retirement

Should senior max out 401(k) contributions?

Don TaylorDear Dr. Don,
I'm 64 and just renewed a two-year contract with my employer. I participate in my employer's 401(k) plan, which matches up to 7 percent. I also have an individual retirement account. My question is: Should I contribute the maximum to my 401(k) while withdrawing from my IRA to supplement my living expenses or leave the IRA alone and only contribute what I can to the 401(k)? I just don't want to miss out on any matching contributions.

Thanks,
-- Sam Saver

Dear Sam,
You should try to take full advantage of all the financial benefits offered by your employer. It is best, generally, to avoid leaving money on the proverbial table. You should keep contributing at least up to the limit of your employer's match on your 401(k) contributions.

Retirement savings jar © JohnKwan/Shutterstock.com

It sounds like you won't be able to afford the lifestyle you want if you maximize your 401(k) contributions.

You're making tax-deferred contributions to the 401(k). But your IRA distributions, or payments, assuming the contributions were also made on a tax-deferred basis, create taxable income.

A $10,000 unmatched tax-deferred contribution to your 401(k) plan reduces your federally taxable income as well as your income tax bill. You pay payroll taxes on your 401(k) contributions; it's just the income tax that's deferred. A $10,000 withdrawal from your IRA is taxable income. Leaving state income taxes aside, assuming you're in the 25 percent tax bracket, you'll pay $2,500 in federal income tax on the distribution. That's equal to the amount of income tax deferred on the 401(k) contribution.

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