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Let's say the base salary is $150k, if company A matches 100% of your 401k contribution, but up to 4.5% of your pay. So it is $6750 per year.

If company B matches 50% of your 401k contribution, but up to 9% of your pay. So it is $6750 per year too.

So does it matter really?

I think the difference is

  1. you get to accumulate slightly earlier because the company match more to begin with...
  2. for company A, you contribute 4.5% and company matches 4.5% to make it 9% total, but for company B, you contribute 9% and company matches 4.5% to make it 13.5% total? So company B forces you "save more for retirement"?
  3. For company A, you can "voluntarily" contribute 9% to make it 13.5% total yourself.

In terms of how much the company matches (and give to you), it is the percentage they match times the max percentage, so 100% x 4.5% and 50% x 9% would be the same thing?

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    If you put 9% or more, in either plan, you and the company will contribute the exact same amounts. Anything less, but more than zero, company A wins. – Pete B. Apr 10 '20 at 14:14
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    Another way it can matter is if getting the full match at B would require you to exceed the annual contribution limit. – Ben Voigt Apr 10 '20 at 15:56
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A company match to a 401k is quite literally "free money". The only difference between the two scenarios you outline is the minimum employee contribution necessary for them to receive the full amount of "free money". If you can't afford to contribute 9% of your pay then Company A would be better. Of course, as your pay increases you might be able to contribute more in the future. But Company A is better for all cases unless you can contribute 9%, in which case they are exactly the same.

  1. you get to accumulate slightly earlier because the company match more to begin with...

Not sure what your reasoning is here. That's only true if you contribute the minimum required to get the full match, because you're contributing more to Company B (401k get's 13.5% vs 9% with Company A, as you pointed out). I could be misunderstanding what you mean though.

  1. for company A, you contribute 4.5% and company matches 4.5% to make it 9% total, but for company B, you contribute 9% and company matches 4.5% to make it 13.5% total? So company B forces you "save more for retirement"?

Yes, you can look at it that way, but it might not be the main reason why Company B offers that match.

  1. For company A, you can "voluntarily" contribute 9% to make it 13.5% total yourself

That's correct. If your goal is to contribute 13.5% then the two 401k's are exactly the same in this regard.

In terms of how much the company matches (and give to you), it is the percentage they match times the max percentage, so 100% x 4.5% and 50% x 9% would be the same thing?

Yes, mathematically 1.00 x 0.045 = 0.5 x 0.09

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So does it matter really?

Yes, being required to contribute more to get the full company match is a disadvantage because it limits flexibility.

Net employee/employer contributions will be the same assuming you contribute 9% or more in the scenario you described, but if there ever comes a time where you wanted to decrease 401k contribution to focus on some other financial goal you'd have to forego some employer match at Company B.

Even if you always intend to contribute at least 9% it is nice to have flexibility in case your priorities change. Probably wouldn't be the deciding factor between two jobs, but if all else were truly equal I'd go with Company A every time.

@Ben Voigt points out another potential disadvantage. If your income is high enough the lower match % could mean that you can't capitalize on the full employer match due to contribution limits. Since the max contribution is $19,500 for 2020 (ignoring potential catch-up contributions if you're 50+), if you earned more than $216,667 you couldn't contribute the full 9% to maximize employer match from Company B while you would get full employer match at Company A.

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