Subject: Retirement Plans - 457(b)

Last-Revised: 15 Apr 2009
Contributed-By: Chris Lott (contact me)

A 457(b) plan is a non-qualified, tax-deferred compensation plan offered by many tax-exempt institutions to their employees, especially by governments. This plan, like a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, allows you to save for retirement.

Contributions are made from pre-tax wages, and the Internal Revenue Code sets the maximum contribution limits. The limit for tax year 2009 is the lesser of $16,500 or 100% of an employee's salary. Catch-up provisions apply to those 50 or older; these people can contribute an extra $5,500 in 2009.

Because contributions are made before tax, naturally this means that taxes are due when withdrawals are made. However, unlike qualified plans such as 403(b) plans, the 457(b) plans do not impose a penalty on early withdrawals.

Unlike other retirement plans, the assets in a 457(b) plan do not belong to the individual but are essentially represent a promise from the employer to you, the account holder. This is almost certainly fine for employees of large state universities, but could become an issue at a small non-government employer.

Funds from a 457(b) plan can be rolled into another 457(b) plan if you change employers. A public plan (i.e., government 457(b) account) can be rolled into a qualified retirement-savings plan such as an IRA or a 401(k). However, employes with private 457(b) plans are not allowed to roll funds from their 457(b) plans to a qualified plan such as an IRA.

The Economic Growth and Tax-Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) changed the rules, so as of 2002 an individual may contribute to a 457(b) plan and another plan, such as a 401(k) or a 403(b) plan, at the same time, and put the maximum amount allowed into both plans. Usually employers match contributions in a 403(b) but do not match contributions in a 457(b). So the common advice for people in this situation is that you should first fund the matched plan fully (e.g., a qualified 403(b)), and if your budget permits, then make contributions to a 457(b) plan.

TIAA-CREF offers a list of frequently asked questions and answers about these plans:
http://www.457bwise.com/faqs/index.html

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