Over 50? Here’s How to Catch Up on Retirement Savings

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.

Most of us are pretty stressed by the need to give our savings a big boost as we approach retirement. Guess what? There is actually a relatively little-known retirement savings strategy that can really help: Catch-up contributions.

Catch-up contributions are the IRS’s way of making it easier for savers age 50 and up to tuck away enough retirement savings.

You probably already know that there’s a limit to how much you’re allowed to save in tax-advantaged retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s. Well, once you reach age 50, you’re allowed to make additional “catch-up” contributions over and above those annual contribution limits.

However, according to a Transamerica Center study, only 52% of workers know about catch-up contributions. Time to learn about this strategy and start applying it to your retirement planning — here’s what you need to know.

2022 contribution limits for retirement savings accounts

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The contribution limits and annual catch-up contribution allowance vary depending on the type of retirement savings account you own. However, if you are 50 or over and have both an IRA and a 401(k), you can save an additional $7,500.

For 2022, the catch-up contribution limits are as follows.

Catch-Up 401(k) Contributions

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The 401(k) plan annual contribution limit is $20,500 while the catch-up contribution is $6,500.

This means that if you are 50 or over, you can contribute a total of $27,000 per year to your 401(k). (Your total contribution including employer-matching funds cannot exceed $61,000 — or $67,500 for workers 50-plus. )

Catch-Up IRA Contributions

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The IRA annual contribution limit is $6,000 and the catch-up IRA contribution is $1,000, allowing workers age 50 and over to contribute a total of $7,000 per year.

Note that the contribution limits for traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs overlap. In other words, if you are 50 or older you can contribute a total of $7,000 per year split however you want between traditional and Roth IRAs (assuming that you meet the income limits for contributing to a Roth account).

However, the limits between 401(k)s and IRAs do not overlap, so you can max out your contributions for both types of accounts in the same year.

Why catch-up contributions matter

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According to a GOBankingRates survey, 29% of adults age 55 and up have no retirement savings whatsoever and another 15% have less than $10,000 saved.

However, don’t despair if you feel like you don’t have enough. Catch-up contributions can make a real difference.

If you’re behind on your retirement savings, maxing out both your annual contribution and your catch-up contribution may be enough to finance a secure and reasonably comfortable retirement.

The potential value of catch-up contributions

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Let’s say that you have just turned 50 and you have no retirement savings. However, turning 50 is a wake-up call for you, so you decide then and there to max out your retirement contributions to your 401(k) and Roth IRA.

For 2022, you could save a total of $26,500 per year into these two accounts without catch-up contributions. If you were able to save that much every year until you turned 65 and earned an average 6% return per year on that money, you’d end up with about $617,000 after 15 years.

Now add in catch-up contributions, which give you an additional $7,500 per year for a total of $34,000 per year of retirement savings. At that rate of savings, you could accumulate almost $800,000 by age 65. That means that an extra $7,500 per year that you can save thanks to catch-up contributions results in an additional $193,000 in your retirement savings accounts.

Are you married? Double those amounts!

How do you find the money to save as catch-up contributions

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Sure, it is easy to see how beneficial it is to save at least as much as the IRS recommends. However, actually finding the money to save can be the real challenge.

To save more for retirement, you don’t need to find new sources of income, you just have to rethink your existing spending.

Explore “23 Big and Small Ways to Save More for Retirement.”

Now, add in the tax savings of catch-up contributions

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Catch-up contributions don’t just help you save more for retirement; they also help you reduce your tax bill. When you save money in a traditional IRA or 401(k), you’re not required to pay taxes on those contributions. That means you’re able to save more money into these accounts without impacting how much money you have left for other expenses.

For example, let’s say that you are single and made $200,000 per year. In 2017, you would have paid federal income taxes of $49,399.25 on that salary. But if you contributed $24,000 of that money into your 401(k) account, your taxable income for the year would be reduced to $176,000.

As a result, you would have owed only $42,261.75 in federal income taxes. So contributing $24,000 to your retirement savings account saved you $7,137.50 in taxes. That’s over $7,000 that you now have to spend on other expenses. Without access to catch-up contributions, you could only have contributed $18,000 to that 401(k) and your tax savings would have been only $5,457.50.

Saving money in a Roth account also gets you a tax break, but in a different way. With Roth accounts, you don’t get a deduction on the money you contribute to the account, but when you take money out of the account you don’t have to pay taxes on it. If your retirement income will be limited, being able to reduce your tax bill at that time may make a significant difference in your standard of living.

Reducing your taxable income in retirement may have other benefits than simply stretching your retirement income a bit further. For example, Social Security benefits become taxable if one-half of your Social Security benefits plus your other taxable income exceeds certain limits. Since distributions from Roth IRAs are not taxable income, they don’t count towards this calculation. As a result, putting your annual IRA contribution into a Roth account may result in an even better tax deal than putting that money into a traditional IRA.

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