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1987 was the first year for which I was able to easily find contribution limits, so I ran my spreadsheet from 1987 to 2016 and assumed the individual started working at age 23. I also assumed that 2013-2016 limits would be 17K, 17.5K, 17.5K, and 18K, with a 6K catch-up limit. I used simple interest on contributions for previous years and merely added contributions for the current year (no interest calculated for current year) to get a running total. At the stated maximum contributions
* At 5% return, an individual would have $763,036
* At 6% return, an individual would have $883,071
* At 7% return, an individual would have $1,027,361

A professional couple with good salaries, only 1-2 kids, and no divorce or significant illnesses or layoffs could theoretically do pretty well. But for perspective, the absolute top salary paid in our school district (PhD or Master's+36 and 14 years of experience) is just shy of $58K/year (effectively 10 months). Starting salary is $30K. You can't max out your contributions on that kind of income.

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