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In the past, a company set a % of pay limit for employee contributions that was affected by the employer's contribution to a 401(k) match, profit sharing, ESOP etc. Through 2001 there was a limit of 25% contribution from the employee and the employer combined. So one firm may be planning a 10% employer contribution, allowing for only a 15% employee contribution, while another firm may be anticipating a 5% emploer contribution, and therefore allow the employee's to contribute up to 20%. This is a different set of criteria than the discrimination testing that you mentioned. I know my plan rules were set based on the expected company contrubution, not based on discrimination testing, so this may be the case for your wife as well.

The kicker is that this 25% limit has been REVISED for 2002 as part of the tax revision. Please have your wife ask her company if they are revising their plan limits for 2002. I recently spent several months with back-and-forth emails before my company agreed that they could raise their 15% employee limit. Don't under-estimate the value of persistence!
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