A 403(b) plan is a special tax-deferred retirement savings plan that is often referred to as a tax-sheltered annuity, a tax-deferred annuity, or a 403(b) annuity. It is similar to a 401(k), but only the employees of public school systems and 501(c)(3) organizations are eligible to participate in 403(b) plans.

Employees can fund their accounts with pre-tax contributions, and employers can also make contributions to employee accounts. Employer contributions can be fixed or discretionary. Eligible employees may elect to defer up to 100% of their salaries, as long as the amount does not exceed $17,500 (in 2014). A special “catch-up” contribution provision enables those who are 50 and older to save an additional $5,500. Total combined employer and employee contributions cannot exceed $52,000 (in 2014). Contribution limits are indexed annually for inflation.

Employees have the option of choosing the types of investments utilized in their funds. A 403(b) can be an annuity contract, a custodial account, or a retirement income account. It is a good idea to do a little research before selecting how you would like to invest your funds. Your employer can provide you with a list of the investments that are available.

Distributions from 403(b) plans are taxed as ordinary income. Withdrawals made before age 59½ may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty unless a qualifying event occurs, such as death or disability.

Generally, once you reach age 70½, you must begin taking annual required minimum distributions. You can receive regular periodic distributions on a schedule that is calculated based on your life expectancy, or you can collect your entire investment as a lump sum.

Participating in a 403(b) plan may be a good way to save for retirement. Contact your employer to find out what type of plan is offered and how you can take advantage of this retirement funding vehicle.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2014 Emerald Connect, LLC
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