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What Do The Various Retirement Plan Terms Mean?

Retirement plans come with a lot of jargon and terminology that most people are not familiar with. Below, I’ve provided some definitions for the most common types of retirement savings and investment plans.

401(k) plan: This is a retirement plan where an employee defers part of his or her current income into a tax shelter where it grows tax-free until the employee withdraws it. The employer has the discretion to match the employee’s contributions. Contributions of employer and employee are limited to the lesser of 25% of salary or $30,000. The plan allows an employee to save for retirement and simultaneously reduce his or her current income tax bill. Employees are often allowed to make decisions as to the investment of these funds.

Defined benefit pension plan: This is a traditional pension plan that pays workers a specific monthly benefit at retirement. These plans either state the promised benefit as an exact dollar amount or specify a formula for calculating the benefit. Generally, a company funds the pension plan, and a professional money manager invests the assets of the fund.

Individual retirement account (traditional): This is not a qualified retirement plan; it is described under a different section of the Tax Code. An individual, not a company, establishes an IRA. Under this plan, an individual can deposit up to $4,000 for age 49 and below for the years 2005-2007 and $4,500 for age 50 and above for the year 2005, increasing to $5,000 for 2006-2007. For age 49 and below in the year 2008, the limit will be $5,000, and $6,000 for age 50 and above. After 2008, the contribution limit is scheduled to raise in increments of $500 depending on the inflation level. If an individual is not eligible to participate in a pension, profit-sharing or 401(k) plan at work, the contributions to the IRA are deductible irrespective of the person’s income. If the individual is covered by a company retirement plan, he or she loses his or her right to the IRA deduction as his or her adjusted gross income exceeds certain levels. Traditional IRA earnings are taxed when they are withdrawn.

Keogh plan: This is a qualified retirement plan for self-employed individuals. Contributions to this plan are tax-deductible. The individual can direct the investment of the funds that are put into a Keogh, e.g., stocks, bonds or mutual funds.

Qualified retirement plan: A qualified plan is one that is described in Section 401(a) of the Tax Code. A qualified retirement plan is established by a business. The most common types of plans are profit-sharing plans, defined benefit plans and money purchase pension plans. Your contributions to a qualified plan are not taxed until you withdraw the money. In addition, any contributions made to the plan on your behalf by your employer are tax-deductible.

Roth individual retirement account: This is similar to the traditional IRA except that the contributions to a Roth IRA are nondeductible. When you withdraw money from a Roth IRA in retirement, it will be tax-free.

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If you have questions about how a retirement plan will fit into your larger estate plan, contact Charles M. Hall, P.C., for knowledgeable answers. Call my Atlanta office at 404-865-1966 or fill out my online contact form.

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