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What is a '401(a) Plan'

A 401(a) plan is an employer-sponsored money-purchase retirement plan that allows dollar- or percentage-based contributions from the employer, the employee or both. The sponsoring employer establishes eligibility and the vesting schedule. The employee can withdraw funds from a 401(a) plan through a rollover to a different qualified retirement plan, a lump-sum payment or an annuity.

BREAKING DOWN '401(a) Plan'

Employers can form multiple 401(a) plans, each with distinct eligibility criteria, contribution amounts and vesting schedules. Employers use these plans to create incentive programs for employee retention. The employer controls the plan and determines the contribution limits.

A 401(a) plan is a type of retirement plan made available to those working in government agencies, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. Eligible employees who participate in the plan include government employees, teachers, administrators and support staff. A 401(a) plan's features are similar to a 401(k) plan.

Contributions and Investments for a 401(a)

A 401(a) can have mandatory or voluntary contributions, and the employer decides if contributions are made on an after-tax or pre-tax basis. Employer contributions are mandatory, even if an employee decides not to contribute to the plan on a voluntary basis.

An employer contributes funds to the plan on an employee's behalf. Employer contribution options include the employer paying a set amount into an employee's plan, matching a fixed percentage of employee contributions or matching employee contributions within a specific dollar range.

The plan gives employers more control over their employees' investment choices. Government employers with 401(a) plans often limit investment options to only the safest and most secure options to minimize risk.

A 401(a) plan provides assurance of a certain level of retirement savings but requires due diligence by the employee to meet retirement goals. Employees can transfer their funds to 401(k) plans or individual retirement accounts when they switch employers.

Vesting and Withdrawals for 401(a) Plans

Any 401(a) contributions an employee makes and any earnings on those contributions are immediately fully vested. Becoming fully vested in the employer contributions depends on the vesting schedule the employer set up. Some employers, especially those who offer 401(k) plans link vesting to years of service as an incentive for employees to stay with the company.

The IRS subjects 401(a) withdrawals to income tax withholdings and a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty unless the employee is 59 1/2, dies, is disabled or rolls over the funds into a qualified IRA or retirement plan through a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer. 

Qualify for Tax Credits

Employees who contribute to a 401(a) plan may qualify for a tax credit. Employees can have both a 401(a) plan and an IRA at the same time. However, if an employee has a 401(a) plan, the tax benefits for traditional IRA contributions may be phased out depending on the employee's adjusted gross income.

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