Monday, October 24, 2005

401k contribution maximum

Well, I'm back from my little vacation and unfortunately, my first post will not be a recap of the trip, but rather an "oh shit" moment!
While continuing to noodle around with real estate spreadsheets, and trying to squeeze more money out of my budget to afford more apartment, I had the idea to change my 401k contributions. Last year, I maxed out my contribution before the end of the year, so I thought, great! If I spread out the maximum amount over all 12 months, I'll have a little more cash each month instead of suddenly getting a few bigger paychecks at the end of the year. Conveniently enough, when I got back to work this morning, there was a memo from the HR department about how to change your 401k contributions and reminding what this year and next year's maximums are. The maximum I can contribute for 2005 is $14,000. In 2006, it goes up to $15,000. As per my Rule #6, I fully intend to maximize this tax break. But what I realized in my "oh shit" moment is A) I'm not going to get to $14,000 this year! $493.75 is contributed from my paycheck every two weeks. Back in March when I got my bonus, another $1226.40 was contributed. That only comes to $13,076 for the year! Whooops! If my bonus had been bigger I would have been all set, but now I think it may be too late for me to make an additional contribution. As for B), if I want to max out to $15,000 in 2006, I'll have to contribute at least $600 or so per paycheck, since my bonus might be even slightly lower than it was this year. Even though I got a raise, I think this may leave me with less spendable cash each month, when I was hoping I could end up with more! (Though of course it is a good thing to have a higher maximum amount that I can contribute pre-tax.)
I guess the moral of this story is that I really need to pay close attention to my 401k every single year, rather than just thinking I'm definitely going to hit the maximum automatically. You can't take your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road... when you're driving the mini-van of personal finance... down the highway of life.... to the rest-stop of retirement... or something like that...

UPDATE: All may not be lost for this year! I just went online and it looks like I can change my contribution percentage monthly, rather than quarterly as I had thought. So I've bumped my contribution up to 50% for the rest of the year! And for 2006, I'll set it at 18% and see how it goes.


Caitlin said...

Welcome back! At least we had a few sunny days for you in MA ;)

I am totally with you on the maxing and staying on top of the new amounts.

this year was the first year of my now annual paycheck maintenance task I want to perform each January.

When I started my blog this year...that's exactly where I was

Caitlin said...

In fact...this idea of having even less $ in my monthly paycheck as of Jan just freaked me out LOL

But I found YADC (yet another dinkytown calculator) to help me see the impact is really only about $30 a paycheck or $60 a month...not ideal but not freaky outy

Here's the one I used, I just substituted my 401k contrib for the 457 line item

Poe said...

Hope you had a great vacation!

I was calculating this today as well at work... I was bored. But, I think I did it wrong since my calculations show that if I contribute more per paycheck than I currently contribute, I'd have more money per paycheck! Lol.

Budget living in Orange County

Hazzard said...

Holy moly. I thought I was being aggressive and putting a lot away. I'm only putting away somewere around 12K in my 401K each year. I am also funding a ROTH and paying down the principal on my house though so my total savings is around $16K. Anyway, I'm inspired now. I guess I better raise my percentage.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm lucky. My company allows us to contribute a set amount in addition to percentage. Makes it easy since the Max went to 15, 500 this year I just plugged in $597 every two weeks.