What is a 401k Retirement Plan? A Quick Overview
Employer-sponsored retirement plans are generally grouped into two major categories: defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC). In a DB plan, the employer promises to pay a defined amount to retirees who meet certain eligibility criteria. In other words, the plan defines the benefit to be received. In its most typical form, a DB plan pays a lifetime monthly benefit to retirees who fulfill specific age and service requirements. Benefits are usually linked to the amount of service and based on final average salary. Employees can reasonably rely on a known and expected benefit level; although protection against post-separation inflation is usually limited and/or uncertain. The plan sponsor may also provide an alternative lump-sum "cash-out" of the benefit entitlement. Until relatively recent times, the DB was the dominant form of employer-sponsored retirement program.
In DC plans, the plan defines the contributions that an employer can make, not the benefit that will be received at retirement. The terminating employee receives the proceeds in a current or deferred lump sum or annuity. Since the benefit is not defined, the retirement outcomes are not known in advance.
In 1978, section 401k of the Internal Revenue Code authorized the use of a new type of defined contribution plan that allows for the employee to make pre-tax contributions to the plan.
How It Works
Employee 401k contribution are automatically deducted from their paycheck each pay period. This money is taken out before the employees paycheck is taxed. The contributions are invested at the employees direction into one or more funds provided in the plan. Employers often "match" employee contributions, but are not required to do so. While the investments grow in the employees 401k account, they do not pay any taxes on it.
Advantages and Benefits
401k plans offer many benefits, but there are restrictions also.
401k plans have proven to be popular with employees for several reasons. The tax deferral is obviously high on this list of reasons. Others include the increased portability of this plan, employer matching contributions, and the increased control associated with self-direction of investments.
401k plans are subject to numerous and complex rules, regulations and tax qualification requirements. Be sure to consult with a qualified professional before making any decisions.
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