Understanding Defined Contribution Plans

Defined contribution plans are retirement savings plans in which employees contribute a portion of their salary into individual accounts. Unlike defined benefit plans that promise a specific payout at retirement, defined contribution plans depend on the contributions made and the performance of the investments. These plans, which include 401(k) and 403(b) plans, are a cornerstone of retirement planning for many employees.


Benefits of Defined Contribution Plans

Defined contribution plans offer numerous advantages that can significantly impact your retirement savings. Benefits include tax advantages, high contribution limits, employer matching contributions, and a variety of investment options.

Tax Advantages

One of the main benefits of defined contribution plans is the tax advantage. Contributions are typically made on a pre-tax basis, which lowers your taxable income for the year. This immediate tax savings can be substantial. Furthermore, the investment earnings grow tax-deferred, meaning you don't pay taxes on the gains until you withdraw the money during retirement. This allows for more significant compound growth over time.

Higher Contribution Limits

The IRS sets annual contribution limits for defined contribution plans, and these limits tend to be higher than those for traditional IRAs. For example, the 2024 contribution limit for a 401(k) or 403(b) plan is $23,000. The total limit for employee and employer contributions combined is $69,000. These higher limits allow for accelerated growth of your retirement savings.

Catch-Up Contributions

For employees aged 50 and older, defined contribution plans offer the option to make catch-up contributions. This provision allows older workers to contribute an additional $7,500 annually, increasing their total potential contribution to $30,500 for 2024. This is particularly beneficial for those who need to boost their savings as they approach retirement.

Employer Matching Contributions

Many employers offer matching contributions to their employees' defined contribution plans. These matches have the potential to significantly enhance your retirement savings, essentially providing free money to boost your fund. Employer matching formulas vary, but they often match a percentage of your contributions.

Diverse Investment Options

Defined contribution plans typically offer a range of investment choices, including mutual funds, stocks, and bonds. This diversity allows you to tailor your investment strategy to match your risk tolerance and retirement goals. A well-diversified portfolio can help manage risk and increase the potential for growth.

Loan Provisions

Many defined contribution plans allow participants to borrow against their account balance. While it's generally advisable to avoid borrowing from your retirement savings, this option can provide a financial safety net in emergencies. Loan amounts, repayment terms, and interest rates vary by plan, so it's essential to understand your specific plan's provisions.


Defined contribution plans offer portability, which can be beneficial in today's dynamic job market. If you change jobs, you can roll over your defined contribution plan savings into a new employer’s plan or an IRA without incurring taxes or penalties. This feature helps your retirement savings remain intact as you move between employers.

Protection from Creditors

Funds in defined contribution plans are generally protected from creditors under federal law. This protection ensures that your retirement savings are safe from your employer’s bankruptcy or other financial liabilities, providing peace of mind that your funds will be available when you need them.


Planning Your Retirement with a Defined Contribution Plan

Retirement planning can be complex It can be easier with professional guidance. EP Wealth advisors specialize in helping you make the most of your defined contribution plan. Whether you are just starting your career or approaching retirement, our experienced professionals provide personalized advice to ensure you are on track to meet your financial goals.

Find an EP Wealth advisor near you to find out more about our services or schedule a financial health assessment today.


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