Beginner’s Guide to the Types of 401(k)s

Since their introduction within the late Nineteen Seventies and early ’80s, 401(okay) plans have grow to be the dominant method of saving for retirement within the U.S. In the present day about 60 million American staff take part in a single. The plans have additionally developed to incorporate numerous differing types. Here’s a primary information to the main varieties of 401(okay) plans.

Key Takeaways

  • There are a number of varieties of 401(okay) plans for various sorts of employers.
  • Conventional and Roth 401(okay)s could also be commonest at giant employers.
  • Smaller employers could favor SIMPLE and secure harbor 401(okay) plans, which will be much less complicated and dear to manage.
  • Solo entrepreneurs may arrange a 401(okay) only for themselves.

5 Varieties of 401(okay)s and How They Work

All 401(okay)s are defined-contribution plans, funded by worker (and typically employer) contributions. Conventional pensions, in contrast, are defined-benefit plans, funded solely by employers and promising the worker a set profit at retirement primarily based on their wage, years of service, and different components. With a 401(okay), the sum of money that staff can have out there for retirement is decided by how a lot they contributed to the plan and the way properly the investments inside their account have carried out through the years.

There are a number of several types of 401(okay) plan. These are those you might be almost certainly to come across as both an worker or an employer: 

Conventional 401(okay)

That is what most individuals in all probability consider as a 401(okay). The worker contributes cash to their account every pay interval, often by way of common payroll deductions. That cash goes into the investments, usually mutual funds, that they’ve chosen from the plan’s choices.

The utmost that staff can contribute is ready by regulation,. For 2023, it’s $22,500 a yr for anybody beneath 50, $29,000 for these 50 and up. On prime of that, many employers will make an identical contribution, comparable to 50 cents per greenback of the worker’s first $6,000 in wage, or $3,000 a yr.

The cash the worker contributes will not be instantly taxed. So, for instance, an worker who makes $50,000 yr and contributes $10,000 to their 401(okay) plan pays earnings taxes solely on $40,000 of their earnings that yr. The account’s earnings may even develop tax-deferred till they’re finally withdrawn.

When the worker makes withdrawals (sometimes called distributions) from the account, that cash will probably be taxed as common earnings. As well as, as a result of 401(okay)s are meant for retirement, staff typically cannot withdraw cash earlier than age 59½ with out paying tax penalties. There are, nonetheless, some exceptions to that rule.

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Conventional 401(okay) plans are additionally topic to required minimal distribution (RMD) guidelines. Underneath the present guidelines, account house owners should take RMDs every year, now beginning at age 73. Your yr of start could imply your RMDs began earlier. Inside Income Service Publication 590-B has tables and worksheets that account house owners can use to calculate their RMDs. 


Along with 401(okay)s, different varieties of defined-contribution retirement plans embrace 403(b) plans for colleges and nonprofits, 457 plans for presidency staff, and profit-sharing plans within the company world.

Roth 401(okay)

The Roth 401(okay), typically referred to as a delegated Roth account, is sort of a conventional 401(okay) however with one key distinction: Contributions do not obtain an upfront tax break, however withdrawals will probably be tax-free if the worker meets sure necessities. Particularly, they need to typically be 59½ or older and have had the Roth account for no less than 5 years, though, as with conventional 401(okay)s, there are exceptions. Contributions to a Roth 401(okay)—versus the account’s earnings—will be withdrawn tax-free at any time as a result of they’ve already been taxed.

Some employers provide each conventional and Roth 401(okay) choices. Staff can, if they need, break up their contributions between the 2 sorts, however their most whole contribution (in 2023) cannot exceed $22,500 a yr for anybody beneath 50, $29,000 for these 50 and up.  

Roth 401(okay)s are presently topic to the identical required minimal distribution (RMD) guidelines as conventional 401(okay)s, described above. (Roth IRAs, in contrast, aren’t topic to RMDs in the course of the account proprietor’s lifetime.) Nonetheless, beginning in 2024, RMDs will not be required from designated Roth 401(okay)s in the course of the proprietor’s lifetime, as a part of the Safe 2.0 Act of 2022.

SIMPLE 401(okay)

SIMPLE 401(okay) plans are designed for small companies with 100 or fewer staff. SIMPLE is an acronym for Financial savings Incentive Match PLan for Staff.

With a SIMPLE 401(okay) plan, staff can contribute as much as $15,500 (in 2023) in the event that they’re beneath 50 or $19,000 in the event that they’re 50 and up. As with a standard 401(okay), that cash is not taxed as earnings till it is finally withdrawn from the plan.

The employer should make both an identical contribution of as much as 3% of every worker’s pay for many who contribute to the plan or a nonelective contribution of two% for all eligible staff, no matter whether or not they take part within the plan.

Like conventional and Roth 401(okay)s, SIMPLE 401(okay)s will be topic to early withdrawal penalties earlier than age 59½ and to required minimal distributions after age 70½ or 72.

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Secure Harbor 401(okay)

Secure harbor is a authorized time period for a provision within the regulation that exempts an individual or firm from sure laws in the event that they meet different necessities. A secure harbor 401(okay) permits employers to skip the nondiscrimination assessments that the majority 401(okay) plans are topic to. Nondiscrimination assessments are meant to make sure that plans don’t discriminate in favor of extremely compensated staff when it comes to employer matches or different advantages. As a result of secure harbor 401(okay)s are simpler to manage, they’re particularly fashionable with small companies.

In return, employers with secure harbor 401(okay)s should make annual contributions to each eligible worker’s plan, no matter whether or not the staff themselves contribute. As well as, that cash is straight away vested, no matter how lengthy the worker has been with the

(Different varieties of 401(okay) plans usually have vesting necessities for his or her employer contributions, whereas worker contributions are at all times instantly vested.)

Employers could make their required contributions in one in every of 3 ways:

  1. Nonelective contribution. Employer contributes an quantity equal to three% of compensation on behalf of every non-highly compensated worker. Staff are usually not required to contribute.
  2. Fundamental match. In a primary match, the employer matches 100% of every non-highly compensated worker’s elective contributions, as much as 3% of their compensation. Plus it matches 50% of the following 2% in compensation. So, for instance, an worker who earns $50,000 a yr can be
    eligible for a most match of $2,000 (100% of their first $1,500 in contributions plus 50% of the following $1,000).
  3. Enhanced match. Right here the employer can base its match on as much as 6% of the worker’s compensation, reasonably than simply 5%, as with a primary match.

Other than these variations, secure harbor 401(okay)s work very like every other 401(okay) and are topic to the identical guidelines on contributions, early withdrawals, and required minimal distributions.  


You probably have a number of 401(okay) plans, comparable to one with an employer and one other to your personal small enterprise, your whole contributions cannot exceed the utmost for a single 401(okay) plan.

One-Participant 401(okay) 

These plans go by a wide range of names, together with solo 401(okay), particular person 401(okay), and self-employed 401(okay). They’re designed for companies with no staff apart from the proprietor, plus their partner if that individual additionally works within the enterprise.

As a result of the proprietor is taken into account each an employer and worker of the enterprise, they’ll contribute to the plan in each capacities.

As staff, they’ll contribute as much as 100% of their compensation or internet earnings from self-employment, with the identical annual contribution restrict as conventional and Roth 401(okay) plans: $22,500 a yr for anybody beneath 50, $30,000 for these 50 and up (in 2023).

As their very own employers, they’ll additionally make further, nonelective contributions. The utmost is determined by how their enterprise is ready up for tax functions (S company vs. self-employed sole proprietor, for instance).

In whole, as employer and worker, the enterprise proprietor can contribute as a lot as $66,000 to their 401(okay) plan (for 2023), plus one other $7,500 in the event that they’re 50 or over.

Spouses who earn earnings from the enterprise may contribute to a one-participant 401(okay), as much as the identical maximums, and they’re eligible for a similar further employer contribution.

One-participant 401(okay)s will be both conventional or Roth plans and are topic to the identical guidelines as these plans for early withdrawals and required minimal distributions.

Can You Have Each a 401(okay) Plan and an IRA?

Sure, you may contribute to each a 401(okay) plan at work and a person retirement account by yourself. Nonetheless, if both you or your partner has a 401(okay) plan, your IRA contributions will not be tax-deductible.

How Does Vesting Work in a 401(okay) Plan?

Worker contributions to a 401(okay) plan vest instantly, which means that they belong to the worker from day 1. Employer matching contributions can work in another way, relying on the kind of plan. With some sorts, comparable to secure harbor 401(okay)s, matching contributions vest instantly. With different sorts, comparable to conventional 401(okay)s, employers can set totally different guidelines in the event that they want to. For instance, the employer match would possibly vest solely after three years of service or vest steadily over a six-year interval.

What’s Computerized Enrollment and How Does It Work?

Computerized enrollment is a provision in some 401(okay) plans that enables employers to defer a portion of an worker’s wages and deposit the cash right into a 401(okay) account on their behalf. Staff can choose out if they need to take action. Plans with this provision are typically known as automated enrollment 401(okay)s.

The SECURE 2.0 Act, signed by President Biden as a part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 on Dec. 29, 2022, makes automated enrollment (with an opt-out provision for many who do not wish to be a part of) necessary for newly created 401(okay) plans for plan years starting after Dec. 31, 2024.

Are 401(okay) Plans Federally Insured?

No, not like most financial institution and credit score union accounts within the U.S., 401(okay) plans are usually not lined by federal insurance coverage.

The Backside Line

There are a number of varieties of 401(okay) plans that employers could provide their staff. Conventional plans are commonest amongst bigger employers, whereas SIMPLE and secure harbor plans are sometimes discovered at small companies. Enterprise house owners with out different staff may open one-participant 401(okay) plans. These plans are related in sure respects however totally different in others.