Elective-Deferral Contribution

The contribution made from one’s employee salary account to one’s employer-sponsored retirement plan

What is an Elective-Deferral Contribution?

An elective-deferral contribution is an employee-authorized contribution made from an employee’s salary account to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. The employee needs to provide consent to the employer to deduct contributions. The funds contributed to retirement plans, including 401(k), 403(b). Elective deferral contributions are a popular way to save for retirement as they have tax advantages and are auto administered by the employer.


How Elective-Deferral Contributions Work?

Elective deferral contributions allow deferring the payment of taxes on income and/or investment capital gains. The pre-tax income contributions made to employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k) and 403(b). It allows an employer to deduct money from an employee’s paycheck and deposit it in the employee’s retirement account. The deduction reduces the employee’s pay, but it also reduces their taxable income for the year.


Elective-Deferral Contribution


The above figure illustrates how elective deferral contribution works. Say a person with an annual salary of $100,000 contributes $10,000 as elective deferral to the employer-sponsored retirement plan. It reduces employee’s taxable income for that year to $90,000. Hence, the employee would need to pay tax on $90,000 instead of $100,000.

People usually withdraw in their retirement or in an emergency. Tax as a penalty is applicable for early withdrawals. For example, an extra 10% tax as a penalty is applicable if an individual makes a withdrawal before age 59½ years. Furthermore, provincial and local taxes may apply for early withdrawals.


Pre-Tax vs. Post-Tax Contributions

Retirement plans are of two types: pre-tax, after-tax accounts, or both. Pre-tax contributions may help reduce taxes during pre-retirement years, while after-tax contributions may reduce one’s taxes during retirement.


Pre-Tax Contributions

A pre-tax contribution is an employee or employer putting money into a retirement account (401(k), traditional IRAs) before the assessment of taxes. A pre-tax account is also known as a “tax-deferred” account as it defers paying taxes on the contribution amount and the earnings generated until one withdraws from the account in the future.

The idea is that one will be in a lower income tax bracket in retirement, which allows more favorable tax rates than one would be during their peak earning years. By deferring taxes, one can reduce their tax bill on the funds in the account.


Post-Tax Contributions

After-tax contributions are contributions made to investment or retirement accounts (Roth IRA) after deduction of taxes from the taxable income. After-tax contributions create a source of tax-free income in the future. Contributions are not tax-deductible in one’s saving years, but tax-free withdrawals can help reduce total taxable income when an individual retires.

When withdrawing from an after-tax (non-retirement account) investment, taxes are applicable on any investment gain above your original investment amount. Within after-tax accounts, taxes are not the same for all gains. The longer one holds an investment, the more favorable is the tax situation.

Long-term investments deliver returns as qualified dividends and capital gains. Such investment income types are subject to a lower tax rate, and in some cases, long-term capital gains are not taxed at all.


Elective-Deferral Contribution Limits

A country’s revenue service agency establishes contribution limits. For the United States, the Internal Revenue Service established contribution limits for an employee’s qualified retirement plan.


Employee Contribution Limit

For 2020 and 2021, individuals under the age of 50 years can contribute up to $19,500 to their retirement account or 100% of the employee’s compensation, whichever is less. Individuals above the age of 50 can make catch-up contributions of $6,500 more for a total of $26,000.

If the employee’s total contributions exceed the deferral limit, the difference is part of their gross income.


Employer Contribution Limit

The employer can make matching contributions for an employee who contributes elective deferrals (for instance, 30 cents for each dollar deferred). Employer matching contributions can be discretionary (contributed in some years and not in others) or mandatory, depending on the employer’s decision.

The total contributions from both the employee and employer to an employee’s retirement plan cannot exceed the following, whichever is less:

  • 100% of the employee’s compensation; or
  • For 2020: $57,000 in total or $63,500 for individuals aged 50 and above, including $6,500 catch-up contribution
  • For 2021: $58,000 in total or $64,500, for individuals aged 50 and above, including $6,500 catch-up contribution


Learn More

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To keep learning and developing your knowledge of financial analysis, we highly recommend the additional resources below:

  • 401(k) Contribution Limits
  • After-Tax Income
  • Deferred Profit-Sharing Plan (DPSP)
  • Backdoor Roth IRA

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