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3 Tips for Maxing Out Your 401(k)

By Maurie Backman - Jun 20, 2019 at 6:33PM

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It's no easy feat -- but it can be done.

Saving in a 401(k) is a great way to build a solid nest egg for retirement -- which you'll definitely need, since Social Security won't provide enough income for you to live on by itself. But many people with access to a 401(k) struggle to max out because the annual contribution limits are so high.

For 2019, workers under 50 can sock away up to $19,000 in a 401(k). Those 50 and older, meanwhile, can set aside up to $25,000. That's far more than this year's IRA contribution limits of $6,000 and $7,000, respectively.

Glass jar filled with coins and rolled-up bills labeled 401K

Image source: Getty Images.

Still, maxing out a 401(k) could be your ticket to an extremely comfortable retirement. If you were to max out your 401(k) at today's limits between ages 35 and 65, you'd wind up with $1.95 million if your investments were to generate an average annual return of 7% during those 30 years, which is more than doable with a stock-heavy portfolio. As such, it pays to push yourself to max out, and you'll be more likely to hit that goal if you do the following things.

1. Bank your bonus cash

Many of us come into extra money during the year, whether it's a performance bonus at work, a tax refund, or even a cash gift. If you pledge to put any funds that fall into that category into your 401(k), you'll boost your contribution rate without having to worry about slashing expenses.

2. Cut back on spending

Unless you get a really generous bonus, gift, or tax refund, you'll need to work on spending less if you're looking to max out a 401(k). But if you're willing to make some sacrifices, you can increase your contributions to the point where you save enough for your dream retirement. Comb through your budget and aim to cut back on smaller expenses, like your cable or cellphone bill. But if you're serious about maxing out a 401(k), you may need to think big -- like downsizing to a smaller home that slashes your mortgage and property tax payments by $1,000 a month.

3. Get a second job

You can only cut back on so many expenses before seriously impacting your quality of life. If you're not willing or able to go on an all-out expense-slashing spree, but you're eager to max out your 401(k), try getting yourself a second job. If you do, you'll be in good company. Of the millions of Americans who currently hold down a side hustle, an estimated 14% do so for the express purpose of funding a retirement plan.

Imagine you're able to work a lucrative side gig that puts an extra $1,000 in your pocket every month. Assuming you're under 50, if you were to put that money right into your 401(k), you'd only have to come up with another $7,000 over the course of a year to max out. That's a far easier notion than cutting expenses to the tune of $19,000.

Even if you don't manage to max out your 401(k) every year, doing it even a few years over the course of your career could really help. Remember, too, that when you fund a traditional 401(k), the money you contribute is income the IRS can't tax you on. This means that if your tax rate is 24%, and you manage to stick $19,000 in a traditional 401(k), you'll save yourself $4,560 right off the bat. And that's reason enough to work your hardest to contribute the maximum amount you can to your 401(k).

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