Is A 401k A Retirement Plan?  

Is A 401k A Retirement Plan

Is A 401k A Retirement Plan?  

Many people who are getting started with investing ask “ Is a 401k a retirement plan?”. Some employers offer a 401(k), which is a retirement savings program that offers various tax benefits. An employee who signs up to a 401k agrees that a portion of every paycheck will be paid into an investment account. An employer may match a portion or all of the contributions. An employee can choose from a variety of investment options, most commonly mutual funds.  


  • Employees can contribute to a company-sponsored 401(k). Employers might also match contributions.
  • There are two types of 401ks: traditional and Roth. They differ in the way they’re taxed. Traditional 401(k) contributions are pre-tax. The money is taken from your gross income, and there are no taxes due until you withdraw it. A Roth allows employees to pay income taxes upfront, but they can withdraw their money tax-free if certain time and age requirements are met.
  • The CARES Act has relaxed withdrawal rules for 2020 to accommodate those who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. RMDs were also suspended.

How 401(k) Plans Work  

To answer your question “is a 401k a retirement plan?”. Congress created the 401(k) plan to encourage Americans to save money for retirement. Tax savings is one of the many benefits offered by these plans.  

There are two options available, each offering distinct tax benefits:  

  • An employee’s gross income is reduced by a traditional 401(k). This amount reduces the employee’s taxable income and can be reported as an annual tax deduction. Unless the employee withdraws the funds or profits, there are no taxes due. This is usually after retirement.
  • The employee’s after-tax income is deducted from the Roth 401(k). This money is subject to income taxes by the employee immediately. No additional taxes will be due on the employee’s contributions or any profits earned over the years if the money is taken out during retirement. Some employers do not offer a Roth account option.


Contributing To A 401(k) Plan  

A 401(k), also known as a defined contribution plan is an investment account where employers and employees can contribute to the account up until the dollar limit set by the Internal Revenue Service.  A defined-benefit plan, also known as a defined-benefit pension, is an alternative to traditional pensions. An employer offering a pension will commit to paying a certain amount to the employee for their retirement.  As employers shift the risk and responsibility of saving for retirement to employees, 401(k) plans have become more popular in recent years.  The employee is responsible for selecting the investments in their 401(k), from a list provided by their employer. These offerings usually include a variety of stock and bond mutual funds as well as target-date funds, which are intended to lower the risk of investment loss as an employee nears retirement.  These may include guaranteed investments (GICs) that are issued by insurance companies, and sometimes the employer’s stock.  

Contribution Limits  

Inflation affects the maximum amount an employer or employee can contribute to a plan under  401(k). It is periodically adjusted.  The limits on employee contributions for 2020 and 2021 are $19,500 for workers younger than 50  years and $26,000 for those older than 50 years (including a $6,000. catch-up contribution).  Employers may also contribute, or employees can make non-deductible after-tax contributions to traditional 401(k). The total employee/employer contribution of workers under 50 is $58,000 or 100%  of the employee’s compensation for 2021. The limit for those over 50 is $64,500.5  

Employer Matching  

An employer may match 50 cents of every dollar that an employee contributes to a specific percentage of their salary.  Financial advisors recommend that employees contribute enough money to their 401 (k) plans to receive the full employer match.  

Contributing To Both A Roth And Traditional 401(k) Plan.  

Employees can choose to split their contributions if their employer offers both types of 401(k). This allows them to put some money in a traditional 401 (k) plan and some in a Roth 401 (k).  Their total contribution to both accounts cannot exceed $19,500 (for those younger than 50 in 2020  or 2021).  Employer contributions cannot be deposited into a Roth account. They will still be subject to taxes upon withdrawal. 

Take Withdrawals From A 401(k).  

It is very difficult to withdraw money from a 401(k) once it has been invested.  Revere Asset Management Inc. president Dan Stewart, CFA(r), in Dallas, says, “Ensure that you  have enough money on the outside to cover any emergencies or expenses you might have before  retirement.” You should not place all your savings in your 401(k), where you are not able to access it  if needed.”  Traditional 401(k) account owners can withdraw money, which has never been taxed. This money will then be subject to ordinary income tax. Roth account owners already pay income tax on the money that they have contributed to the plan. They will not owe any tax on the withdrawals as long as they meet certain requirements.  

Traditional and Roth 401k owners must be at minimum 59 1/2 years old or meet any other requirements set out by the IRS.  They will usually face an additional 10% penalty tax for early distribution, on top of any other taxes they owe.  

Employers may allow their employees to borrow against the money they have contributed towards a  401(k). They are borrowing from themselves. This option is worth considering. However, if you quit your job before the money is repaid you will have to repay the money in a lump sum.  

Minimum Distributions Required 

After reaching a certain age, traditional 401(k) account holders will be subject to required minimum distributions or RMDs. In IRS parlance, withdrawals are sometimes referred to simply as  “distributions”.  

Account owners who are over 72 years old must withdraw at least a certain percentage of their  401(k), using IRS tables that reflect their current life expectancy. (Before 2020, the RMD was 70 1/2  years.  RMDs may not be required for people who are still employed.  Distributions from a traditional 403(k) are tax-free. Qualified withdrawals made from a Roth401(k) will not be.  Roth IRAs are not subject to RMDs in the owner’s lifetime, unlike Roth 401 (k). 

Roth 401(k) Vs. Traditional  401 (k)  

In 1978, 401(k)plans were first made available to companies. Employees and employers had only one option: the traditional 401 (k). In 2006, the Roth 401(k) was introduced.  Although Roth 401(k)s took a while to become popular, many employers now offer them.  Employees often have to decide between Roth or traditional.  

Employees who anticipate being in a lower marginal income bracket when they retire may want to choose a traditional 401k and take advantage of the immediate tax breaks.  Employees who plan to retire in a higher income bracket might choose the Roth, so they can avoid paying taxes later on. Also important–especially if the Roth has years to grow–is that there is no tax on withdrawals, which means that all the money the contributions earn over decades of being in the account is tax-free.  

Practically, the Roth has a lower immediate spending power than the traditional 401(k). This is especially important if you have a tight budget.  

No one can predict the tax rates in decades to come, so neither type of 401k is certain. Many financial advisors recommend that people hedge their bets by putting some money into each type of  401(k).  Hopefully, this article has helped answer the question “is a 401k a retirement plan?”. For further questions get in touch with us.

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Any opinions are those of All Seasons Wealth Advisors In Tampa are not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of the strategy selected. Every investor’s situation is unique and you should consider your investment goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon before making any investment. Past performance may not be indicative of future results.

Roth 401(k) plans are long‐term retirement savings vehicles. Contributions to a Roth 401(k) are never tax-deductible, but if certain conditions are met, distributions will be completely income tax-free.  Unlike Roth IRAs, Roth 401(k) participants are subject to required minimum

distributions at age 72 (70 ½ if you reach 70 ½ before January 1, 2020). Matching contributions from your employer may be subject to a vesting schedule. Please consult with your financial advisor for more information. Roth IRA owners must be 59½ or older and have held the IRA for five years before tax‐free withdrawals are permitted. Like Traditional IRAs, contribution limits apply to Roth IRAs. In addition, with a Roth IRA, your allowable contribution may be reduced or eliminated if your annual income exceeds certain limits. Contributions to a Roth IRA are never tax-deductible, but if certain conditions are met, distributions will be completely income tax-free. Neither Raymond James Financial Services nor any Raymond James Financial Advisor renders advice on tax issues, these matters should be discussed with the appropriate professional.

Every investor’s situation is unique and you should consider your investment goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon before making any investment. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation.