2020 Retirement Plan Limitations

On November 6, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service announced the cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) that will take effect January 1, 2020 (IRS Notice 2019-59). These COLAs affect various contribution and deduction limits for qualified retirement plans, as well as the deductible contribution limits for traditional Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).

Internal Revenue Code Section 415(d) requires that the Secretary of the Treasury annually adjust these limits for cost-of-living increases. These adjustment procedures are similar to those used to adjust benefit amounts under Section 215(i)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act.

Some limitations increased, while others remain unchanged from the 2019 limits.  The more common limitations are summarized below, along with the applicable Code Section and/or Treasury Regulations Section (Regs).

Increased Limits

  • The annual deferral limit for 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan increases from $19,000 to $19,500 (Code Sections 402(g)(1),402(g)(3)).
  • The annual contribution limitation for defined contribution plans increases from $56,000 to $57,000 (Code Section (415(c)(1)(A)).
  • The annual maximum considered compensation limit increases from $280,000 to $285,000 (Code Sections 401(a)(17), 404(l),408(k)(3)(C) and 408(k)(6)(D)(ii)).
  • The annual deferral limit for deferred compensation plans of state and local governments, and tax-exempt organizations increases from $19,000 to $19,500 (Code Section 457(e)(15)).
  • The limitation on the annual benefit under a defined benefit plan increases from $225,000 to $230,000 (Code Section 415(b)(1)(A)).
  • The dollar limitation for determining the maximum account balance in an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), subject to a five-year distribution period, increases from $1,130,000 to $1,150,000; and the dollar amount used to determine the lengthening of the five-year distribution period increases from $225,000 to $230,000 (Code Section 409(o)(1)(C)(ii)).
  • The annual “look-back” compensation income limit for purposes of the definition of “Highly Compensated Employee” increases from $125,000 to $130,000 (Code Section 414(q)(1)(B)).
  • The annual compensation threshold for purposes of the definition of “Key Employee” increases from $180,000 to $185,000 (Code Section 416(i)(1)(A)(i)).
  • The annual deferral limitation for SIMPLE retirement accounts increases from $13,000 to $13,500 (Code Section 408(p)(2)(E)).
  • The Social Security Taxable Wage Base increases from $132,900 to $137,700.
  • The maximum amount of catch-up contributions that individuals age 50 or over may make to 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, SEPs and governmental 457(b) plans increases from $6,000 to $6,500 (Code Section 414(v)(2)(B)(i)).
  • The dollar limitation on premiums paid with respect to a Qualifying Longevity Annuity Contract (QLAC) increases from $130,000 to $135,000 (Code Section 1.401(a)(9)-6 and Regs. Section A-17(b)(2)(ii)).

Unchanged Limits

  • The maximum amount that can be contributed to an IRA remains unchanged at $6,000 (Code Section 219(b)(5)(A)).
  • The IRA catch-up contribution limit for IRAs remains unchanged at $1,000 (Code Section 219(b)(5)(A)).
  • The limitation concerning the qualified gratuitous transfer of qualified employer securities to an ESOP remains at $50,000 (Code Section 664(g)(7)).
  • The maximum amount of catch-up contributions that individuals age 50 or over may make to SIMPLE 401(k) plans or SIMPLE retirement accounts remains at $3,000 (Code Section 414(v)(2)(B)(ii)).
  • The compensation threshold for simplified employee pensions (SEPs) remains at $600 (Code Section 408(k)(2)(C)).


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Material discussed is meant for informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as investment, tax, or legal advice. Please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, this information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice.

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