This content is provided for general informational purposes only, and is not intended to constitute investment advice or any other kind of professional advice. Before taking action based on such information, we encourage you to consult with appropriate professionals. We do not endorse any third parties referenced within the aforementioned article. Do not infer or assume that any securities, sectors or markets described in this article were or will be profitable. In addition, past performance is no guarantee of future results. There is a possibility of loss. Historical or hypothetical performance results are presented for illustrative purposes only.

Can I change my 401(k) contribution at any time?

Typically, you can change your 401(k) contribution at any time, but the specific rules and processes may vary depending on your employer's plan.



April 19, 2024

5 minutes

What's Playbook? We're your friendly step-by-step app for growing your money and minimizing taxes so you can live the life you want, sooner. Learn more

Key takeaways:
  • Government regulations allow employees to adjust their 401(k) contributions at least quarterly, but many companies permit changes at any time.
  • Employees can change their contribution amount multiple times each year, but the exact frequency depends on their company’s retirement plan guidelines.
  • There are three simple steps to changing your contributions: Read your plan’s fine print, check in with HR, and execute some simple paperwork.
  • You can save more for retirement by increasing  your 401(k) contribution and maximizing your employer’s matching, but may need to contact HR to change contributions.

In this article

      Ever wondered if you can adjust your 401(k) contributions whenever you want? You're not alone. 

      Perhaps the raise you just negotiated is making you consider increasing your retirement savings. Or, if you’re one of the 8% of workers contributing only the automatic default amount, you just realized you could be benefiting more from your employer’s matching contributions.

      The good news? You can likely change your 401(k) contributions at any time. Let's explore some helpful tips that will help you strategically manage the amount you put toward your 401(k) throughout the year.

      When can I change my 401(k) contribution?

      Generally, you can modify your contribution amount at any time, but it ultimately depends on your company’s retirement plan rules. The Department of Labor requires employers to allow quarterly modifications to employer-sponsored retirement plans, but some choose to offer even more opportunities for adjustments. 

      Chart of five 401(k) contribution statistics

      How often can I change my contribution?

      While there's no universal rule, some plans may restrict how frequently you can change your contribution amount, while others may require a waiting period between adjustments. 

      How to change your contribution amount

      To adjust the percentage of your paycheck that goes into your 401(k), you’ll need to look into your company’s retirement plan, talk to the right people, and fill out the necessary paperwork.

      List of three steps to adjusting your 401(k) contribution

      Let’s look at these simple steps to changing your 401(k) contribution.

      Know Your Plan Rules

      Familiarize yourself with your company's 401(k) plan rules, focusing specifically on the eligibility criteria and any limitations on the frequency of contribution changes. Look for the summary plan description, or SPD, in your 401(k) provider’s online portal or get a copy from your plan administrator. 

      Contact HR or your plan administrator

      Reach out to your Human Resources department or the plan administrator to ask for details about the process for changing contributions. Confirm if you have to make changes during specific enrollment periods and whether they can be made online or through paperwork.

      Complete the Paperwork

      The online process will likely only take a few minutes – you’ll update your new contribution amount and provide any other required information. If you prefer a more traditional method, ask your plan administrator for physical copies of the paperwork.

      Most common reasons for changing contributions

      The average American with a 401(k) defers 7.4% of their salary to their account. There are a wide variety of practical reasons why a person may opt to increase or decrease their 401(k) contributions. 

      Common reasons include:

      • Income changes: A raise, bonus, or salary reduction may lead individuals to revisit their 401(k) contribution levels to optimize savings in line with their current earnings. Consider this scenario: Your current annual income is $120,000, and your annual 401(k) contribution is 8%, which equals $9,600. Now, imagine a salary increase brings your new annual income to $140,000. With the flexibility to adjust, you can increase your contribution to 10%, resulting in $14,000 going towards your 401(k).
      • Life events: Marriage, divorce, or the birth/adoption of a child can prompt many people to reassess and adjust their 401(k) contributions to better match up with their new financial responsibilities.
      • Financial goals: Shifts in long-term financial goals, such as buying a home, funding an education, or planning for retirement, often prompt folks to modify their contributions.
      • Market conditions: Economic changes can influence people's risk tolerance and overall investment strategy. During periods of market volatility or stability, some people may adjust their contributions to realign with their current risk preferences.
      • Retirement planning milestones: Many people fine-tune their 401(k) contributions as they near retirement to ensure the total value of their savings can cover the lifestyle they’d like to live.

      Pros and cons of adjusting your contribution

      Modifying your 401(k) contribution could have “hidden” benefits and risks you hadn’t realized. Let’s make sure the energy you’ve put into managing your 401(k) is worth it by considering these potential consequences in advance. 


      The benefits of  being able to tweak your 401(k) contribution include:

      • Flexibility with life changes: You can easily adapt to your life’s landmark moments, such as getting married, having a child, or changing jobs. This flexibility helps to ensure your retirement savings evolve with your financial situation and goals.
      • Optimizing for financial goals: Whether you're aiming to buy a home, fund education, or retire early, adjusting your 401(k) contribution allows you to tailor your savings approach to meet specific milestones.
      • Maximizing employer matches: Employer matching provides free money that can boost your retirement savings. Maximizing your contributions ensures you're making the most of your 401(k). The added bonus is that all of your traditional 401(k) contributions are tax-deferred, so they’ll grow tax-free.


      There are also potential risks to meddling with your contribution to your retirement savings, including:

      • Potential tax implications: Depending on the type of 401(k) plan (traditional or a Roth 401(k)), adjusting your contributions may have tax implications. Reducing your contribution will increase your take-home pay, meaning more of your income becomes taxable. Take time to research and understand any potential tax consequences before you finalize the change. Consider consulting with a financial advisor to ensure you make informed decisions.
      • Market timing risks: Trying to time the market by frequently making changes to your contributions, therefore increasing or decreasing the amount you invest, can be risky. It's difficult to predict market movements (even for the experts), and frequent changes may lead to missed opportunities or unintended losses.
      • Administrative hassle: Some plans may involve paperwork or administrative processes when adjusting contributions. This could be a hassle, especially for anyone who prefers a set-it-and-forget-it approach to retirement saving.

      The Playbook take

      The power to control your 401(k) contributions anytime is at your fingertips. Your company’s retirement plan will explain how often you can change them, and now you know the many reasons to do it.

      Monitoring your 401(k) contributions will help you adjust them strategically to improve your long-term growth. The higher your contributions, the less taxable income you have, so more money goes to your retirement instead of Uncle Sam. And adding a financial planning tool to your toolbox can help you maximize your tax advantages and help that money grow.

      Are there limits on 401(k) contributions?

      Yes, the IRS sets annual limits to prevent disproportionately high contributions. For 2024, the 401(k) contribution limit for people under the age of 50 is $23,000, while those 50 and older are permitted to save up to $30,500 annually.

      Are there penalties for going over the 401(k) contribution limit?

      If you contribute more to a 401(k) than allowed by the IRS, you could be subject to financial penalties, including being taxed twice on the amount that goes beyond the 2024 contribution limit of $23,000 ($30,500 for those age 50 or older) plus a 10% tax penalty for early withdrawal if you're under the age of 59.5.

      Can I make extra contributions to my 401(k)?

      The IRS allows people over the age of 50 to make catch-up contributions of $7,500 in 2024. Maximizing your retirement savings through this type of contribution is a strategy that some high earners use to reduce taxable income.

      Can I contribute to an old 401(k) I just found?

      No, you can’t contribute more funds directly to an old 401(k) account from a previous employer. You also won’t be able to borrow against that account for a quick loan. But you can roll your old 401(k) into an IRA, which you can then contribute to moving forward. You can also roll it over into a new 401(k) account sponsored by your current employer.

      About the author

      Theo Katsoulis, CFA

      Head of Investments

      Theo brings an extensive background in Institutional Asset Management. With a B.A. from Villanova University's School of Business, and having passed the rigorous Series 65 and CFA examinations, he brings significant expertise from portfolio management to understanding intricate financial infrastructures. As Head of Investments at Playbook, he ensures consumers receive exceptional diligence and care for their investment portfolios.

      Tanza Loudenback, CFP®


      Tanza is a CFP® certificant, writer, and editor. From 2015 to 2021, she was a top-read author and editor at Insider. Her work focuses on helping people make smart decisions with their money and is published by a variety of online publications.

      Get an airtight financial plan
      in minutes.
      Playbook is a step-by-step app for growing your money and minimizing taxes so you can live the life you want, sooner.

      Save your cents from Uncle Sam

      Grow your wealth with a personalized financial plan and tax-advantaged investments.

      Start saving today

      Save your cents from Uncle Sam

      Grow your wealth with a personalized financial plan and tax-advantaged investments.

      Start saving today

      Save your cents from Uncle Sam

      Grow your wealth with a personalized financial plan and tax-advantaged investments.

      Start saving today

      In this article