How Much Will My 401(k) Grow if I Stop Contributing?

Close up of a 401(k) statement and pie chart.
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There is something quite adult about discussing your 401(k) plan over canapes at brunch. Or maybe, more realistically, filling out your human resources paperwork during open enrollment for retirement accounts and investment options. Whether you are on your employer’s plan or have started your own retirement plan savings account it is important to know the ins and outs of how your money will grow in this long-term nest egg. 

Does a 401(k) Grow if You Stop Contributing?

If you leave your job or find new employment and have to stop your 401(k) contributions, don’t fret, your money will continue to grow through compounding interest on that account or if you transfer that 401(k) into an IRA or another qualified and secured retirement savings plan.

However, if your 401(k) balance is over $5,000, payments will no longer be taken out of your paycheck nor will your employer match those payments. In this case, you can leave your 401(k) account with your former employer’s 401(k) plan until you wish to take out payments in retirement, which is usually after you reach age 59 to 60. If you have less than $5,000 in your account your employer will most likely cash out or transfer the account to another IRA.

How Does a 401(k) Plan Work?

A 401(k) plan is typically employer-sponsored and will enable you to send a percentage of each paycheck into your investment account, which then will prompt a matching contribution from your employer. There are generally a variety of investment offers or mutual fund options available through the plan as well. 

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How Is a 401(k) Taxed?

You pay taxes on traditional withdrawals from your 401(k) balance as you would on your ordinary salary, similar to income taxes. For early withdrawals you make before retirement, the IRS typically withholds 20%. For example, if you wanted to make an early withdrawal of $5,000 pre-tax, you would only have access to $4,000 after withholding. 

How Much Will a 401(k) Grow?

How much your 401(k) will grow in 20 or 25 years will depend on several factors including, but not limited to, investment selections, your contributions and fees. On average, the rate of return on your 401(k) investment ranges between 5% to 8%.

To find out the exact amount your 401(k) will grow, you can use a retirement calculator. Keep in mind that your retirement age can vary and that your employer may match your contributions up to a certain percentage.

Final Take To GO 

Learning how you can get the most out of your 401(k) isn’t something you have to do alone. Employee programs, human resources and financial advisors can all help you navigate the nuances of annual salary increases, contributions and job changes. 

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Here are answers to frequently asked questions about how 401(k) plans can grow and what happens if you stop contributing.
  • Does a 401(k) grow if I stop contributing?
    • Yes, though you will no longer be adding to it each paycheck, nor will your employer, your 401(k) account will grow just on compound interest alone.
  • How much does your 401(k) grow per year?
    • Generally, a 401(k) plan has an average annual return ranging from 5% to 8%. There are several affecting factors including the following:
      • Market conditions
      • Your contributions
      • Your employer's matching contributions
      • Fees
      • Investment opportunities you've chosen
  • What if I want to stop contributing to my 401(k)?
    • You can stop contributing to your 401(k) and it will still grow by interest alone, the amount of which depends on fees, your contributions, your employee contributions and market conditions. Be aware that if you have stopped contributing due to changing jobs, your former employer may have you cash out your contributions or transfer your 401(k) to another employer's IRA or other retirement plan account.
  • How much do I need in my 401(k) to get $2,000 a month?
    • Though several factors go into what you'll need to cover your cost of living in retirement, many experts advise that you have at least $480,000 saved up before retirement in order to average around $2,000 in distributions per month.

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About the Author

Caitlyn Moorhead has written content for a variety of businesses and publications. After graduating from Central Michigan University cum laude, she moved to New York City where she wrote columns, articles and plays for several years before relocating to Austin, Texas in the fall of 2020.
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