Difference Between Retirement Plans

It is important to make good choices when it comes to saving for your retirement. Having a Financial Planner or Accountant review your current portfolio and your goals for the future is the first thing you should do; as they can help you determine investment vehicles that align with your risk tolerance and savings objectives.

But where do you start? Which retirement plans should you focus on? What is the difference between the various retirement plans out there?

Many Advisors would agree; that if the company you work for offers a 401(k) plan, a pension plan or a 403(b), you should take advantage of the opportunity to enroll. Typically, employers make monetary contributions towards these plans and the internal fees associated with these types of accounts are usually lower than with individual retirement plans. Because of these features, over time, it benefits you two-fold to put your money into them.

Though investing in an employer-sponsored plan has its advantages, it has some disadvantages as well. The investment options you have are usually very limited. And more often than not, you are required to name a spouse or child as your beneficiary. This being said, it is still an excellent way to save and acquire for retirement, it just shouldn't be your only investment vehicle.

With the current trends of changing careers every 5 to 10 years, many of us will need to roll our 401(k)'s long before we actually plan to retire. Transferring or “rolling” your employer-sponsored retirement plan to a self-managed IRA may be the best option for you. Keep in mind that some companies will automatically cash out your retirement plan if the balance is under a certain amount. If this happens, they will be required to hold back 20% for taxes, and you may get hit with a 10% penalty for withdrawing the cash before 59 ˝ years old. Though generally, your former employer would simply perform a direct transfer (called trustee-to-trustee exchange) to your IRA, incurring no penalties or tax ramifications.

A major benefit to IRA's (individual retirement account) is the tax break. Contributions to an IRA reduce the income you need to pay taxes on at the end of the year. At the same time you receive this tax break, your money is also growing tax-deferred. (meaning you do not have to pay taxes on the growth as long as the money is not being withdrawn)

There are technically five (5) types of IRA's : Traditional IRA, Educational IRA, SEP IRA (simplified employee pension), Simple IRA and Roth IRA.

SEP IRA's and Simple IRA's are employer sponsored, and Educational IRA's are designed for college planning. So for the sake of this article, we will only discuss Traditional IRA's and Roth IRA's as they relate to an individually managed retirement account.

A Traditional IRA grows tax-deferred, meaning you do not pay taxes on any of the money growing within your account. Because you are funding your IRA with money that has already been taxed, you will only pay taxes on your investment gains as you take withdrawals. Some, who qualify, may even be able to deduct their IRA contributions.

A ROTH IRA is different from a Traditional IRA in that your contributions grow tax-free. Meaning, you do not have to pay tax on your investment gains even when taking them in the form of withdrawals. Your contributions are also not deductible. If you choose a ROTH IRA, you must first open a traditional IRA, and then roll those monies into the ROTH account.

College professors and teachers have a special retirement plan or pension called a 403(b). This plan is not tied to their specific employer and can move with them as they transfer from school to school. If you're vested (meaning you have the right to keep all the money in the account) and change schools or even careers, the amount in your 403(b) plan continues to grow tax-deferred.

If your retirement plan/pension includes stock options (ability to purchase shares of company stock), or if your employer gives shares of stock to your plan, you can keep them as the shares will be in your name. You can also sell the shares of stock for the going market rate. You have two choices should you decide to keep your shares of stock: you can continue to use your former employer as your housing agent, or you can roll the stocks into an IRA that you have opened with a brokerage firm.

There are many choices and options for your retirement investing. In addition to the research and articles you will read on your own, it is still always prudent to sit with a Financial Planner or Accountant to thoroughly review and assess your current financial situation, to determine where you are now, and how to achieve your financial goals in the future.

(*This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not replace discussing your individual needs with your local Insurance Agent or Financial Representative.)


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