Highly Compensated Retirement Contribution Options

by Andy Hough on January 2, 2007

When you’re a “highly compensated employee,” you’re limited in how much you’re allowed to contribute to your 401(k). You are limited because the government wants the playing field to be level and it’s “unfair” to lower compensated employees if more highly compensated employees contributions outstrip the percentage for the lower compensated employees. Whether or not it’s unfair is another issue but reality is reality. So, what is a highly compensated employee to do?

Contribute to an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) instead. While you won’t be able to get an employer match on the money, you will be able to defer the taxes on the income until you actually retire. Traditional IRA’s are usually not a good idea for those of use who aren’t highly compensated because we are usually still eligible for a full contribution to Roth IRA and the contribution limits are shared by both. For example, if you contribute $1,000 to a Traditional IRA, then that’s $1,000 you cannot contribute to your Roth IRA because they share limits. However, if you are highly compensated, you are likely in the Roth IRA contribution phaseout range and so at least a partial contribution to a Traditional, whatever you can’t contribute to your Roth, makes sense because you can at least get some tax relief, since one is available by way of the 401K.

(This argument only applies for those who are classified as a highly compensated employee on an income basis, not on an equity basis)

{ 8 comments }

thc January 2, 2007 at 10:48 pm

FYI: An HCE for 2006 and 2007 is someone who earns $100,000 or more. HCEs are not necessarily limited on their 401k contributions, only if the plan fails the discrimination testing.

victoria March 22, 2007 at 1:19 pm

I don’t consider myself as HCE even though I made over 100,000 last year because I live in the bay area. I can’t even aford a decent house here. Being a single mom with 3 kids, I am certainly not highly compensated. And the only reasons I made over 100,000 is I work overtime. Once again, we are being punish for hard-working.

retirehappy March 22, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Yeah, I don’t think HCE takes into account the cost of living… that’s a downer.

UJ October 25, 2008 at 6:26 pm

As per guidelines, I am HCE. I haven’t enrolled for 401K yet for 2008, however, in coming 2 months I wish to make maximum contribution. Do I have option to contribute for my earlier pay period or I can just contribute for next 2 months?

Thanks

DLS November 9, 2008 at 7:58 pm

My husband works for a small company and is a HCE. A low percentage of employees participate in the company’s 401K plan (he makes up 1/3 of the plans contributions). So the plan failed the discrimation testing. He has been maxing out his individual contribution and will not be able to any longer. To be sure to get atax deduction should he contribute to an HSA (the health plan is a High deductible plan)?

Rich November 16, 2008 at 11:47 am

My 401k got cut also because i`m a HCE so i take off more time from work then haveing to pay more taxes. You know the gov can give out our tax dollars to bad banks but will not give the good working people a brake that is keeping them a flot.

ggg March 20, 2009 at 1:17 am

I love what Margaret Thatcher once said, “the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of someone else’s money.”

I just got bit by the HCE limitations too. I own a small company, everyone working for me who wants to contribute to 401(k) is also an HCE. But those who don’t want to contribute average into the calculation for discrimination and it makes us out of balance. As usual, another gov’t regulation that DOES NOT do what is intended and ROBS the working class of it’s own hard earned money. Once out of balance always out of balance. The plan will NEVER be able to rebalance unless the HCE stop contributing complete until a balance is reestablished. But since we don’t have any non-HCE’s employed we’re stuck with no retirement plan!

The Gov’t keep punishing us who work hard, make decent salaries, and pay 80% of the taxes in the country. Then they take away our incentives to save for retirement so that we too can become dependant on gov’t in our later years. I no longer pays to work hard and achieve in America. You’ll just end up giving away everything you earn to support beurocrats and lazy people.

Amber April 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm

This is another socialistic regulations the government impose on hard-working people all across America. Not only does it not taking in account of regional cost of living, its intent seems to be punishing people to contribute to any retirement plan. What is fair? Shouldn’t people who make more money(over $100000 in 2007) being able to contribute to the maximum they are allowed to contribute legally? The contribution gets demolished for employees who don’t participate for one reason or another? That’s bullshit!

In addition, like the article stated, people who are HCE, if they want to contribute to ROTH, are usually in the phase-out stage; maybe the most they can contribute is $1000 or $2000. C’mon!

I am completely outraged by it.

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