Should I Contribute to a Roth 401(k)?


How much?

One of the most frequent questions that I get asked by my friends is how much they should contribute to their 401(k) for retirement.  My answer is always the same– AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.  Right now as I am writing, each individual is allowed to contribute $18,000 into their 401(k) per year.  This is the figure for which you should be striving.  


Now let me take a step back, as I’m not so callous to believe everyone has the ability to contribute the maximum allowed in your 401(k).  If you’re one of the lucky ones that actually get a 401(k) take advantage.  Currently, less than 50% of Americans currently are offered a 401(k).  Think about that for a second; only one out of two Americans have the ability to contribute to a 401(k).  This is mind boggling!!!  The average social security monthly benefit is $1,335 according to the Social Security Administration.


Compounding Interest

contribute to a roth 401kAlbert Einstein once attributed compound interest to “the most powerful force in the universe.”  


If you can’t contribute the maximum amount, I encourage you to contribute at least to your company’s match.  The average 401(k) contribution company match is currently 3%.  While that may seem paltry if you start at age 22, based on a 8% rate of return from the S&P 500, using the average US salary of $52,000, you can see below on chart that you can be a millionaire.  For those that are curious, I also provide a column if you are able to contribute the maximum contribution to your 401(k).  There is a visual chart below for those that want to see compounding interest in full effect.


Age 3% Growth Maximum w/ Match
22 $3,120.00 $19,560.00
25 $15,298.42 $93,434.04
30 $43,835.62 $262,010.60
35 $86,855.57 $510,249.58
40 $151,211.00 $875,566.59
45 $246,973.65 $1,412,938.83
50 $388,945.19 $2,203,147.36
55 $598,877.29 $3,364,887.60
60 $908,733.53 $5,072,563.70
65 $1,365,482.40 $7,582,434.35


Big Debts Before 401(k)

Depending on your situation, if you have debt, I would encourage you to continue to pay that down before you try to maximize your 401(k).  The easy math behind this is, if you are contributing to a 401(k) that on average makes 8% a year but you pay 19% a year on a credit card balance, you would get a bigger return on your money by paying off the credit card balance.  However, if you don’t have any debt except for your mortgage, I would encourage you to maximize your 401(k) as much as you can.  Following the chart above, it will definitely pay off in the long run.  


Roth 401(k)

Now one of the newest wrinkles in the 401(k) world is the Roth 401(k).  This is just like a Roth IRA with employee contributions that are not tax-deductible but will grow tax-free.  Please note that the employer portion will be applied to the traditional 401(k) account.  The government still wants to tax you on this amount; otherwise, it would be a no-brainer to get a match using after-tax dollars from your employer.  So, now that we’ve gone through the options, which one should you do?  


cash-1169650I contend that you should hedge just like your portfolio.  I think the perfect allocation is 50% in the Roth IRA and 50% in the traditional 401(k).  Unfortunately, nobody knows what the future holds with taxes.  So whether they go up or down, you will have a hedge of protection in the future.


If you are potentially eligible to invest in a Roth IRA, one downside to be aware of is your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI).  If you exceed your MAGI, you will be ineligible to contribute to your Roth IRA.  In a previous article, I went in depth with the Roth IRA, if you’d like more information.   


Remember, between the Roth IRA and 401(k), you are able to contribute a total of $23,500.  $18,000 would go towards your 401(k) and $5,500 towards your Roth IRA.  (If you are over 50, you get to save an additional $6,000 in your 401(k) and $1,000 in your Roth IRA).  So, make sure contributing to a Roth 401(k) doesn’t push you over the Roth IRA limit before you contribute.


Do you contribute to a Roth 401(k) or a Traditional 401(k)?  Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Mustard Seed Money

Welcome to the website. A mustard seed is a very small seed but astonishingly grows very large over time. My hope is that through your financial journey that your small investment in time, money and faith will grow beyond anything that you could ever imagine.


  1. Whether it be a 401(K) or the Aussie equivalent (superannuation) I’m amazed about people putting cash into these accounts for their retirements.. My thoughts and this isn’t advice 😉 are that I’d rather build wealth outside due to the changes that are likely to take place in policy before I’m anywhere near retirement..

    Maybe I’m being difficult haha and should answer the question asked 🙂

    Love your work though MSM!

    • Hahaha Jef!!! I always appreciate your comments and thoughts. The government changing their mind is something that definitely worries me when it comes to 401ks or the Aussie equivalent(superannuation). But I also think if they’re going to change 401ks they might change brokerage accounts too 🙂

      Who knows what the future will hold but hopefully they don’t change the rules on us 🙂

      • Fair call here MSM, you make some damn convincing points here.. Love it ;)!
        I suppose that’s what life is about right, change and then it’s not about what happens but rather how we react that’s important :)!

        You’re welcome and I’ll keep stopping by

  2. Nice take on the Roth vs Tranitional. My company doesn’t offer the option, are you familiar with any other options?

    I love the strategy of maxing your 401k out at $18,000 and it makes sense. For me I have always been torn between that and using that money for other investments. I think it just depends on the financial situation of the individual.
    Financialbloke recently posted…To Leverage or Not to LeverageMy Profile

    • I’m not aware of any other options with a 401k. Personally I max out my traditional 401k and then max out my Roth IRA to hedge my bets of taxes in the future. The really nice thing about maxing out my 401k is it lowers the amount of taxes that I pay now, which means that I can invest that tax savings in some other funds 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge