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The reason I ask is that my employer allows 15% of salary to be invested in the 401(K) plan, but for me this does not reach the 10,500 limit for this year.

There is also a tax consideration (for your employer) which effectively creates a 'soft cap' on employee deferrals at 15% of the payroll as a whole. The easiest way to ensure that no more than 15% of the total payroll is deferred in the 401k is to ensure that no individual employee contributes more than 15% to the plan.

I've lost track of whether this 'soft cap' is being repealed for next year or not.

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