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A Comprehensive Guide to 403(b) Retirement Plans

A Comprehensive Guide to 403(b) Retirement Plans

Retirement planning is a crucial aspect of financial management and can be stressful for individuals unfamiliar with the different account types. Two typical retirement savings options available to faculty at higher education institutions are the 403(b) and 457(b) plans. This guide will highlight the 403(b) plan. Additionally, we will give you insights on the best retirement plan for you and how to maximize your contributions. Stay tuned.

If you're an employee of a higher education institution, you've probably created or at least heard of a 403(b)-retirement account from your university's HR department. 403(b) plans, also known as a Tax-Sheltered Annuity (TSA) plan, were first introduced in 1958 as an additional retirement savings option for employees of tax-exempt organizations. Over time, these plans have evolved to include more investment options and other plan features. Its primary purpose is to enable employees to contribute pre-tax and post-tax incomes (ROTH 403(b)) to a retirement account, providing them with tax advantages while saving for retirement.

Contributions and Features 403(b) Plans

According to the IRS, employees can contribute up to $22,500 for pre-tax and Roth accounts in 2023. Employees aged 50 or older can contribute up to $7,500 per year, bringing their contribution limit to $30,000. In most cases, though, 403b plans have a pre-tax and post-tax or ROTH contribution option, and the contributions and earnings are not taxed until withdrawal. Please note, if your income exceeds the IRS allowable limit, you are limited to your contributions to a ROTH IRA by either a "back-door" ROTH strategy, an IRA conversion, or participation in an ERISA-sponsored retirement plan.

Some institutions may also offer matching contributions. Employers may require you to meet specific criteria to qualify for these plans. Your age, job status, and length of service are examples of some of those criteria. Long-serving employees eligible for the same employer 403(b) plan for at least 15 years may save even more in their 403(b) each year. If your 403(b) permits this type of catch-up contribution and you meet the 15-year requirement, you may save up to an additional $3,000 each year until you reach up to $15,000 in contributions.

Individuals with numerous employer-sponsored retirement plans (401(b)s, 401(k)s, SARSEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs) from different employers are limited to the annual employee contribution. Employees can only contribute $22,500 in 2023 pre-tax to all qualifying employer-sponsored plans. For those 50 and older, catch-up contributions may be possible. No matter how much your other employers contribute, each employer can contribute up to the employee and employer maximum for that year. You can max out your contributions to both an employer-sponsored retirement plan as well as to an IRA.

Most individuals need to be made aware that if you hit the limit of what you alone can save in a 403(b), there might be a chance for you to put away more. If your plan allows for after-tax contributions, you can contribute dollars you've already paid taxes on into a traditional 403(b), which generally only holds pre-tax money. After-tax contributions let you save up to the year's total employee and employer contribution limit, provided your existing employee and employer contributions do not exceed the limit. It's important to note that not all 403(b) plans permit after-

tax contributions. Overcontributing to a 403(b) can result in a penalty of any unpaid income taxes on the excess contributions in the year you overcontributed and when you finally take them out, plus a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you're under 591⁄2.

As for investment options, the IRS states that assets can be invested in any of the following investment types:

- An annuity contract through an insurance company.

- A custodial account invested in mutual funds.

- A retirement income account set up for church employees.

TSA plans to offer a limited range of investment choices than 457(b) retirement plans. The scope is limited because 403(b) plans are subjected to more regulations. Many 403(b)s will offer you low-cost bond and stock index funds or target-date funds if the option is provided at your institution. It is important to note that investment choices for both programs may vary depending on the employer.

Considerations for Choosing a Retirement Plan

When choosing a retirement plan, it is essential to consider all benefits and risks. A 403(b)- retirement plan is no exception. Before deciding on taking up a 403(b)-retirement plan, it would be beneficial to understand some of the considerations one should consider.

First, consider your income, age, and retirement goals. Do you aim to retire early or wait until later? Do you expect your salary or needs to fluctuate in the future? Standard 403(b) withdrawals are made after turning 59 1⁄2. Once you turn 72, the IRS mandates certain minimal withdrawals called required minimum distributions (RMDs). If you aren't already withdrawing the minimum amount to finance your retirement, you must start then, or you could face a tax penalty equal to half of your RMD. Most faculty don't ever plan on "officially" retiring, so assessing your career goals and aspirations will help determine if a 403(b) account is best suited for you.

Investment options and fees are a crucial consideration when choosing a retirement plan. Given that 403(b) retirement plans cater to specific nonprofit organizations, the investment options may be restricted. Therefore, it is critical to compare the fees and expenses for each 403(b) plan to maximize returns on investment. Although some 403(b) plans have high fees, some allow low- cost investment options that benefit employees looking to save on fees.

It's essential to research, analyze, and evaluate all account features and pitfalls before making decisions. Vesting schedules and employer contributions may vary. Unlike other retirement plans, 403(b) has unique vesting schedules that may vary between long periods and immediate vesting. Unlike other retirement plans, 403(b) retirement plans accept only specific employees, limit the amount one can save, and restrict installment loans. Each plan impacts the current cash flow lifestyle and future financial well-being. Thoroughly evaluating a retirement plan's impact can lead to more informed decision-making.

To sum it up, 403(b) retirement plans are structured to benefit employees of nonprofit organizations. Understanding the plan rules and regulations, benefits, and pitfalls can guide you

in making an informed decision. When deciding to take up a 403(b)-retirement plan, it is essential to consider factors such as investment options, fees, employer contributions, vesting schedules, and unique characteristics to maximize the benefits accrued.


Navigating and selecting an employer-sponsored retirement account can be daunting, especially for someone who doesn't know the world of finance and certainly doesn't have the time to learn. These accounts can be like reading a foreign language, but understanding their features and benefits can help make an informed decision. Key factors include contribution limits, investment options, and tax benefits. Assessing your current cash flow, lifestyle goals, retirement needs, and career aspirations can also help you make the right choice. While both plans are tailored for higher education faculty and staff, your circumstances and wants should guide your decision. Maximize your benefits and contributions by choosing the program that aligns with your financial goals.


1. https://www.fidelity.com/learning-center/smart-money/403b-contribution- limits#:~:text=The%202023%20403(b)%20contribution,employee%20contribution%20limit%20t o%20%2430%2C000.

2. htps://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/retirement-plans-faqs-regarding-403b-tax-sheltered-annuity-plans

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