How to Truly Max Out Your Retirement Savings

Push your tax-favored savings to the limit with these tips.

Many investors struggle to find any money to save toward retirement, but a few fortunate investors have more favorable financial situations that allow them to save as much as they can. For them, taking full advantage of tax-favored retirement savings can make a huge difference not only in their long-run financial planning but also in managing their taxes right now.

Here, you’ll find the tax-favored savings opportunities that retirement savers can use to maximize the amount they put aside for the future.

The first step: getting IRAs funded

The first thing that anyone can do to save for retirement is to open an IRA. The contribution limits for IRAs are adjusted from year to year for inflation, and in 2017, you can set aside up to $5,500 in an IRA. Those who are 50 or older get to make an additional catch-up contribution of $1,000, bringing the total to $6,500.

One thing to note is that if your income is above certain limits, you won’t be allowed to make a Roth IRA contribution. Moreover, you might not be able to deduct a traditional IRA contribution if you’re covered by an employer plan at work. However, you can always make a traditional IRA contribution even if it isn’t deductible, as long as you have enough earned income from your job or business to cover the contribution amount.

Employee contributions to 401(k) plans at work

If you’re covered by a 401(k) or similar retirement plan at work, then your ability to save for retirement in a tax-favored way is greatly enhanced. The limits for employee 401(k) contributionsalso get adjusted annually for inflation, but they’re far higher than the corresponding IRA limits. Employees can save up to $18,000 in their 401(k)s during 2017, and those who are 50 or older get an additional $6,000 contribution limits as a catch-up provision.

Some other employer plans have lower contribution limits for participants. For instance, if your employer offers only a SIMPLE IRA plan, your contribution limit will be $12,500 if you’re younger than 50, with a $3,000 catch-up bump if you’re 50 or older. In any event, however, you’ll still be eligible to make regular IRA contributions on top of your employer plan savings.

Employer contributions to 401(k) plans

For most workers, employer contributions to 401(k) plans are limited to the matching and profit-sharing deposits that their employers make on their behalf. These contributions tend to be small and rarely approach the IRS-imposed limits. If you’re a key employee of your company or if you’re self-employed, however, you might be able to save a lot more through employer contributions to a 401(k).

Employer 401(k) contributions are limited to 25% of net compensation. There’s also an absolute maximum in combined employer and employee contributions to 401(k) plans. For 2017, that number is $54,000 for those under 50 or $60,000 for those 50 or older. Therefore, if you’re eligible for both employee and employer contributions, you can make your full employee contribution and then add an extra $36,000 to cover the employer contribution portion of your retirement plan savings.

Using non-retirement tax-favored savings vehicles

Finally, many people with ample money to save look at other opportunities to get tax-favored treatment on their savings. For instance, health savings accounts allow those who have high deductible health plans to set aside money toward healthcare expenses, and the accounts offer both upfront deductions and tax-free treatment of earnings if the money is used to cover eligible medical expenses. Contribution limits for 2017 are $3,400 for those with individual coverage or $6,750 for family coverage, with an additional $1,000 available to those who are 55 years old or older .

Similarly, those who anticipate educational expenses can use college savings vehicles like 529 plans to set money aside in advance. Those contributions don’t get an upfront tax break at the federal level, but earnings are tax-free if used for education. Most 529 plans have very high contribution limits that stretch into six figures, making it more likely that the limiting factor will be the total you expect to spend on educational expenses.

If you want to be smart about saving, taking full advantage of your tax-favored savings options is essential. By maxing out IRA, 401(k), and other non-retirement accounts, you can do your best to stay clear of Uncle Sam and keep more of your hard-earned money.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.