What are Some Types of Retirement Plans?

Retirement planning is a critical aspect of financial security, allowing individuals to save and invest for the future in a structured way. There are several types of retirement plans available, each designed to suit different employment situations, income levels, and saving goals. This article explores the major categories of retirement plans, including defined benefit plans, defined contribution plans, and non-qualified retirement plans, among others.

Defined Benefit Plans

Defined benefit plans, often referred to as pension plans, promise a specified monthly benefit at retirement. The benefit can either be a fixed sum or calculated through a formula that considers factors like salary history and length of employment. These plans are predominantly funded by the employer, and the risk of funding retirement payouts lies with the employer. Defined benefit plans are less common than they used to be but are still prevalent in public sector jobs and large corporations.

Defined Contribution Plans

Defined contribution plans have become the most popular type of retirement plan, especially among private sector employers. Unlike defined benefit plans, these do not promise a specific amount at retirement. Instead, employees contribute a portion of their wages to the retirement plan, often with matching contributions from the employer. The final benefit received depends on the contributions made and the performance of the investments.

1. 401(k) Plans: Perhaps the most well-known type of defined contribution plan, available primarily in for-profit sectors. Employees can make pre-tax contributions, which grow tax-deferred until withdrawal in retirement.

2. 403(b) Plans: Similar to 401(k) plans but offered to employees of public schools and certain non-profit organizations. They also allow employees to make tax-deferred contributions.

3. 457 Plans: Available to government and certain non-profit employees, these plans allow tax-deferred contributions but differ slightly in withdrawal rules compared to 401(k) and 403(b) plans.

4. Thrift Savings Plan (TSP): A federal government version of a 401(k) that provides federal employees with similar benefits.

Non-Qualified Retirement Plans

Non-qualified retirement plans are savings options that do not meet the IRS guidelines for tax-deferral benefits. These plans are often used to provide deferred compensation to executives and other high-earning employees. Unlike qualified plans, non-qualified plans are subject to fewer regulatory requirements, and employers can selectively decide who participates, allowing them to provide these plans to key personnel without extending them to all employees.

Other Retirement Plans

1. IRA (Individual Retirement Account): Allows individuals to make tax-deferred contributions to a retirement savings account. There are several types of IRAs, including Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs (which offer tax-free growth and withdrawals under certain conditions), and SEP IRAs (aimed at self-employed individuals and small business owners).

2. SIMPLE IRA: Designed for small businesses, this plan allows both employee and employer contributions, similar to a 401(k) but with lower contribution limits and simpler administration requirements.

3. Solo 401(k): A single-participant 401(k) plan intended for business owners with no employees other than their spouse. This plan allows high contribution limits and is suitable for sole proprietors who want to maximize their retirement savings.


Choosing the right retirement plan involves understanding the different options available and their respective benefits and limitations. Whether you’re an employee looking to make the most of your employer’s retirement offerings or a self-employed individual planning your retirement strategy, it’s important to consider how each plan fits into your overall financial goals. Consulting with a Fee-Only financial adviser can be invaluable in navigating these choices and setting a course toward a secure retirement.

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