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I've been told that contributions to a 401(k) are different than a 401(a), because one is mandatory, and the other is voluntary.

I would LOVE to just put 100% of my salary for the teaching into the 401(a), and just live (easily) off the salary from which I am also contributing to the 401(k).

Well, because of the required SS/Medicare tax deferrals from your salary, your contribution could only be 94.65% for 2012, probably bumping down to 92.65% for 2013.

Then, your 401(a) plan would need to be set up to allow you contribute >90% of your salary. There used to be requirements that employees couldn't contribute any more than 25% of their salaries to deferred compensation plans. Those limits were lifted several years ago, but many plans still have limits in place, so it's more of an issue with how your plan is set up.

I just want to make sure Uncle Sam doesn't have a beef with me throwing wads and wads at my retirement, just because I can, and frankly, need to.

If you are under 50, you are limited to an annual contribution of $17,000 for 2012, and an additional $5,500 if you will be 50 or older by the end of 2012. Your total contributions between all of your plans is limited to this amount, so you need to ensure you don't surpass those limits if you are contributing to more than one plan.

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