401(k) Contribution Limits for Highly Compensated Employees in 2024

About the Author

ep wealth advisors

EP Wealth Advisors

Learn about the 401k contribution limits for highly compensated employees (HCEs). Discover how HCEs are defined, the additional limits they face, and strategies to potentially maximize their retirement savings.

401(k) Contribution Limits for Highly Compensated Employees

A 401(k) plan is a powerful tool for saving toward a comfortable retirement. These employer-sponsored plans allow employees to contribute a portion of their salary on a pre-tax basis, often with the added benefit of employer-matching contributions. However, it's crucial to understand the contribution limits, especially if you are a highly compensated employee (HCE).

HCEs face unique challenges when it comes to maximizing their 401(k) contributions due to additional limits and restrictions set by the IRS. These rules are designed to ensure that 401(k) plans do not disproportionately benefit high earners, promoting fairness and equality in retirement savings opportunities.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the specifics of 401(k) contribution limits for highly compensated employees. We'll define what it means to be an HCE, explore the various limits that apply to their contributions, and discuss strategies to help HCEs make the most of their retirement savings. By understanding these limits and regulations, HCEs can better navigate their 401(k) plans and work towards a secure financial future.

Defining Highly Compensated Employees (HCEs)

The IRS defines a highly compensated employee as someone who meets either of the following criteria  :

  • Owned more than 5% of the interest in the business at any time during the year or the preceding year, regardless of compensation.
  • Received compensation from the business of more than $155,000 in the preceding year (as of 2024) and, if the employer so chooses, was in the top 20% of employees when ranked by compensation.

It's essential for employees to know whether they fall into the HCE category, as this classification can impact their ability to maximize their 401(k) contributions.

401(k) Contribution Limits for HCEs

In 2024, the general 401(k) contribution limit for all employees is $23,000 with an additional $7,500 catch-up contribution allowed for those aged 50 or older. However, HCEs may face additional limits:

  1. The 415(c) limit: This is the overall limit on total contributions (employee and employer) to a participant's account, which is the lesser of 100% of the participant's compensation or $69,000 (as of 2024).
  2. The 401(a)(17) limit: This is the maximum amount of compensation that can be considered when calculating contributions and benefits. In 2024, this limit is $345,000.

In addition to these limits, HCEs may also be affected by non-discrimination testing. These tests, such as the Actual Deferral Percentage (ADP) and Actual Contribution Percentage (ACP) tests, ensure that 401(k) plans do not unfairly favor HCEs. If a plan fails these tests, HCEs may be required to reduce their contributions or receive refunds of excess contributions.

Strategies for HCEs to Maximize Retirement Savings

Despite the additional limits and restrictions, HCEs can still take steps to potentially maximize their retirement savings:

  • Contribute up to the maximum allowed: HCEs should aim to contribute as much as possible within the limits set by the IRS and their employer's plan.
  • Explore other retirement savings options: HCEs can consider contributing to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) or taxable brokerage accounts to supplement their 401(k) savings.
  • Encourage non-HCEs to participate: Higher participation rates among non-HCEs can help plans pass non-discrimination tests, allowing HCEs to maximize their contributions.

    Why HCEs Should Know Their 401(k) Contribution Limits

    Understanding 401(k) contribution limits is crucial for highly compensated employees who want to make the most of their retirement savings opportunities. By staying informed about the various limits and restrictions, and employing strategies to maximize their savings, HCEs can navigate the complexities of their 401(k) plans and work towards a secure financial future.

    Remember, every individual's financial situation is unique, and it's always best to consult with a financial advisor who can provide personalized guidance retirement planning advice based on your specific circumstances and goals.


  • Information presented is general in nature and should not be viewed as a comprehensive analysis of the topics discussed. It is intended to serve as a tool containing general information that should assist you in the development of subsequent discussions. Content does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice nor is it intended to supplement professional individualized advice.  
  • Hiring a qualified advisor and/or financial planner does not guarantee investment success and does not ensure that a client or prospective client will experience a higher level of performance or results. No guaranty or warranty is made that any direct or implied results or projections being represented here will be met or sustained.
  • The need for a financial advisor or financial planner and/or the type of services required are specific to the uniqueness of each individual’s circumstances. There is no guarantee or warrantee that the services offered by EP Wealth Advisors, LLC will satisfy your specific financial services requirements. Services offered by other advisors may align more to your specific needs.
  • All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Different types of investments and investment strategies involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment or strategy will be suitable or profitable for a client's portfolio. The risk of loss can never be eliminated even if working with a professional.
  • EP Wealth Advisors, LLC. is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC and only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. SEC registration does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by the Commission nor does it indicate that the advisor has attained a particular level of skill or ability
  • Request an appointment with an EP Wealth Advisor when you have a minimum of $500,000 in investable assets – which includes qualified retirement plans (IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k), taxable brokerage, cash (savings / checking) and CDs. Investable assets do not include your home, vehicles, or collectibles.
  • The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisors. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult with a professional tax advisor who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your situation. EP Wealth Advisors is not in the business of providing legal or tax advice. Please consult with a CPA, tax professional, and/or attorney regarding your specific situation.


Our breadth of coverage across the U.S. means we’re local—here to serve your needs at your convenience.