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There are many different types of retirement plans, all have different rules about contributing and withdrawals (distributions). Some of these plans are Employer sponsored and other are not. Most of them come with tax benefits of some sort. See our list of retirement plans and the benefits.
A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored defined contribution plan, which means that your employer contributes a set amount (if they contribute).
Tax Benefits: (Now) Your contributions are generally made with pre-tax dollars, and you don’t pay taxes until you withdraw funds (take distributions).
A traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a retirement plan that is set up with a financial institution, such as a bank or brokerage. You can contribute via payroll deduction or otherwise. Money you contribute to the account may be deducted on your tax return up to the contribution limits.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Your contributions are generally made with pre-tax dollars, and you don’t pay taxes until you withdraw money. Any investment earnings are tax-free until a withdrawal is made.
You may be able to deduct the amount you contribute to a traditional IRA. There are restrictions if you are covered by an employer-sponsored plan. There is also a limit to the amount you can deduct. The deduction for IRA contributions is an above-the-line deduction, which means that you don’t have to itemize deductions to claim it. You may be able to deduct up to your contribution limit.
Roth IRA’s are a special type of Individual Retirement Account. If you qualify for a Roth, you can contribute funds up to a certain amount, but contributions are taxed as income. You cannot deduct the contributions.
Tax Benefits: (Later) Qualified distributions from a Roth IRA are tax-free and are not included in your taxable income.
SIMPLE stands for Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees. A SIMPLE IRA is a traditional IRA that allows employers to contribute. It also allows employees to contribute via paycheck withholding (or otherwise). An employer can only establish a SIMPLE IRA if they cannot sponsor another retirement plan, so these plans are ideally suited to small businesses.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Like traditional IRAs, contributions may be made with pre-tax dollars and investment earnings are tax-free until distributions are taken.
A Simplified Employee Pension Plan is a traditional IRA that is owned by the employee but is set up by the employer to allow them to contribute and receive tax benefits for their contributions. A SEP Plan can also be set up by self-employed individuals.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions may be made with tax-free salary deferrals and any earnings are tax-free until distributions are made.
A SARSEP is a Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension Plan. This is a kind of SEP Plan that is no longer available, and must have been established before 1997. It is essentially a SEP with more restrictive requirements.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions are made with tax-free deferrals of salary and earnings are tax-free until distributed.
A 403(b) plan is a tax-sheltered annuity (an annuity is a series of regular payments made for more than a year) that is offered to employees by non-profit groups, public schools, and other tax-exempt organizations. It is similar to a 401(k) and distributions are taxable, but contributions are generally never deductible.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions may be made with pre-tax dollars and income from investments is tax-free (until distribution).
A 457(b) is a deferred-compensation plan that allows employees to contribute through payroll deductions on a pre-tax basis. It is only offered by state and local governments and some tax-exempt organizations. Distributions are taxed.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Like a 401(k), contributions may be made pre-tax and any earnings are tax-deferred.
A 401(a) is a defined contribution plan (employers contribute a set amount) generally offered to employees of the federal government, state governments, or Indian tribal governments, although private employers can establish them as well. Distributions are generally taxed.
Tax Benefits: (Now) The details of contributions and distributions vary from plan to plan, but contributions may be made with pre-tax dollars.
A Designated Roth Account is a separate account created under a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan. Money is electively contributed to this account from taxed income.
Tax Benefits: (Later) Qualified distributions are tax-free.
Defined Benefit Plans are traditional pension plans established by employers. They are much less common than they used to be, due to the cost and complexity involved for employers. Contributions are made by employers and may or may not be made by the employee, depending on the plan. Distributions are annuities and a portion may be taxable, depending on your total income and other factors.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions are generally tax-free.
Profit sharing plans are established by employers and only contributed to by employers. Contributions are voluntary and discretionary. Withdrawals are taxable income, and an additional 10% tax penalty may apply for distributions before age 59 1/2.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Employer contributions are tax-free income for the employee.
In a Money Purchase Plan, employers must make set contributions. Employees may or may not contribute. Distributions are taxed, and early withdrawals are not permitted.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions are generally tax-free.
An ESOP is a type of 401(a) where contributions are not made with money but with securities.
Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions to ESOPs are generally nontaxable.