Most Americans Unaware of IRS Deferral Limits

A recent survey from Fifth Third Bank finds a vast majority of Americans cannot identify the Internal Revenue Service’s limits placed on annual tax-advantaged retirement plan deferrals.

According to a recent survey from Fifth Third Bank, fully 90% of Americans do not know the amount of money they can defer to their 401(k) or other defined contribution plan accounts annually without triggering tax repercussions.

As the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) explains, the elective deferral/contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan has increased from $17,500 in 2014 to $18,000 for the 2015 plan year. The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over also increased $500, from $5,500 to $6,000. Effective January 1, 2015, the limitation on the annual benefit under a defined benefit plan under Section 415(b)(1)(A) remains unchanged at $210,000.

Despite the fact that the IRS tends to increase these limits by a small margin annually, Fifth Third Bank researchers find very few retirement savers in the U.S. are either aware of the limit or actually set their deferrals to match it. This is despite the fact that following the IRS’s annual deferral increases can give a major boost to retirement readiness and projected lifetime income levels. Even for people saving below the high water mark permitted by the IRS, enacting a $500 increase in annual savings can result in an extra $110,000 return over a 40-year time horizon.

“It’s clear that there is a gap between believing oneself to be financially savvy and having all the knowledge needed to successfully manage one’s financial life,” says Camino Smith, senior vice president of community and economic development for Fifth Third Bank. “This is especially true as it pertains to saving for the future.”

While the survey found that nearly 60% of respondents feel they are financially savvy, 44% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Other key findings from the survey show less than half of Millennials know what a credit score measures, while 60% of Americans of all ages do not have enough money saved to pay bills for six months in the case of an emergency or unexpected loss of income.

Fifth Third Bank concludes that retirement savers tend to do much better in the long run when they have access to training and education from a financial adviser or some other trusted professional resource. The bank encourages plan sponsors and advisers to find ways to efficiently educate more Americans on these key financial topics. Even if they do not have the assets to make one-on-one financial advice tenable, Americans have a thirst for support when it comes to budgeting, controlling credit and creating emergency funds.

More information on the survey and Fifth Third Bank is here.