How Investing in a 401(k) Affects Take-Home Pay

a cracked egg with a 100 dollar bill representing retirement funds
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Many people are hesitant to begin investing in their 401(k) plans because they are worried about how it will affect their take-home pay.

Your take-home pay might not be greatly lowered when you increase the amount you contribute each month. One of the easiest ways to increase the amount you contribute is to add to the amount you contribute each time you are given a raise; you might not even notice a difference in your take-home pay. 

You should invest at least enough to receive your employer's match, even if you are focused on getting out of debt or saving for a house. This is money that you otherwise would be passing up, and it can greatly affect your future. If you do not save now, you may struggle in your retirement years. 

Key Takeaways

  • For some people, investing in a 401(k) can be concerning, because it reduces their total take-home pay.
  • Even if you are saving for a house or trying to pay down debts, you should contribute to your retirement plan up to your employer's match, if possible.
  • How your contributions are withheld from your paycheck depends on the specific type of 401(k) you have.
  • The sacrifices you make now by contributing to retirement will prevent you from having to make more difficult decisions when you're retired.

How Contributions to a 401(k) Affect Your Paycheck

It is important to realize that contributions made to a 401(k) are made on a pretax basis. That means your taxable income is lowered, and so the amount you pay in taxes is lowered. So, you pay less in taxes, and your take-home pay will not be affected by the same amount you contribute. It may decrease slightly, but not by much.

Some companies have stopped offering an employer match, but it is still important to contribute to your 401(k). Five percent is a good starting point if you are not receiving an employer match.

Making your first 401k contribution can be the starting point of your retirement savings, and then you can use the rest of your money toward getting out of debt. Once you have done that, it is recommended to increase your retirement savings to up to 15% of your gross income. Additionally, retirement savers can set a personal goal to increase lower initial contributions by 1% to 2% annually (or use an auto increase/escalation tool if available in their 401(k) plan).

Of course, a saver is not restricted to a specific incremental increase, and higher bumps up are also welcome. The money you contribute now will grow exponentially over the years, and it is important not to waste the extra time you have to grow your retirement savings.

  • Think about the long-term benefits of investing in your retirement that will make life easier in the future.
  • Focus on contributing regularly. The market will go up and down, but if you continue to invest, you should be in a more comfortable position when it comes to retiring.
  • A traditional 401(k) is a good option, because it can reduce the amount you pay in taxes now, which may make it easier to continue investing when money is tight.

How a Roth 401(k) Affects Take-Home Pay

If you have the option of a Roth 401(k), your contributions will directly affect your take-home pay, because the contributions are made with after-tax dollars. The biggest advantage of the Roth 401(k) is that the earnings are not taxable. This can end up saving you a lot in taxes once you have hit retirement.

You should consider taking advantage of a Roth 401(k) if your company gives you the option. However, it does mean that the amount you contribute will be taken directly from the amount that you would otherwise take home, so you would need to adjust your budget accordingly

This is similar to a Roth IRA, because the contributions will not reduce the amount you pay in taxes each year. However, the benefit of not paying taxes on your earnings can pay off once you are in retirement age. It is something to consider carefully if your employer offers a Roth 401(k).

  • A Roth 401(k) allows you to avoid taxes on your investment earnings. 
  • This can be a good option if you are not worried about lowing your taxable income.

If You Don't Qualify for a 401(k)

If your company does not offer a 401(k) plan, or if you have to wait for a year to begin participating, you should still be saving for retirement. You can do this by setting up a Roth IRA account through a brokerage firm or a bank. The money should be invested in mutual funds, and you can sign up for a company that will accept monthly contributions without a fee. This will get you started saving for retirement right away.

Remember that investing for retirement is one of your top priorities. It is essential so you can support yourself in the future. Careful planning and steady contributions will help you retire comfortably. You should regularly invest in retirement, even if it means you have to scrimp a little bit more at home than you did before you started contributing to retirement.

The sacrifices you make now will prevent you from making difficult decisions once you retire. You may want to consider other investments if you max out your allowable 401(k) contributions.

If you are uncertain about how to start investing for retirement on your own, you can talk to a financial advisor who can take you through the steps and help you set up an account. When you are young, more aggressive and riskier investments can help you earn more.

As you get older, you should move to more conservative investments that are safer, since you might not have enough time for the economy to recover if it goes through a slump.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much do 401(k) contributions take out of my paycheck?

Each individual decides how much of their paycheck they want to contribute to their 401(k) plan. You aren't required to put any money in your retirement plan, but you may forfeit matching contributions from your employer if you don't contribute.

How much of my paycheck should go to my 401(k)?

The portion of your paycheck you should contribute to your 401(k) depends on your age, your company policy, and your general financial situation. The younger you are when you start a 401(k), the less you might need to contribute from each paycheck. It's also a good idea to maximize your employer's contributions, although you should ensure that you have emergency savings set aside before saving too aggressively for retirement.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "401(k) Plan Overview."

  2. Fidelity. "How Much Should I Save for Retirement?"

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Plans FAQs on Designated Roth Accounts."

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