Are 403(b) plans a good way to save for retirement?

In general, yes. Also known as a tax-sheltered annuity, a 403(b) plan is an employer-sponsored plan designed for employees of certain tax-exempt organizations (e.g., hospitals, churches, charities, and public schools) to invest for their retirement. Typically, the employer purchases annuity contracts or sets up custodial accounts for eligible employees who choose to participate. A 403(b) plan is technically not a qualified plan, but it is said to mimic a qualified plan because it shares some of the same features.

Like a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) plan enables you to make contributions to the plan on a pre-tax basis. These are known as salary-reduction contributions because they come from your salary before taxes are withheld, thus reducing your taxable income. For tax year 2019, you are allowed to defer up to $19,000 a year or 100% of your compensation, whichever is less, to the plan. If you're 50 or older, you can make an extra "catch-up" contribution of $6,000 in 2019 (additional special catch-up contribution rules may also apply). Employers will sometimes contribute to the plan as well, although employer contributions are generally not required and (if made) may be subject to a vesting schedule before you are entitled to them. Earnings (e.g., dividends and interest) on your 403(b) plan investments accrue tax deferred. Only when you withdraw your funds from the plan do you pay income tax on contributions and earnings. If you wait until after you're retired to begin withdrawing, you may be in a lower tax bracket.

The combination of pre-tax contributions and tax-deferred growth creates the opportunity to build an impressive retirement fund with a 403(b) plan, depending on investment performance. You may even qualify for a partial tax credit for amounts contributed if your income is below a certain level. In addition, a 403(b) plan may allow you (under certain conditions) to withdraw money from the plan while still working for your employer. Beware of these "in-service" withdrawals, however. They may be subject to both regular income tax and (if you're under age 59½) a 10% early withdrawal penalty. A plan loan, if permitted, might be a better way to obtain the cash you need.

Note: Your employer may also allow you to make after-tax "Roth" contributions to your 403(b) plan. Because your Roth contributions are after tax, those contributions are always tax free when distributed to you. But the main attraction of Roth 403(b) contributions is that the earnings on your contributions are also tax free if your distribution is "qualified." In general, a distribution is qualified if it is made more than five years after the year you make your first Roth 403(b) contribution, and you are either 59½ or disabled when you receive the payment.

Important Note: Equitable believes that education is a key step toward addressing your financial goals, and this discussion serves simply as an informational and educational resource.  It does not constitute investment advice, nor does it make a direct or indirect recommendation of any particular product or of the appropriateness of any particular investment-related option. Your unique needs, goals and circumstances require the individualized attention of your financial professional.

Information provided has been prepared from sources and data we believe to be accurate, but we make no representation as to its accuracy or completeness. Data and information is not intended for solicitation or trading purposes. Please consult your tax and legal advisors regarding your individual situation. Neither Equitable nor any of the data provided by Equitable or its content providers, such as Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., shall be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for the actions taken in reliance therein. By accessing the Equitable website, a user agrees to abide by the terms and conditions of the site including not redistributing the information found therein.

Please be advised that this materials is not intended as legal or tax advice. Accordingly, any tax information provided in this material is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The tax information was written to support the promotion or marketing of the transactions(s) or matter(s) addressed and you should seek advice based on your particular circumstances from an independent advisor.

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