Know the Limits of your 401(k)


After the airlines terminated their traditional pensions, the unions were able to negotiate increased contributions into pilots’ 401(k) plans. The highest contributions by any airline company are currently at 16%, which is extremely high. Ask those working in the private sector what their company contributes and you’ll learn that most top out at 6%, which only applies if the employee contributes. Due to the higher funding by the airlines into 401(k) plans, there is a chance you could reach the combined annual limit, (your contribution plus your company’s contribution) called the 415c limit of $55,000, or $61,000 if you are aged 50 or older. Obviously, the more years you have to work and your ability to reach these higher limits will mean a significantly higher potential value of your account upon retirement. 

There are three limits you should understand with reference to your 401(k). They are the employee limit, the overall limit (415c limit) and the compensation limit (401a17 limit). The limit values for 2018 are:

  • Employee – $18,500 below age 50, $24,500 age 50   and older
  • Overall 415c limit – $55,000 below age 50, $61,000 age 50 and older
  • Compensation 410a17 limit – $275,000

The employee limit is pretty straightforward. You choose a percentage of your salary, either pre-tax or Roth(1), and your company deducts this monthly for deposit into your 401(k) account. If you’d like to reach the maximum, divide the employee limit by your annual salary to arrive at a percentage.

The overall 415c limit is a combination of employee and employer contributions and cannot exceed the values above. The more salary you make, the higher the company contribution is, resulting in a higher amount flowing into your account from this source. The “breakeven” salary is about $229,000 per year. Meaning, if you make this salary and contribute the maximum from the employee side, the math works out that in December, you’d reach the 415c limit if your company contributes 16%.

The compensation 401a17 limit means that the IRS will not allow additional company contributions into your 401(k) once you reach this compensation level. The employee may still contribute from their side, however.

Understand that these numbers are maximums and you will likely need to be at one of the major airlines for a while before you can hit them. But this could be your future should you find yourself at an airline continuing up the salary ladder.

If you would like more information or may be interested in tailored financial planning, Flight Line Financial is a firm founded and directed by an airline captain who is a financial advisor. It specializes in retirement planning for airline pilots, providing services at a low, flat annual fee of $500. I invite you to browse the website,, and to contact Glenn Nevola, 1-844-FLIGHTLINE (1-844-354-4485). ACN

  1. With a Roth account, you pay the taxes upfront so you can withdraw tax-free during retirement.
SOURCEAero Crew News, September 2018
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Glenn Nevola
Current airline captain and also financial advisor specializing in providing financial assistance to fellow airline pilots in their pre and post retirement planning. Glenn Nevola has been an airline pilot since 1986 where his career started with People Express Airlines, which merged with Continental Airlines in 1987 and was then merged with United Airlines in 2010. He is currently based in Newark as a 737 captain. In addition to being a pilot, he operated the financial arm of a real estate firm that purchased, renovated, rented, marketed, bundled and sold to investors over a 12-year span. He was personally responsible for over 300 closing during that timeframe. More recently he was a former financial advisor with Morgan Stanley in NYC where he acquired his Series 7 and Series 66 licenses. He brought over to the firm a concept and business model that would assist retiring airline pilots with post - retirement wealth management. This was, in part, augmented by the fact the mandatory retirement age was recently changed from age 60 to age 65 for commercial airline pilots. When Morgan Stanley hired him, the oldest of these pilots were then approximately 63 years of age. His unique position of living in both worlds – flying and finance - provided him the ability to market to his niche in direct target marketing from one of their own. He also has skin in the game, as he is a pilot, who participates in the retirement plans on which he advises and as such is in similar models as many of his clients. As time went on at Morgan Stanley a decision was made, based on many factors such as compliance restrictions, inability to market and assist younger pilots with their desire for 401(k) management and general restrictions on building out the business model, to split off and create his own financial services firm, Flight Line Financial, LLC (FLF) – a registered investment advisor based in NJ. FLF is also licensed in NJ for insurance enabling the firm to provide annuity counseling. This created a win - win scenario for further growth by allowing FLF to focus on 2 distinct groups of pilots – younger pilots, less than age 59 ½ and older pilots over age 59 ½. For the younger group, FLF provides asset allocation strategies incorporating diversification, dollar cost averaging and rebalancing options to pilots for a flat annual fee. Also discussed with this group includes topics such as Roth vs. non-Roth, 529’s, max contribution limits, 415 (c) limits, spousal accounts and other general financial topics. For the older pilot group, FLF has affiliated with a leading wall street firm for post-retirement financial planning. Wealth management services provided include many aspects such as creation of post retirement financial distribution plan, trust and estate planning, diversification, allocation, hedged equities, bond structuring, long term care, etc. The firm FLF is affiliated with has been in the wealth management business since the 1970’s and manages over $2 billion in assets from individual investors. Glenn has the unique position of living in both worlds – flying and finance. He interacts with his target market every time he is at the airport or on a trip. In numerous businesses, owners pay substantially for leads in their specific target market, such as mailing lists, calling lists, email lists, etc. Additionally, servicing the younger pilots creates pipelines for future rollovers. Currently FLF manages approximately $250 million in assets across approximately 200 clients.


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