Having access to a 401(k) plan through your job offers a great way to save for retirement. Even if you’re over 70, if you’re still working, you can take advantage of your employer’s 401(k) plan for the tax benefits and any matching contributions that your employer offers. For example, if your employer will match the first $5,000 you contribute to your 401(k), you can put in $5,000, receive the match, and shortly thereafter take a withdrawal without penalty because you’re over 59 ½ years old.
Since there's not a maximum age for 401(k) plan participation, you can contribute money to a 401(k) plan as long as you're still working and have put in at least one year of service at your employer.
401(k) Plan Eligibility
The IRS does not impose a maximum age for who can participate in a 401(k) plan. Instead, the IRS requires that you be at least 21 years old and have at least one year of service at your job. However, your employer can choose to be less restrictive, such as allowing employees who are 20 years old to participate, or waiving the requirement that you work for the company for a year before you’re eligible to join.
Annual Contribution Limits
You’re limited to how much you can put into your 401(k) plan each year based on your age and your compensation from the employer who sponsors the plan. When you’re 50 or older, you’re entitled to contribute an extra amount, known as a catch-up contribution. But, the total contributions you make each year can’t exceed your compensation from working for the company.
As of 2019, the standard contribution limit is $19,000, and the catch-up contribution limit is $6,000. So if you’re 70 ½ years old, you can put in up to $25,000 to your 401(k) plan.
Required Minimum Distributions
Even though you’re allowed to contribute to a 401(k) plan when you’re over 70 ½ years old, you might be required to take required minimum distributions every year as well. For 401(k) plans, you are required to start taking required minimum distributions in the year you turn 70 ½, though the first distribution can be delayed until April 1 of the following year. All future required minimum distributions must be taken by the end of the calendar year.
If you’re still working, however, you can usually delay required minimum distributions until the year that you retire, but this exception doesn’t apply if you own more than 5 percent of the company. In addition, even though the IRS allows 401(k) plans to permit their employees to delay required minimum distributions until after they retire, some 401(k) plans require employees to start taking such distributions in the year they turn 70 ½ even if they haven’t retired yet.
Based in the Kansas City area, Mike specializes in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."