Growing Interest in After-Tax Contributions to 401(k) Plans

Voluntary after-tax contributions (not to be confused with Roth contributions) are just what they sound like. These contributions are made in after-tax dollars and the taxes on the earnings are deferred until the year of distribution.

Many 401(k) plans still do not allow voluntary after-tax contributions because there has been, historically, little interest from participants. However, interest in after-tax contributions has been growing in recent years due to an Internal Revenue Notice in 2014 that permitted the rollover of after-tax contributions from a 401(k) plan into a Roth IRA, while the earnings on such contributions are rolled to a traditional IRA.

In a 401(k) plan that permits voluntary after-tax contributions, employees may contribute on an after-tax basis up to the annual limit on all contributions (for 2023, $66,000 / $73,500 if 50 or older). Thus, if an individual elects pretax or Roth deferrals up to the annual limit of $22,500, there is still an opportunity to make up to $43,500 in after-tax contributions.

Later, when the individual is eligible for a distribution, the after-tax contributions may be rolled to a Roth IRA and their future earnings may escape all taxation.

It is worth noting, however, that after-tax contributions are still included in the actual contribution percentage test (“ACP test”) that applies to matching contributions. Because the primary users of after-tax contributions are typically HCEs, this can be problematic for smaller plans as it could easily lead to a failed test. Thus, this plan feature is able to work most efficiently in larger organizations where the “law of averages” can provide an advantage in diluting the testing impact. Organizations with high-earning NHCEs, through the utilization of a “Top Paid Group” election, paired with high plan participation can also often continue to pass the ACP tests. In the case of a failing test, refunds will be made on an after-tax basis back to the HCEs that made the contributions.

Advisory Services offered through The Ascent Group, LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser. Securities offered through Triad Advisors, LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC. The Ascent Group, LLC; Alera Group, Inc.; Summit Group of Virginia, an Alera Group Company; and Summit Group 401(k) Consulting, an Alera Group Company, are not affiliated with Triad Advisors, LLC. Representatives do not provide tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding your situation.  

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