More About Pension Plans

What are defined benefit and defined contribution plans?

Generally speaking, there are two types of retirement plans: defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans. A defined benefit plan promises you a specified monthly benefit at retirement. The plan may state this promised benefit as an exact dollar amount, such as $100 per month at retirement. Or, more commonly, it may calculate a benefit through a plan formula that considers such factors as salary and service for example, 1 percent of your average salary for the last 5 years of employment for every year of service with your employer.

A defined contribution plan, on the other hand, does not promise you a specific amount of benefits at retirement. In these plans, you or your employer (or both) contribute to your individual account under the plan, sometimes at a set rate, such as 5 percent of your earnings annually. These contributions generally are invested on your behalf. You will ultimately receive the balance in your account, which is based on contributions plus or minus investment gains or losses. The value of your account will fluctuate due to changes in the value of your investments. Examples of defined contribution plans include 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, employee stock ownership plans and profit-sharing plans. The general rules of ERISA apply to each of these types of plans, but some special rules also apply.

To determine what type of plan your employer provides, check with your plan administrator or read your summary plan description.

A money purchase pension plan is a plan that requires fixed annual contributions from your employer to your individual account. Because a money purchase pension plan requires these regular contributions, the plan is subject to certain funding and other rules.

Pension Lawsuits

Differences between typical cash balance plans and 401(k) plans.

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