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Adding it Up: An IRS Reminder About 403(b) Contribution Limits

The IRS is reminding employers that the annual contribution limit for their 403(b) plans may require information from employees who participate in a qualified 401 plan of another employer.

The Internal Revenue Code caps the total of employee contributions (other than the age 50+ catch-up), employer contributions, and forfeitures that can be allocated to a 403(b) participant’s account each year. In 2021, that limit is 100% of the participant’s compensation up to $58,000 (and subject to annual IRS cost of living adjustments). 

In August 2021, the IRS updated its Issue Snapshot (“Application of IRC Section 415(c) when a 403(b) plan is aggregated with a Section 401(a) defined contribution plan”).  The IRS recapped the special annual contribution rules requiring the aggregation of a participant’s 403(b) account with that individual’s account under an outside employer’s plan if:

  • the individual has more than a 50% ownership interest in the outside employer sponsoring the defined contribution plan;
  • the outside employer sponsors a defined contribution qualified 401 plan or simplified employee pension (SEP); and
  • the individual participates in that plan of the outside employer.

The IRS stresses the importance of an employer gathering data on employees participating in outside defined contribution plans, noting: 

“This issue is frequently found during examinations of 403(b) plans maintained by governmental and tax-exempt healthcare entities and colleges/universities. This is because many of the healthcare doctors and the university professors maintain a practice outside of the entity that is the general 403(b) plan sponsor.”

Best Practices for 403(b) Plan Sponsors

In the event of an audit of the 403(b) plan, the IRS would be assessing the sufficiency of the employer’s internal controls, including:

  • Protocols regarding outside employment. If an employer permits its employees to be employed by another unrelated entity, the employer’s procedures should include informing employees about the need for outside plan data to comply with the IRS annual contribution limit rules.
  • Annual solicitation of information from employees regarding ownership interest in any outside employer. An employer should notify employees at least annually that they may need to provide contribution information if they participate in another employer’s plan during the year to enable the 403(b) sponsor to monitor the IRS annual contributions limit. The employer should also have protocols to solicit any ownership interest of such individuals in an unrelated employer. 
  • Review of contribution information from outside plans. If the employee does meet the IRS criteria for aggregating the 403(b) account with an outside employer’s defined contribution plan, annual contributions made on behalf of the individual under that defined contribution plan must be combined with the contributions to allocated to the participant’s 403(b) account to determine whether the IRS annual contribution limit has been exceeded. 
  • Make any necessary corrective distributions timely. If there is an excess, the IRS requires that a corrective distribution of that excess (and attributable earnings) be made first from the 403(b) plan. A corrective distribution of the excess over that year’s IRS annual contribution limit must be made from the 403(b) plan by the end of the year in which the excess occurred. 

Helpful Resources

The IRS Issue Snapshot can be found at  

Linda Segal Blinn, J.D.*, is vice president of Technical Services for Tax-Exempt Markets at Voya Financial. In this capacity, Blinn leverages over 30 years of experience administering and designing defined contribution plans to provide general legislative and regulatory information to assist public and non-profit employers in operating their retirement plans.

* Linda is not a practicing attorney for Voya Financial.

Used by permission. The original is here.

This material was created to provide accurate information on the subjects covered. It is not intended to provide specific legal, tax or other professional advice. The services of an appropriate professional should be sought regarding your individual situation. These materials are not intended to be used to avoid tax penalties, and were prepared to support the promotion or marketing of the matters addressed in this document. The taxpayer should seek advice from an independent tax advisor.

Opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of NTSA or its members.