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Alert: NQDC Participants Affected By 2017 Limits For Qualified Retirement Plans

November and December are the months when many NQDC plan participants must choose how much of next year’s salary to defer. Influencing this decision about nonqualified plans are the contribution and benefit limits that apply to qualified retirement plans. Importantly, the contribution limits of qualified plans form the major reason for the existence of nonqualified plans: to allow executives and key employees to save additional amounts for retirement with an elective nonqualified plan or an excess 401(k) plan. (See also our FAQ on the top year-end-planning issues, which may change in upcoming years with a new president and the possibility of tax reform.)

The contribution limits for qualified plans are provided under Section 415 of the Internal Revenue Code, and every autumn the IRS announces figures for the following year. The limits are adjusted annually for inflation. While there are slight increases in some limits for 2017, in others the 2016 figures continue.

What this means: The changes in limits from 2016 to 2017 are slight. If you have already maxed out your qualified plan contributions for 2016, you will probably do the same in 2017, so you will need to rely on NQDC plans to defer any salary and bonus increases you expect in 2017.

The table below presents the qualified plan limits for 2016 and for 2017. (See the IRS release announcing the 2017 figures.)

Qualified Plan Contributions: Annual Limits That Affect NQDC Plans

Contribution type/limit 2016 2017
Compensation allowed in qualified deferral and match calculation $265,000 $270,000
Elective compensation deferrals $18,000 $18,000
Catchup contributions for people aged 50 or older $6,000 $6,000
Total defined contribution limits (employee and employer contributions) $53,000 + catchup contribution $54,000 + catchup contribution
Defined benefit plan payout limits $210,000 $215,000
Income threshold defining key employees for the purposes of top-heavy plans and the six-month delay on payout upon separation $170,000 $175,000
Income threshold defining highly compensated employees for the purposes of nondiscrimination testing $120,000 $120,000

Set by the Social Security Administration, the Social Security wage cap will rise in 2017 to $127,200, a significant increase from $118,500 in 2016. With the 6.2% rate of Social Security tax, the maximum possible Social Security withholding in 2017 is $7,886.40.

For a table comparing the features of 401(k) plans and NQDC plans, and their relative advantages and disadvantages, see an FAQ at myNQDC.com.

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