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Investment Strategy for When You Max Out Your 401(k)

Written by Jeff Rose on June 12, 2012 in Retirement  |   5 comments

If you are searching for guidance after maxing out your 401(k), that means you are doing some wise investing. Once you have contributed the annual maximum amount of $17,000 ($22,500 for people 50 and older), you may be looking for alternative ways to make the…

If you are searching for guidance after maxing out your 401(k), that means you are doing some wise investing. Once you have contributed the annual maximum amount of $17,000 ($22,500 for people 50 and older), you may be looking for alternative ways to make the most of your savings and polish up your investment strategy. A variety of investment options are available that can be helpful in assisting you to supplement your 401(k).

An emergency cash fund

If you have contributed the maximum to your retirement account, consider setting up a savings account for a rainy day. An unforeseeable event may occur at any point in your life, exposing the need for immediate cash. Try setting aside at least six months’ worth of expenses. The yields are not as high as they used to be, but savings accounts are good places to stash your emergency cash without risk.

A Roth IRA

You may qualify for a Roth IRA if you are below the income-cap guidelines: Your modified adjusted gross income must be less than $110,000 to $125,000 for a single person and $173,000 to $183,000 for married couples.

Singles are allowed to contribute up to $5,000 a year and married couples can contribute $10,000 together. Contributions are not tax deductible, but the earnings are tax-free. If you are 59½ and have had your Roth IRA for five years or more, you may make qualified withdrawals that are exempt from a 10 percent penalty from Uncle Sam.

Nondeductible IRAs

If you do not qualify for a Roth IRA, a non-deductible IRA—or traditional IRA—will assist in maximizing your retirement savings. Non-deductible IRAs are funded with non-deductible contributions if you are already covered by your employer’s 401(k) and your modified adjusted gross income is in excess of the established income limit. You then have the option of converting the IRA to a Roth. Just know that you’ll have some tax consequences if you pursue this investment strategy.

Taxable investment accounts

Simple mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will assist in building your financial portfolio. When you invest in a taxable investment account, you have access to your money without a penalty, unlike a 401(k) and IRA, where you will be assessed fees if you make withdrawals before you are of retirement age.

Remember, if you cash these accounts out too early, you will have to pay a capital gains tax on the return. To help keep costs down, consider holding on to these types of accounts for more than a year before making the sale. ETFs typically have lower turnover than mutual funds, which will also decrease your taxable liability.

If you continue to max out your 401(k) each year, meet with a financial advisor about other avenues of saving money. In this economy of low interest rates and volatility, loyal employees may find themselves lacking the funds necessary for a comfortable retirement. As your financial demands for retirement increase, you need to fund accordingly.

The saying “don’t put your eggs in one basket” rings true when you are planning for your retirement future. Maxing out your 401(k) is a great way to earn more, but diversifying your investment options will increase your retirement savings.


Jeff Rose is a certified financial planner and author of the blogs Good Financial Cents and Soldier of Finance.  Learn more about his Roth IRA Movement that has inspired over 140 personal finance advisors to educate young adults on the importance of saving. 

5 comments

  1. Glenn Trieff says:

    As far the IRS is concerned..The ‘Catch up’ provision which adds $5,500 to the contribution limit (in 2012) is at age 50 and above – not 55.

  2. Mat Ericcson says:

    Generally speaking, do most 401k plans allow the participant to invest in individual stocks?

  3. Jeff Rose says:

    @ Mat

    Generally speaking, that’s not the case. I’ve encountered small businesses (think doctor’s office) where they allow self-directed investing where you can buy stocks. But with most big companies, there’s too much liability if they allow that.

    Hope that helps!

  4. Chris Dwyer says:

    You are missing tax free retirement options. No cap on how much you put in, grows tax deferred and comes out tax free.


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