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What’s the distinction between 401 (okay) and 403 (b) retirement plans?

Investing in your retirement early is the best way to ensure financial stability in old age, especially when it comes to understanding different options for retirement. Getting started can feel overwhelming – luckily we're here to help. We'll help you figure out the difference between 401 (k) and 403 (b) accounts and how they can affect your financial life.

You may already know the value of adjusting your budget so that saving for a rainy day is a priority. But do you also prioritize your retirement provision? If you are just starting out in the workforce and looking for ways to invest in yourself, 401 (k) and 403 (b) plans are a great option. The main difference between a 401 (k) and a 403 (b) is the company that offers them.

401 (k) accounts are offered by for-profit companies, and 403 (b) accounts are offered by nonprofit, academic, religious, research or university companies. To understand in detail the similarities and differences between the plans, continue with the sections below or read on for a full explanation.

How a 401 (k) works
How a 403 (b) works
The difference between 401 (k) and 403 (b)
The Similarities Between 401 (k) and 403 (b)
5 ways to increase your retirement savings

How a 401 (k) works

A 401 (k) is a retirement account created by for-profit employers for employees to make a pre-tax contribution. Employer-sponsored 401 (k) accounts offer employees the ability to accumulate retirement assets in a variety of forms – including company stocks, pre-tax income, and exchange traded funds (ETFs).

Each company's pension plans may vary based on benefits such as employee matching, stock options, and more. In addition, you can choose how much you want to contribute each month. Note that both 401 (k) and 403 (b) plans have an annual limit of $ 19,500 for your employer matches. In addition, most retirement funds have required minimum distributions (RMDs) by the time you turn 70. This essentially means that you have to withdraw a minimum amount every month, whether you want to or not.

In most cases, employers offer 401 (k) matching to encourage consistent contributions. For example, your employer match can be 50 cents of every dollar you contribute up to six percent of your salary. For example, with this employer match at a salary of $ 40,000, you would contribute $ 200 and your employer would contribute an additional $ 100 each month. This pattern would continue until your annual contributions reach $ 2,400 and your employer contributes $ 1,200.

Employee matching is essentially free money. You will be financially rewarded for your retirement pensions. When setting up your employer match, be sure to pay attention to the embargo periods. Waiting is an agreed-upon amount of time it takes to work for a company before receiving your 401 (k) benefits. For example, some companies require you to work for their team for a year before receiving retirement benefits. Other employers may offer retirement benefits from the day you work with them.

How a 403 (b) works

A 403 (b) is an employer-issued, nonprofit, nonprofit, academic, religious, research, or university employee retirement account. Organizations that qualify for 403 (b) accounts include school boards, public schools, churches, hospitals, and more. This type of account is also known as a Fiscal Protected Retirement Plan. They allow the investment of pre-tax income until it is abolished.

Employers offering 403 (b) retirement plans may offer a pool of provider options that are subject to non-discriminatory testing. That way, employers who qualify for this account can look for plans that offer the best value and don't discriminate in favor of high paid employees (HCEs). For example, some 403 (b) accounts may have more management fees than others.

Employers can offer employee matching on 403 (b) accounts if they so choose. To reduce costs for nonprofits, 403 (b) retirement plans generally cost less than 401 (k) accounts. The costs associated with setting up these accounts may not affect you, but it does affect your employer.

Account type
401 (k)
403 (b)
Annual contribution limit
$ 19,500
$ 19,500
Packages issued by the employer
Non-profit employers:
Corporations, private entities, etc. and sole proprietorships
Non-profit, academic, religious, research or university employers:
School authorities, public schools, hospitals, etc.
Minimum withdrawal age
59.5 years old
59.5 years old
Early withdrawal fees
10% penalty, taxes and additional fees may vary
10% penalty, taxes and additional fees may vary
Source: IRS.org

The differences between 401 (k) and 403 (b)

Both a 401 (k) and 403 (b) are similar in how they work, but with some differences. Here are the biggest contrasts to watch out for:

Eligibility to participate: 401 (k) retirement plans are issued by for-profit employers and self-employed; 403 (b) retirement plans are for tax-exempt, nonprofit, academic, religious, research, or university employees. As well as hospitals and charities.
Investment opportunities: 401 (k) offer more investment opportunities than 403 (b). 401 (k) accounts can contain mutual funds, annuities, stocks, and bonds, while 403 (b) accounts only offer annuities and mutual funds. Every employer has different retirement benefits. Consult a trusted financial advisor with any questions about your account.
Employer costs: 401 (k) accounts are generally more expensive than 403 (b) accounts. For-profit 401 (k) accounts may incur sales fees, management fees, records, and other additional costs. 403 (b) plans may have lower administrative costs to avoid an additional burden on nonprofits. These costs vary depending on the employer.
Non-discrimination tests: This form of assessment ensures that 403 (b) retirement plans are not offered in favor of high-paid employees (HCEs). However, this test is not required for 401 (k) plans.

The Similarities Between 401 (k) and 403 (b)

Aside from their differences, both accounts are set up to assist employees with retirement planning. Here's how:

Contribution limits: Both accounts limit your annual dues to $ 19,500. If you contribute over this limit, your earnings will be returned to you by April 15th. If you are under your retirement contribution up to the age of 50, you can make catch-up contributions. This means that if you are eligible, you can contribute $ 6,500 more than the annual contribution limit.
Right of withdrawal: You must be at least 59.5 years old before you can withdraw your retirement savings. In an emergency, you may be able to withdraw early. However, you may be charged penalties, taxes, and fees for doing this.
Employer matching: Both retirement account options allow employers, but do not have to, match their contributions. When setting up your pension fund, ask your staff representative about possible benefits and employer agreements.
Early withdrawal penalties: If you withdraw your retirement savings early, you may be penalized. In most cases, you will need a valid reason to withdraw your funds early. Allowed reasons could include outstanding debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or medical bills. In addition, you may be charged a 10 percent penalty, taxes, and other fees. In an economic crisis, as we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, fees can be waived.

5 ways to increase your retirement savings

5 ways to increase your retirement savings

By contributing to a 401 (k) or 403 (b), you can increase your investment with less risk. You can increase your untaxed income to help you meet your future goals. The more you contribute, the more you can have by the time you retire. Here are some tips to help you stay ahead of the game and invest in your financial future.

1. Create a retirement account early on

It's never too late to open a retirement account. If you are currently employed but have not yet set up a retirement account, contact your HR representative. Ask about retirement options and benefits. If employers offer retirement matches, consider contributing as much as possible to the fulfillment of their match.

2. Set up monthly automatic contributions

Save time and energy by setting up automatic posts. You may be less interested in contributing to your retirement as your payday approaches. If you take the time to set up a retirement fund and budgeting for that change may be holding back. To meet your age goals, you should set up automatic payments through your employer. After a while, you may not even notice the slight budget adjustment.

3. Use employer matching

Employer matching is essentially free money. Employers can only use money for your future for your own contribution. This encourages employees to consistently invest money in their retirement plans. Not only can you make extra money every month, but that "free money" will grow with the interest over time. If you can, adjust your employer's contribution percentage, if not more.

4. Avoid premature withdrawals

Credit card balances, student loans, and mortgages can be stressful. Rather than withdrawing from your pension fund early to pay it off, consider other debt settlement methods. If you are eligible to early retire, you may incur penalty fees, taxes, and administrative costs. This can affect your savings potential or postpone your desired retirement date.

5. Contribute your future raises and bonuses

If you've been saving less than $ 19,500 for your retirement fund this year, consider contributing more. If you deserve a bonus or raise, stick to your current budget and consider increasing your contributions. Ask your employer to increase your retirement pension before receiving a bonus or raise. The more you contribute, the more interest you will generate over time.

Regardless of whether your pension funds are set up via a 401 (k) or a 403 (b), these accounts give you the opportunity to build up your financial portfolio. Consistent funding of your retirement account can improve your financial plan and give you peace of mind. As your contributions get older, so too will your interest income. You can make money on your pre-tax income and prepare your future self for success. Start by checking in your budget and setting a certain amount each month for your retirement.

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