Skip to main content
Ask Merrill
Answers to your investing and personal finance questions
< View all questions
JULY 1, 2019

What percentage of my salary should I put into my 401(k)?

Answered by
Bill Hunter
Director, Personal Retirement Strategy and Solutions, Bank of America
There's no hard and fast rule for how much of your salary you should put into your 401(k) account. But, in general, you should always consider contributing as much as possible, depending on your specific financial circumstances.
A combination of factors will dictate how much you should personally save, including:
  • How much of your take-home pay you can afford to set aside
  • Your age
  • Whether you think your retirement savings are on track to meet your goals
  • How close you are to retirement
  • Contribution limits — for 2020, the IRS permits a maximum of $19,500 for individuals, with an additional $6,500 catch-up contribution for people over age 50.
Increasing your 401(k) contri­butions can add up
Over time, even a seemingly small percentage dif­ference in your savings rate can make a big dif­ference.
Total amount accumulated over 30 years, based on a hypothetical annual salary of $75,000
A number of people have benefited from saving and investing as much money as possible in a 401(k) account, within certain limits.

Know your maximum contribution limit

Start by understanding how much you're allowed to contribute, and work back from there. Your maximum contribution limit depends on how old you are. In 2020, if you're under age 50, you can contribute up to $19,500 per year; those age 50 or older by the end of the year can contribute up to $26,000 annually, as long as your employer's plan permits catch-up contributions. These limits, by the way, do not include any contributions your employer might provide. The combined employee-employer contribution limit for 2020 is $57,000, or $63,500 for individuals eligible for catch-up contributions (if plans permit).

Take advantage of company matching

If you are fortunate enough to have an employer that offers to match your 401(k) contributions, consider contributing at least as much as the percentage your company will match. Say your employer will match up to 6% of your salary — then aim to contribute at least that much, if you can, to take full advantage of the benefit.
Matching contributions are essentially free money, and you may want to take advantage of them while you can. Putting that money into a Roth 401(k) account may be a good option if your employer offers it. Qualified withdrawalsFootnote 1 from a Roth 401(k) account are federal income tax-free, which can help to reduce your tax burden in retirement.
"Matching contributions are essentially free money, and you may want to take advantage of them while you can."
— Bill Hunter, Director, Personal Retirement Strategy and Solutions, Bank of America

Create an emergency fund so you won't have to tap your 401(k) account early

Before maxing out your contributions, make sure you have money set aside in an emergency fund — three to six months' worth of living expenses is generally considered enough — as well as whatever you need to cover short-term goals like paying off debt and loans. You don't want to be caught in a situation where you're forced to withdraw funds from your 401(k) account before age 59½. In that case, your withdrawal will be taxed as ordinary income and may be subject to a 10% additional federal tax, unless an exception applies.
Ready to get started?
Footnote 1 In general, qualified withdrawals may be taken if you have reached age 59½ and five years have passed from the first day of the year in which you made your first designated Roth contribution or first Roth conversion, if earlier

Merrill, its affiliates, and financial advisors do not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.
You have choices about what to do with your employer-sponsored retirement plan accounts. Depending on your financial circumstances, needs and goals, you may choose to roll over to an IRA or convert to a Roth IRA, roll over an employer-sponsored plan from your old job to your new employer, take a distribution, or leave the account where it is. Each choice may offer different investment options and services, fees and expenses, withdrawal options, required minimum distributions, tax treatment, and different types of protection from creditors and legal judgments. These are complex choices and should be considered with care. Visit our Rollover IRA page or call a Merrill rollover specialist at 888.637.3343 for more information about your choices.
Connect with us:
Connect with us:
Investing in securities involves risks, and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities.

Asset allocation, diversification and rebalancing do not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.
Merrill, its affiliates, and financial advisors do not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.

This material is not intended as a recommendation, offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or investment strategy. Merrill offers a broad range of brokerage, investment advisory (including financial planning) and other services. Additional information is available in our Client Relationship Summary (PDF).

Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (also referred to as "MLPF&S" or "Merrill") makes available certain investment products sponsored, managed, distributed or provided by companies that are affiliates of Bank of America Corporation ("BofA Corp."). MLPF&S is a registered broker-dealer, a registered investment adviser, Member Securities Investor Protection (SIPC) popup and a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of America Corporation ("BofA Corp").
Merrill Lynch Life Agency Inc. (MLLA) is a licensed insurance agency and wholly owned subsidiary of BofA Corp.

Banking products are provided by Bank of America, N.A. and affiliated banks, Members FDIC and wholly owned subsidiaries of Bank of America Corporation.

Investment products offered through MLPF&S and insurance and annuity products offered through MLLA:
Are Not FDIC Insured Are Not Bank Guaranteed May Lose Value
Are Not Deposits Are Not Insured by Any Federal Government Agency Are Not a Condition to Any Banking Service or Activity

Privacy & Security | Advertising practicesAdvertising Practices

© 2020 Bank of America Corporation. All rights reserved.