Roth 401(k): The Retirement Plan That Could Save You Thousands

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

A Roth 401(k) is a retirement plan that has been gaining popularity in recent years. This plan offers significant benefits that could save you thousands of dollars in taxes during retirement. This guide will discuss a Roth 401(k), how it works, and the pros and cons of using this type of plan for your retirement savings. We even include a free Roth 401k Calculator to estimate withdrawals.

What Is A Roth 401(k)?

A Roth 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan that is funded by after-tax dollars. It shares certain similarities with a traditional 401(k) and a Roth IRA, but there are also some significant differences between the three investment options.

Traditional 401(k) vs. Roth 401(k)

The key to understanding the difference between a Roth 401(k) and a traditional 401(k) is taxes and when you pay them.

With a Roth 401(k), you contribute to the account with money that’s already been taxed, so-called post-tax contributions. When you withdraw from your Roth 401(k) later on, you don’t have to pay any income tax.

A traditional 401(k) has you contribute an amount pre-tax, meaning the contribution is deducted from your paycheck before income taxes. Your taxable income for today lowers, but when you take qualified distributions during retirement, withdrawals will be taxed as regular income.

The choice between a Roth vs. Traditional 401(k) is dependent on when you want to face income taxes. Consider if you will be in a higher tax bracket now, as contributions are being made, or further down the line when withdrawals happen during retirement.

  • A traditional 401(k) could be a more beneficial strategy for you if your taxes are expected to go down during retirement. By contributing now, you can avoid higher taxes and pay less when taking distributions later on.
  • A Roth 401(k) may be best for you if you anticipate that your income taxes will be lower in the future. You’ll pay lower taxes on contributions now, and won’t have to worry about higher taxes later. If you’re just starting out your career with a low salary and tax rate, contributing to a Roth401(k) is likely the smarter choice.

If your employer offers matching 401(k) contributions, it is important to note that they must go into a traditional 401(k) account. Even if you’ve chosen to put your money in a Roth 401(k), any employer matches will still be placed in a separate traditional account.

Roth 401(k) Contribution Limits

The contribution limits for Roth 401(k)s and traditional 401(k)s are the same. The maximum employee contribution is $20,500 for 2022; this amount will increase to $22,500 in 2023. For employees who are 50 or older, there is an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 in 2022 and $7,500 in 2023.

401(k) Employee Annual Contribution Limits

Contributions2022 Limit2023 Limit
Maximum Employee Contribution$20,500$22,500
Catch-Up Contributions for those 50 or Older$6,500$7,500

The combined annual contributions to both a Roth 401(k) and traditional 401(k) account cannot exceed set limits.

In 2022, the combined limit between employer matching contributions and employee contributions is either $61,000 or 100% of an employee’s compensation- whichever number is lower. The combined limit for employees over 50 years old in 2022 is $67,500-$6,500 more than other employees due to the catchup contribution provision. In 2023, the maximum allowable amount goes up to  $66,000 or  $73,500 if you are 50 years old or older.

Total 401(k) Employer and Employee Annual Contribution Limits

Contributions2022 Limit2023 Limit
401(k) Employee & Employer Contributions$61,000$66,000
Total Contributions With Catch-Up Contributions (50 or Older)$67,500$73,500

Employer contributions that do not reach the total contribution limit in a year may be supplemented with non-Roth, after-tax contributions to a traditional 401(k) plan.

Roth 401(k) Withdrawal Rules

Withdrawals from a Roth 401(k) can be classified as qualified distributions, hardship distributions, and non-qualified distributions. Remember that each type has different rules, which come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

To start making distributions from your Roth 401(k), you must meet two conditions: be at least 59 ½ years old, and satisfy the five-year rule. The five-year rule states that your first contribution to the account must have been made at least five years before making any withdrawals. However, if you retire and roll your Roth 401(k) balance into a Roth IRA that has been open for more than five years, the required 5 years will already have passed.

If you start contributing to a Roth 401(k) at age 58, you wouldn’t be able to make withdrawals without being subject to penalties until you’re 63.

You are allowed to withdraw money from your Roth 401(k) in cases of hardship, depending on the rules set by your specific plan. These instances include:

  • To pay for medical expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income, you may be eligible to deduct them from your taxes.
  • If you become permanently disabled,
  • If you are a member of the military reserves and have been called to active duty.
  • If you leave employment at age 55 or older.
  • A Qualified Domestic Retirement Order is part of a divorce or court-approved separation.

The beneficiary of your Roth 401(k) will be able to access the full account balance without penalty if you die.

Roth 401(k) Early Withdrawals

Even if you don’t meet the above conditions, you can still withdraw money from your Roth 401(k) account. However, these types of withdrawals are considered to be non-qualified distributions.

If you’re not 59 ½ and don’t want to wait five years after making your first contributions, note that you may have to pay income taxes and a 10% IRS tax penalty on some of the money you withdraw.

The contributions and earnings must be included to withdraw money from your Roth 401k. The amount available for withdrawal will depend on the ratio of contributions to earnings within the account.

Although you may have to pay fewer penalties by withdrawing money from your Roth 401(k) during difficult times, it is still not a good idea to give up your retirement savings. Early withdrawals should always be a last resort when compared with other alternatives.

Roth 401(k) RMDs

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) must be taken from your Roth 401(k) by April 1st of the year after you turn 72, similar to a traditional 401(k). Your annual RMD amount is based on your account balance and life expectancy.

Withdrawing money from your retirement account is a delicate process. You want to ensure you’re taking out enough to live comfortably but not so much that you deplete your savings too quickly. A financial advisor can help you create a withdrawal schedule that meets all of these criteria. They can also help you balance your RMDs and withdrawals with Social Security benefits to ensure you make the most of all your retirement income sources.

If you’re 72 years old, one method of avoiding RMDs is rolling your Roth 401(k) into a Roth IRA. Although, it’s crucial to remember that if you deposit the funds into a newly opened Roth IRA, you may have to wait five more years before taking any qualified withdrawals. However, If you roll the money over into an already existing Roth IRA that has been open for at least five years, there is no waiting period.

Roth 401(k) Loans

Although Roth 401(k) loans are uniform across employers, each employer has the discretion to offer this benefit. Some employers also limit eligibility for a 401(k) loan based on employee seniority.

Although 401(k) loans may have potential benefits, they also come with risks. For example, if you are laid off or quit your job while your loan is still outstanding, you will need to repay the loan in taxes the following year. Taking advantage of all possible extensions would mean having until October 15th of next year to repay the loan; otherwise, any remaining balance on the loan is considered a non-qualified early withdrawal and subject to a 10% tax penalty.

Roth IRA vs. Roth 401(k)

Although both Roth 401(k)s and Roth IRAs are funded through after-tax contributions, there are essential distinctions between these two retirement accounts that you should be aware of:

  • Annual Contributions. The $6,000 Roth IRA contribution limit for 2022 allows an additional $1,000 contribution from people 50 years old or older by year-end. However, it’s crucial to remember that people’s 401(k) annual contribution limits are much higher. Employer contributions to a traditional 401(k) must also be considered when planning for retirement savings.
  • Income Limits. Although anyone at any income level can contribute to a Roth 401(k), income limitations exist for those who want to contribute directly to a Roth IRA. To be eligible, your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for 2022 cannot exceed $144,000 if you’re single or $214,000 if you’re married.
  • Limited Availability. You can open a Roth IRA if you satisfy the eligibility and income requirements, with no limit on how much you contribute. You can only get a Roth 401(k) from an employer.
  • RMDs. When you reach the age of 72, you are required to take RMDs from a Roth 401(k). However, if you have a Roth IRA, there are no RMDs—you can leave the entire balance in the account and pass it down to an heir. (Remember that if you inherit a Roth IRA from anyone other than your spouse, you may still be subject to RMDs.)
  • Early withdrawals. If you have owned a Roth IRA for more than five years, generally, you may withdraw your contributions without being charged a penalty before the age of 59½. Withdrawing earnings typically trigger the 10% tax penalty, however. Taking money out of a Roth 401(k) is more complicated and is described in detail above.
  • Roth 401(k) loans. When you want to access the money in your Roth 401(k) and don’t qualify for an early withdrawal, taking out a loan from your account is always an option. On the other hand, that’s not something that can be done with a Roth IRA.

Roth 401k Savings Calculator

Roth 401k Withdrawal Calculator

An annuity is an insurance policy that provides a retirement income for the rest of your life, even after other savings runs out. Automating this process with an annuity can give you much-needed peace of mind in knowing one less thing to worry about in retirement.

Note: You can purchase an annuity (with no tax penalties) with your traditional and Roth 401(k), IRAs, retirement accounts, investments, and cash.

Roth 401k Withdrawal Comparison

The table below compares using an annuity to distribute your income by systematically withdrawing from retirement plans yourself or through financial advisors.

FeaturesAnnuity401(k)IRARoth IRA
Withdrawal Percentage5.20% – 6.55%4%4%4%
Can Income Increase?YesYesYesYes
Can Income Decrease?NoYesYesYes
How Long Will Money Last?Lifetime30 Years+30 Years+30 Years+
Annual Fees0 – 1.50%1% – 4%1% – 4%1% – 4%
TaxationTaxable/Tax-FreeTaxableTaxableTax-Free
Death BenefitAccount BalanceAccount BalanceAccount BalanceAccount Balance

Example: A 60-year-old retiree starts withdrawing immediately from their $1 million portfolio, they would receive:

Next Steps

A Roth 401(k) is an excellent retirement savings plan that offers many benefits, including tax-free withdrawals in retirement. If you are looking for a way to save on taxes during retirement, a Roth 401(k) may be the right option for you. With our free Roth 401k Calculator, you can estimate your future withdrawals and see how much money you could save using this plan. Contact us today for a quote and to learn more about how we can help you save on taxes during retirement.

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Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

The Annuity Expert is an online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. My goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning or find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates for you. 

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