the credit card debt was incurred after marriage and the deceased spouse was the sole owner of the account, the state you live in determines the surviving spouse’s responsibility. If you live in one of these community property states and the debt was incurred after marriage, the surviving spouse is responsible for the credit card debt of their spouse regardless of the account ownership:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

If you do not live in one of these states, generally the surviving spouse will not be responsible for the credit card debt if they were not a joint owner of the account. If you are a joint owner on the account, you are now solely responsible for the debt.


Again, where you live determines what can happen to your medical bills when you die. Generally speaking, children and heirs will not be required to pay back the outstanding medical bills of their parents. With that being said, there are a couple of instances where a child could be responsible for the medical debt of their parents.


When a child cosigns admission paperwork acknowledging financial responsibility if the adult is unable to pay their bills, this debt may be passed down to the child.


gorodenkoff / istockphoto


There are 26 states that have filial responsibility laws that state a child may be responsible for a deceased parent’s medical debt in certain situations. The states that have filial responsibility laws are:

  • Alaska
  • Kentucky
  • New Jersey
  • Tennessee
  • Arkansas
  • Louisiana
  • North Carolina
  • Utah
  • Indiana
  • Nevada
  • California
  • Maryland
  • North Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts
  • Ohio
  • Virginia
  • Iowa
  • New Hampshire
  • Delaware
  • Mississippi
  • Oregon
  • West Virginia
  • Georgia
  • Montana
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Rhode Island

Now, before you become overly concerned about living in one of these states, understand that the enforcement of filial responsibility laws is extremely rare. If you have significant medical debt, consult with an attorney in your state to see exactly what responsibility your adult children may be required to pay back.


Rawpixel / istockphoto


Student loan debt may or may not be passed on to survivors when the borrower dies. What happens to the loan depends on what type of loan was taken out and when it was established.


Ta Nu/ istockphoto


If you have federal student loans, they will be forgiven upon death. Federal student loans do not pass on to others as long as a death certificate is presented to the lender. Federal student loans that fall into this category are:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Federal Perkins Loans


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On Nov. 20, 2018, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act was amended. The added section releases cosigners of a private student loan from financial responsibility if the primary borrower dies. Due to this, all new private student loans with cosigners are not required to repay the loan upon the student’s death.

However, student loans with cosigners taken out before Nov. 20, 2018, may still require the cosigner to be held responsible for the debt.




Federal Direct PLUS Loans are also forgiven upon the student’s death. In the past, the parent who signed for the PLUS loan was required to bear the burden of the tax responsibility and file the forgiveness as “income” after a child’s death.

Currently, The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, is in effect and releases parents from this tax responsibility. This tax stipulation remains in effect until the year 2025.


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There is several different scenarios involving vehicle loan debt upon the borrower’s death. If the auto loan has a cosigner or the vehicle was purchased in a community property state after a couple was married, the cosigner or spouse is responsible to repay the auto loan.

If the loan was obtained before marriage and is only in the deceased spouse’s name, generally the surviving spouse is not held responsible for the debt. The bank will take possession of the vehicle to settle the outstanding debt or the surviving spouse can pay off the vehicle loan.

If the borrower is not married, the survivors can either pay off the vehicle loan and keep the vehicle, sell the vehicle and pay off the loan or return the vehicle to the bank. Heirs do not inherit vehicle loan debt.


Payday loan debt is very similar to credit card debt when you die. If there was not a cosigner or someone else listed as jointly responsible for the loan, then the company writes off the debt as a loss. Payday loan debt is not transferred to heirs but may be the responsibility of a surviving spouse if the debt was incurred after marriage in a community property state.


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In probate, the home must be paid off with the funds from the estate or the mortgage company must agree to let someone else inherit the loan. If you still owe money on your home, your spouse or heirs usually have three separate options:

Option 1: Sell the home to pay off the outstanding mortgage. The executor of the will can initiate a home sale to fulfill the outstanding debt obligations. If the home is not worth what is owed, additional money from the estate will be used to pay off the mortgage. If additional money is still required, the bank can take possession of the property.

Option 2: If there is enough money in your estate, your heirs can use that money to pay off the mortgage. Or the beneficiaries can use their own money to pay off the loan in full.

Option 3: If there is not enough money in the estate to pay off the loan, an heir may elect to contact the lender in an attempt to take over the loan. The loan would need to be transferred into the new borrower’s name which would require the heir to meet the credit obligations for a loan.


PRImageFactory / istockphoto


Lenders can force the sale of a property to fulfill the outstanding equity loan balance if the estate does not have enough capital to pay it off. This is another scenario where the heir may be able to apply with the lender to take over the payments.





If you have federal tax debt when you die, the IRS gets the first chance at your estate. Legally, the executor of the state is unable to pay any other debt or obligation until the federal tax debt is settled.

If a substantial amount is owed, the IRS will quickly put a lien on any property owned by the deceased in an attempt to satisfy the debt. The federal government will get their money one way or another – but the heirs will not personally be liable for the outstanding tax debt.


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There is not an automatic notification process when a person dies. The next of kin or executor of the state is required to contact the bank and provide a copy of the descendant’s death certificate.

When the death certificate is presented, the financial institution will freeze all of the associated accounts until the probate process is completed. If money is not owed to other lenders, the beneficiaries will be given access to any monies left in the deceased person’s accounts.


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Even though most debts will not be passed on to your heirs when you die, you may not want them to deal with the hassle of paying off all your debt with your estate – only to be left with nothing.

If you have struggled with debt your entire life, a cheap term life insurance policy may be an option to leave a small inheritance to your heirs. Most life insurance policies are dispersed tax-free and are not accessible to creditors.




Leaving debt behind is a fear many seniors face. On the bright side, your heirs will usually not be personally responsible for paying off your outstanding debts. However, the sooner you can clean up your own financial mess, the better.

Do your best to start paying off your debt so your executor is not faced with a long probate process. If you need help getting started, check out this related post The Debt Payoff Playbook.

This article originally appeared on Arrest Your Debt and was syndicated by


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