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How Much Should You Contribute To Your 401(k)?

A 401(k) is an important tool for maximizing your retirement savings. But it's not the only one. We break down how much you should contribute to your 401(k), how much should go to other vehicles like IRAs, and how to balance retirement savings with other priorities like paying down debt.

Ten percent? Twenty percent? More?

I’ve written a lot about the benefits of both 401(k)s and IRAs. We’ve also looked at the emerging Roth 401(k) option and when it makes sense for young investors.

But everybody’s next question is: “Okay, okay, but how much should I put into my 401(k)?”

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer

One of the most popular posts in this blog’s ten-year archives is “How Much Should Be In Your 401(k) At 30?”

I was 25 when I wrote it, trying to decide how much to contribute to my own 401(k).

But what I learned from over 200 (sometimes nasty) comments is that setting a savings benchmark by age alone is silly; no two savers are the same. You can’t compare the engineer who graduated at 22 into a $65,000-a-year job with no student loan debt to a doctor who starts practicing at 29 and has $200,000 in loans. Or the social worker earning $35,000 a year and needing all of it just to eat.

You can use this basic 401(k) calculator to estimate how much you will save on your 401(k) based on your personal status:


Traditional 401(k) Calculator


Your Basic info:

401(k) Contributions:




The percentage of your salary you contribute towards your 401(k). The maximal contribution can be no more than $19,000 ($1,583 a month).




The percentage of your contribution that your employer matches.




The maximum percentage of your salary that your employer will match


401(K) savings summary

in retirement at your current savings rate

to maintain a similar income in retirement
Assumes 6% annual rate of return on your 401(k) investment.
401(k) fee of 0.05%.
Retirement age of 67 and life expectancy of 95.

Today I want to provide slightly more tactical advice. As a percentage of your income, how much should you contribute to your 401(k)?

  • If you’re in debt?
  • If you can also do a Roth IRA?
  • If your employer do

Your money deserves more than a soundbyte.

Get straightforward advice on managing money well.

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