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Employee Retirement Income Security Act

Types Of Erisa-covered Retirement Plans

Most private retirement plans are governed by ERISA, and they typically qualify for favorable tax treatment. Basically, an employer's contributions to a tax-qualified retirement plan on behalf of an employee are not taxable to the employee. Nevertheless, the employer is allowed a current deduction for those contributions (within limits). Moreover, the pension fund's earnings on those contributions are tax-exempt. Workers pay tax only when they receive distributions of their pension benefits, and at that point the usual rules for taxing annuities apply.

Private retirement plans generally fall into two broad categories, based on the nature of the benefits provided: (1) defined benefit plans and (2) defined contribution plans. In a defined benefit plan, an employer promises employees a specific benefit at retirement. To provide this benefit, the employer makes payments into a trust fund and makes withdrawals from the trust fund. Employer contributions are based on actuarial valuations, and the employer bears all of the investment risks and responsibilities. Benefits are guaranteed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Under a typical defined contribution plan, the employer simply contributes a specified percentage of the worker's compensation to an individual investment account for the worker. For example, contributions might be set at 10 percent of annual compensation. The benefit at retirement would be based on all such contributions plus investment earnings. There are a variety of different types of defined contribution plans, including money purchase pension plans, target benefit plans, profit-sharing plans, stock bonus plans, and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

Profit-sharing and stock bonus plans may include a feature that allows workers to choose between receiving cash currently or deferring taxation by placing the money in a retirement account (401(k) plans or cash or deferred arrangements (CODAs)). The maximum annual amount of elective deferrals that can be made by an individual in the year 2001 is $11,000, and it is scheduled to rise to $15,000 in 2006.

Alternatively, many companies rely on hybrid retirement plans that mix the features of both defined benefit and defined contribution plans. Still another approach is for an employer to offer a combination of defined benefit and defined contribution plans. For example, many companies with traditional defined benefit plans have recently added supplemental 401(k) plans.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2Employee Retirement Income Security Act - History Leading Up To Erisa, Subsequent Amendments To Erisa, Types Of Erisa-covered Retirement Plans