What is a Qualified Retirement Plan?
If it meets certain criteria, a qualified retirement plan is permitted to take advantage of special tax treatment. One key requirement for qualification is that the plan must not discriminate in favor of the employer's key employees. The special tax benefits include the following:

  • The employer may take a tax deduction for contributions made to the plan
  • Employees may take a tax deduction on their own contributions to the plan
  • Earnings on all contributions are tax deferred until withdrawn

There are two types of qualified plans: defined benefit and defined contribution plans.

Defined Benefit Plans
Defined benefit plans are traditional pension plans, where benefits are based on a specific formula. Most formulas use the number of years of service times a salary factor (often an average of the highest three, or highest five, years of salary history). An age factor is used as well, so a worker retiring at 65 receives a higher monthly benefit than one retiring at 62.

Characteristics:

  • Employer makes all contributions
  • Employer makes all investment decisions and bears the risk if investments perform badly
  • Less popular since the rise of defined contribution plans

Defined Contribution Plans
Rather than basing plan benefits on a specific formula as defined benefit plans do, defined contribution plans allocate money to plan participants based on a percentage of each employee's earnings. The longer the employee participates in the plan, the higher the account balance grows, based on the amounts contributed and the investment earnings.

Most defined contribution plans allow employees to choose their own investment mix from the specific funds made available through the employer.

Types of Plans:

  • Profit-sharing plan - this allows the employer to contribute a percentage of salary each year, but the percentage can vary each year based on corporate profits. However, contributions can be made even when there are no profits, at the employer's discretion.

  • 401(k) plan - this form of profit-sharing plan allows employees to reduce their taxable income by deferring a percentage of their salary into the plan. For 2007, the contribution limit is $15,500, with an additional catch-up contribution of up to $5,000 allowed for workers 50 and over.

  • 403(b) plan - these plans are also known as tax-sheltered annuities.

  • Money purchase pension plan - this requires the employer to contribute a set percentage of salary each year regardless of corporate profits.


Look Out!
The main thing to know about the various defined contribution plans is that 403(b) plans are available only to employees of schools, hospitals and certain nonprofit organizations. They are analogous to corporate 401(k) plans.


If you are interested in learning more about the different types of retirement plans, the tutorial, Introductory Tour Through Retirement Plans will walk you through them.



ERISA Issues

Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    What's a Defined Contribution Plan?

    A defined contribution plan is a company retirement plan that specifies the amount of money contributed to it.
  2. Financial Advisor

    Retirement Planning for the Self-Employed

    How to select a qualified retirement plan if you are self-employed and have no employees.
  3. Financial Advisor

    Understanding Rules on Defined Benefit Pension Plans

    Defined benefit plans offer advantages to both employers and employees. Employers must understand the federal tax rules when establishing these plans.
  4. Financial Advisor

    What's a Qualified Retirement Plan?

    Employers establish qualified retirement plans to help their employees save money.
  5. Small Business

    Plans The Small-Business Owner Can Establish

    Don't hesitate to adopt a smart plan for you and your employees.
  6. Retirement

    Understanding Defined Benefit Pension Plans

    An employer-sponsored retirement plan where employee benefits are based on a formula using factors such as salary history and duration of employment.
  7. Retirement

    6 Companies With the Best Retirement Plans

    Most employers don’t offer any type of retirement plan at all. But there are a few companies that still offer generous retirement benefits.
  8. Retirement

    The Basics of a 401(k) Retirement Plan

    This plan has become one of the most popular retirement options. Here's why.
  9. Financial Advisor

    The 4-1-1 on 403(b) Plans

    These plans resemble 401(k) plans in many respects, but are specially designed for nonprofit entities.
  10. Personal Finance

    Job Hunting: Higher Pay vs. Better Benefits

    Focusing on pay when job hunting may be a mistake. Find out which benefits have the highest long-run payoff.
Frequently Asked Questions
  1. Depreciation Can Shield Taxes, Bolster Cash Flow

    Depreciation can be used as a tax-deductible expense to reduce tax costs, bolstering cash flow
  2. What schools did Warren Buffett attend on his way to getting his science and economics degrees?

    Learn how Warren Buffett became so successful through his attendance at multiple prestigious schools and his real-world experiences.
  3. How many attempts at each CFA exam is a candidate permitted?

    The CFA Institute allows an individual an unlimited amount of attempts at each examination.Although you can attempt the examination ...
  4. What's the average salary of a market research analyst?

    Learn about average stock market analyst salaries in the U.S. and different factors that affect salaries and overall levels ...
Trading Center