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Roth 401(k) Rules

If your employer has a 401(k) plan available for you to participate in, you may also have a Roth 401(k) option available as a part of the plan. (We’re referring to 401(k) plans by name here, but unless noted the rules we’re discussing also apply to other Qualified Retirement Plans (QRPs) such as 403(b) or 457 plans.)  Roth 401(k) plans are not required when a 401(k) plan is offered, but many employers offer this option these days. The Roth 401(k) option, also known as a Designated Roth Account or DRAC, first became available with the passage of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) of 2001, with the first accounts available effective January 1, 2006.  The Roth 401(k) was designed to provide similar features present in a Roth IRA to the employer-provided 401(k)-type plans. Similar to traditional 401(k) Certain features of the Roth 401(k) are similar to the traditional […]

Investment Allocation in Your 401(k) Plan

When you participate in your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan (or any type of Qualified Retirement Plan, including 403(b), 457, etc.), the first step is to determine how much money you will defer into the plan.  We discussed this previously in an article about contributions to your 401(k) plan. Once you’ve determined the amount you’ll contribute, the next step is to allocate your funds within the account.  This starts with an overall plan for your investment allocation – which you should take time to plan in advance.  For the purposes of our illustration here, we’ll say that you have a plan to split your account 75% to stocks and 25% to bonds.  Within the stock allocation, you want to split this as 1/3 each to large cap stock, small cap stock, and international stock.  In the bond category you want to split this to 80% domestic bonds and 20% international bonds. Now […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Loans

Continuing our series of articles on the mechanics of 401(k) plans, today we’ll talk about loans from the account.  As with all of these articles, we’ll refer generically to the plans as 401(k) plans, although they could be just about any Qualified Retirement Plans (QRPs), including 403(b), 457, and other plans. Unlike IRAs, 401(k) plans allow for the employee-participant to take a loan from the plan.  There are restrictions on these loans, but they can be useful if you need funds for a short-term period and have no other sources. 401(k) Loans If you have a balance in your 401(k) account, often your plan administrator will have a provision allowing you to take a loan of some of the funds in the account. (Not all plans allow loans – this is an optional provision, not a requirement.)  Sometimes the plan administrator will place restrictions on the use of the loan […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Distribution

For the next in our series of articles regarding the mechanics of 401(k) plans, we’ll review distributions from the plan.  As with our other articles in this series, we’re referring to all sorts of qualified retirement plans (QRPs) – including 401(k), 403(b), 457, and others – generically as 401(k) plans throughout. There are several types of distributions from 401(k) plans to consider.  Distributions before retirement age and after retirement age are the two primary categories which we’ll review below.  Another type of distribution is a loan – which will be covered in a subsequent article. But first, we need to define retirement age.  Generally speaking, retirement age for your 401(k) plan is 59½, just the same as with an IRA.  However, if you leave employment at or after age 55, the operative age is 55.  If you have left employment before age 55, retirement age is 59½. This means that […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Vesting

In this article in our series on the mechanics of 401(k) plans, we’ll be covering the concept of vesting.  As with the other articles in the series, we’ll refer specifically to 401(k) plans throughout, but most of the provisions apply to all types of Qualified Retirement Plans (QRPs), which go by many names: 401(k), 403(b), 457, etc.. Vesting refers to the process by which the employer-contributed amounts in the 401(k) plan become the unencumbered property of the employee-participant in the plan.  Vesting is based upon the tenure of the participant as an employee of the employer-sponsor of the plan. Generally, when an employee first begins employment there is a period of time when the employer wishes to protect itself from the circumstance of the new employee’s leaving employment within a relatively short period of time.  Vesting is one way that the employer can protect itself from handing over employer-matching funds […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Employer Contributions

This is the second post in a series of posts that explain the mechanics of a 401(k) plan.  As mentioned previously, there are many types of Qualified Retirement Plans (collectively called QRPs) that share common characteristics.  Some of these plans are called 401(k), 403(b), and 457.  In these articles we’ll simply refer to 401(k) plans to address common characteristics of all of these QRPs. Employer Contributions Many companies provide a matching contribution to the 401(k) plan – and sometimes there is a contribution made to a QRP on your behalf no matter if you have contributed your own deferred salary or not. Most of the time these matching contributions are stated as x% of the first y% of contributions to the account.  An example would be “50% of the first 6%”, meaning if you contribute 6% of your salary to the plan, the company will match that contribution with 3% […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Saving/Contributing

Many folks have a 401(k) plan or other similar Qualified Retirement Plan (QRP) available from their employer.  These plans have many names, including 403(b), 457, and other plans, but for clarity’s sake we’ll refer to them all as 401(k) plans in this article.  This sort of retirement savings plan can be very confusing if you’re unfamiliar, but it’s a relatively straightforward savings vehicle. This is the first in a series of articles about the mechanics of your 401(k) plan – Saving/Contributing. Saving/Contributing You are allowed to make contributions to the 401(k) plan, primarily in the form of pre-tax salary deferrals.  You fill out a form (online most of the time these days) to designate a particular portion of your salary to be deferred into the 401(k) plan.  Then, each payday you’ll see a deduction from your paycheck showing the 401(k) plan contribution.  The deduction is before income tax withholding is […]

Roth 401(k) Conversions Explained

Earlier in 2013, with the passage of ATRA (American Taxpayer Relief Act) there was a provision to loosen the rules for 401(k) plan participants to convert monies in those “regular” 401(k) accounts to the Roth 401(k) component of the account.  Prior to this, there were restrictions on the source of the funds that could be converted, among other restrictions.  These looser restrictions apply to 401(k), 403(b) and 457 plans, as well as the federal government Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Recently, the IRS announced that guidance was available to utilize the new conversion options.  As long as the 401(k) plan is amended to allow the conversions, all vested sources of funds can be converted, even if the participant is not otherwise eligible to make a distribution from the account. This means that employee salary deferrals, employer matching funds, and non-elective payins to the 401(k) account can be converted to a Roth […]

When Rolling Over a 401(k) to an IRA Isn’t a No-Brainer

Oftentimes when folks are considering leaving employment, the decision to rollover 401(k) to an IRA is a no-brainer.  After all, why would you leave your retirement funds at the mercy of the constricted, expensive investment choices and other restrictions of your old company’s 401(k) administrator, when you can be free to invest in any (well, most any) investment you choose, keeping costs down, and completely within your own control in an IRA? Well, for some folks this decision isn’t the straightforward choice that it seems to be, for the very important reason of access to the funds before reaching age 59½ (see this article for more info about The Post-55 Exception to the 10% Penalty for Withdrawals from 401(k)).  Since only within a 401(k) (or other employer-sponsored plans) can you take advantage of this early withdrawal exception, it might be in your best interests to think about your rollover choice […]

Did the Advent of 401(k) Plans Hurt Americans?

There’s been quite a bit of press lately about the recent Economic Policy Institute study (see this article “Rise of 401(k)s Hurt More Americans Than It Helped” for more), which indicates that the 401(k) plan itself is the cause of American’s lack of retirement resources.  I think it has more to do with the fact that the 401(k) plan (and other defined contribution plans) were expected to be a replacement for the old-style defined benefit pension plans, and the fact that those administering the retirement plans did little to ensure success for the employees. Traditional defined benefit pension plans didn’t ask the employee to make a decision about how much to set aside – this was determined by actuaries.  Then the company made sure that the money was set aside (in most cases) so that the promised benefit would be there when the employee retires.  In the world of 401(k) […]

Avoid Awkwardness in the Afterlife–Confirm Your Beneficiary Designations

This is a topic that I cover with all clients, and one that I recommend you for everyone with retirement plans and other accounts with beneficiary designations.  Too often we think we have the beneficiary designation form filled out just the way we want it, and then (once it’s too late) it is discovered that the form hadn’t been updated recently – and the designation is not what we hoped for. I made this recommendation to a client not long ago.  He assured me that he had all of his designations set up just the way he wanted.  His wife, sitting next to him in our meeting, asked him to make sure – talk to the IRA custodian and get a copy of the designation as it stands today.  A bit miffed about it all, he agreed to do so, and did the next day.  Guess what he found – […]

Your Employer’s Retirement Plan

Whether you work as a doctor, teacher, office administrator, attorney, or government employee chances are you have access to your employer’s retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b), 457, SEP, or SIMPLE. These plans are a great resource to save money into, and some employers will even pay you to participate! Let’s start with the 401(k). A 401(k) is a savings plan that is started by your employer to encourage both owners of the business and employees to save for retirement. Depending on how much you want to save, you can choose to have a specific dollar amount or percentage of your gross pay directed to your 401(k) account. Your money in your account can be invested tax-deferred in stock or bond mutual funds, company stock (if you work for a publicly traded company), or even a money market account. Your choice of funds will depend on the company that […]

Join in the Movement – Add 1% to Your Savings This Year!

Over the past several weeks we’ve been writing articles to encourage all Americans to add at least 1% more to savings in the coming year. More than 20 of my fellow bloggers have submitted articles, and these articles include many great ideas that you can apply in order to increase your savings rate in the coming year. Since many employees are going through annual benefit elections right about now, it’s a very good time to increase your annual contributions to your retirement savings plans. Big changes are easiest to undertake with incremental steps – starting with adding 1% can have a great impact and get the momentum going! Listed below are all of the articles that I’ve been notified about so far – 22 23 in all! These folks are very smart, and have shared some great ideas. You owe it to yourself to check it out, and then take […]

Increase Your Retirement Savings by At Least 1% in the Coming Year

Several financial bloggers (20 at last count!) have been diligently writing articles of encouragement for people to consider increasing their savings rates by at least 1% in the coming year. Since many employees are going through annual benefit elections right about now, it’s also a very good time to put in an increase to your annual contributions to your retirement savings plans. Small steps are the easiest to take, and the least painful – so why not set aside an additional 1% in your retirement plan in the coming year? The list below includes a boatload of ideas that you can use to help you with this increase to savings. I’ve heard from several more bloggers who are going to put their posts up soon. If you’re a blogger, see the original post for details on how to join the action: Calling All Bloggers! Listed below are the articles in […]

Calling All Bloggers – Let’s Increase America’s Savings Rate in November!

I’m sure that I’m not alone in the financial planning world with my concern about the rate of saving toward retirement across this great land.  Recent figures have shown that we Americans are doing a little bit better of late, at a 5% savings rate versus around 1% back in 2005 – but this is a dismal figure when you consider how most folks are coming up short when they want to retire.  Rather than sitting by idly and wringing my hands, I thought maybe something could be done to encourage an increase in savings – if only by 1%, this can be a significant step for lots of folks.  And now, in November, is the perfect time to do this, as most corporations are going through the annual benefit election cycle, so the 401(k) (or 403(b), 457, or other savings plan) is right at the forefront for many folks. […]

The 403(b) and 457(b): A One-Two Punch for Retirement

Many non-profits, public schools, universities, state governments have access to either a 403(b) or a 457(b) retirement plan. Both the 403(b) and the 457(b) are retirement plans that these institutions can offer employees in addition to or in lieu of a defined-benefit pension. For ease of simplicity, think of these plans as a 401(k), but for non-profits. We won’t get into the minutia of exactly how they’re different here. Like their 401(k) counterpart, the 403(b) and the 457(b) allow their owners to defer from their salaries up to $17,000 annually, on a pre-tax, tax-deferred basis. For those aged 50 and over, the IRS allows an additional $5,500 age-based catch-up contribution. These numbers are for 2012, they are indexed annually for inflation. There is a select group of people that may have access to both the 403(b) and the 457(b). For these chosen few, there is an opportunity to save even […]

About to Graduate? Learn How to Save!

Hey, soon-to-be-graduates: as you begin to make your way out into the world of full-time employment, you’ll soon be faced with many, many “grown up” ways to spend the money you’ll be earning.  You’ll of course have rent, insurance, food and clothing, maybe a car payment, and you’ll want to use some of that new-found money to blow off steam, however you choose to do that – maybe fulfilling a lifetime dream of getting “beaked” by Fredbird, for example. If you’re on top of your game, you’ll may also be thinking about saving some of your earnings.  Here, you’ll have a bundle of options to choose from – regular “bank” savings accounts, 401(k) plan (or something similar) from your employer, and IRA accounts, both the traditional deductible kind and the Roth kind (hint: the Roth kind is what I want you to pay particular attention to). Side note: even if […]