Are you wondering how good is the average 401k match? This article will go through what many companies are helping contribute to their employee’s retirement benefits.
In summary, the average 401K percentage match is around 5% of salary up to $3,000. In other words, if you make $60,000 a year, you will get a 401k match maximum of $3,000. If you make $100,000 a year, you won’t get a 401k match of $5,000. It will be capped out at $3,000. But again, this is just the average.
The 401k has always been a curious system. It doesn’t do as good of a job as a pension for life in taking care of an employee’s golden years. But it’s also better than nothing given you get to contribute money tax-free and let it grow tax-free until withdrawal after age 59.5.
In fact, I was so jaded by the 401K system that I recommended everyone max it out, but mentally write it off like I do social security. This way, you are forced to build your “real” savings and investments with your disposable income.
Recently, I got a kick in the pants when a 57 year old financial adviser named Larry told me he has over $5.5 million in his 401K! Holy crap, I thought to myself. How the heck did he accumulate so much, just in his 401K? The answer was simply longevity, performance, and company match.
401k Millionaire Potential
Larry is a senior partner at his firm. Not a surprise since he’s been there for 35 years! He has been maxing out his 401K ever since the mid 70s. With a company match of $3,000 plus 9% of his base salary, Larry has been able to accumulate $40,000 to $49,500 every year for the past decade alone!
You see, it’s not just $18,000 one can contribute. It’s $18,000 + $3,000 + (9% X his $350,000 salary) = $51,500 capped at currently $49,500 by law. In 2021, the maximum pre-tax contribution by employee and employer is ~$589,000 and has risen with inflation since.
See: How To Save Over $100,000 Pre-Tax A Year For Retirement if you’re curious to learn more.
Some of us might be thinking, well that’s just a ridiculous example since few people make $350,000 a year, and 9% of my base salary might only equal $5,000 – $9,000. Furthermore, some companies might not be as generous to provide such a high percentage match. If you’re thinking that way, that’s fair. However, you’re missing the point, which is that Larry got to such a lofty 401K balance due to the following reasons.
How One Man Became A 401k Millionaire
1) Larry maxed out his 401K every year. He did so since graduation because he envisioned great wealth during retirement.
2) Larry stayed loyal to his firm for 35 years, which has allowed him to maximize his retirement options and benefits. If you change firms constantly, often times there is a 1 year grace period before a company will match. Furthermore, once you do get the company match, there is a several year vesting period before the money is yours if you decide to leave.
3) With 35 years of service, Larry has ultimately been promoted and given salary increases as well. Not only is Larry a partner, he has also built up tremendous social capital within his firm. Larry doesn’t need to continue working, but he enjoys working with his friends. The average 401k match should rise over time with inflation.
Related: Here’s When You’ll Become A 401k Millionaire
The Average 401k Match Should Increase
Based on an informal survey of friends off-line and on-line, the average 401K percentage match is around 5% of salary up to $3,000. In other words, if you make $80,000 a year, you don’t get $4,000 in free money, but max out at $3,000 for a total of $19,500. The responses I got ranged from 0% to 9% match with many employers providing company profit sharing after a minimum number years of service or company stock grants.
With profit sharing and stock grants, company matching easily rises to 20% of the respondent’s base salary. 20% of one’s gross income going in to one’s 401K as pre-tax income is a fantastic yearly boost!
Max Out Your 401k For Your Retirement
I’ve gone from being a skeptic of the 401K to being a believer. It’s really hard for me, and I’m sure many of you to see how a 401K can help us much in retirement after the first 15 years of contribution. But, as we get older, I’ve come to realize that it really isn’t just the 401k contribution which is going in. It’s much more every single year, which is a much more impactful thanks to our employers’ contributions.
Longevity at one place really does have its merits. Just ask Larry with 35 years of experience and $5.5 million in his 401K alone! It also helps that the stock and bond markets aren’t in a death spiral either.
No longer should we look at our 401K as a pitiful sub-account with woeful contribution to our financial well-being. So long as the government doesn’t pork us in the end with higher taxes upon withdrawal, our 401Ks are going to be huge!
Related: How Much Should I Have In My 401k By Age
Recommendation For Managing Your 401k
I encourage everybody to get a handle on their finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to track my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing, how my net worth is progressing and when my CDs are expiring.
The best part of Personal Capital is their 401K Fee Analyzer tool. It is now saving me over $1,000 a year in portfolio fees I didn’t know I was paying! They’ve also come out with their incredible Retirement Planning Calculator that uses your linked accounts to run a Monte Carlo simulation to figure out your financial future. You can input various income and expense variables to see the outcomes.
Once you’re done maxing out your 401k, it’s time to build your after-tax investments as large as possible so you can earn passive income. Who wants to work until 59.5 anymore?
@James: I do expect to stay with the company (its a state university, so I hope it won’t go out of business soon either), and the annuity is a lifetime one. Another advantage of the pension is they are giving me a TDA account, on which there is a 8.25 guaranteed return, which is pretty good. I figure I’ll put a 6% each in the pension scheme and the TDA, and fool around in the stock market with the rest of my savings (appropriately moving stuff into bonds as I age, according to financial samurai’s chart).
Pensions are great if you expect to stay with the same company for the majority of your career. You may want to check with your coworkers to find out the likelihood of this.
You will need to confirm whether that 55% payment is for a fixed term (e.g., 120 months/ten years) or a lifetime annuitant. Also, check how much you will get if you want payments to continue if you predecease your spouse.
Figuring on a 30 year career, you will have paid approximately 180% of your annual salary into the pension. If you pay into the 401k, your contribution plus the company match will equal approximately 450% of your salary plus any gains or losses incurred on your investment choices.
You can roll over either a pension or a 401k into an IRA account if you leave the company; however, some company pensions will not permit a rollover until you are eligible to draw the pension.
I’m having a hard time choosing between a pension and a 401k. Pension requires me to contribute 6%, and at retirement pays 55% of final salary. In the 401k too my minimum contribution is 6%, but the employer pays 9% as long as I pay my minimum!
I know the conventional advice is to grab a pension plan when you see one, but this has me confused as hell. Advice?
Haven’t seen any comments on this article. I wanted to provide a 2016 perspective, my company currently only has a Pre-tax 401K plan, matching 50% of the first 6% that you contribute. Also, has immediate vesting.
My company matches 7% of pay and does another 10% in Profit Sharing so a total of 24% of pay goes into my 401K annually at a minimum.
Financial Samurai says
Not bad! Hope you are maxing out your 401k then.
Here’s a 401k savings target chart by age.
My employer matches three to one (300%) up to 5% of my salary. I have been doing the 5% contribution which is basically 20% of my salary and putting $5,500 into a Roth IRA. I dont have the best fund selection in the 401K but starting out up 300% on my money I will take it every paycheck.
Financial Samurai says
Not a bad match! But I would advise maxing out the 401(k), and then look at the ROTH IRA.
In general, I’m opposed to the ROTH IRA idea. Please read: https://www.financialsamurai.com/2012/03/29/disadvantages-of-the-roth-ira-not-all-is-what-it-seems/
Dad's Law says
Wow 150% and 10% is nice. Mine is only 100% and 6%.
Man I must be the home run hitter here, 150% match up to 10% of salary or $16,500 whichever is lower. Though the industry standard seems to be around 100% match.
I also get up to 8% salary 100% matched. Seems like I’ve got it good here.
up to 8% 100% matched, seems that I am lucky. Lets see how long it continues
My company matches 75% up to the first 8%, or 6% of my total salary, with no dollar cap.
Mike - Saving Money Today says
My company matches 50% up to the first 6% of compensation, so 3%. Not the best but not the worst either.
401k contributions can add up quick and getting a corporate match is such a good way to boost your retirement savings. Increasing your contribution whenever you get a raise is another way to keep yourself disciplined and watch your balance grow.