All About Tax-Sheltered Annuity Plans

This is a guest post.

If you’ve previously heard of tax-sheltered annuity plans but are unsure of what they are, let this guide help you. Here’s what you need to know about tax-sheltered annuity plans.

What is it?

First things first, what are tax-sheltered annuity plans? A tax-sheltered annuity plan, or a 403(b) plan, is a retirement plan for some employees of various institutions to participate. This plan allows employees to contribute a portion of their salary to the plan. The employer may also contribute to the employee’s plan.

Who is Eligible?

Eligible Code Section 501(c)(3) employees tax-exempt organizations may participate, an employee of a public school, a state college, or a university, and eligible employees of churches. Employees of public school systems organized by Indian tribal governments, Ministers employed by Code Section (501)(c)(3) organizations, and self-employed ministers may also participate. Ministers must be employed by organizations that are not Code Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, and they must function as ministers in their day-to-day professional responsibilities with their employers.

What are the Benefits of a 403(b) plan?

In a 403(b) plan, contributions are tax deductible. Taxes are paid on distributions in retirement, which is when a lot of people are in a lower tax bracket. As mentioned earlier, employers can match 403(b) contributions on a pretax basis. Loans can be taken against a 403(b) plan, which will help in certain situations, like buying your first home.

What types of contributions can be made?

In a 403(b) plan, you can have several types of contributions:

  • Elective Deferrals – These are contributions made by the employee under a salary reduction agreement. This allows an employer to withhold a certain amount of money from an employee’s salary to deposit it in their 403(b) account.
  • Nonelective Employer Contributions – These are any contributions to the 403(b) plan that were not made under a salary reduction agreement, which include matching contributions, discretionary contributions, and certain mandatory contributions that were made by the employer. The employee will pay income tax on all of these contributions, but only when they’re withdrawn.
  • After-Tax Contributions – These are contributions made by an employee, which are reported as compensation in the year they were contributed and are included in the employee’s gross income for income tax purposes.
  • Designated Roth contributions – These are elective deferrals that the employees elects to include in their gross income. The plan must keep separate accounting records for all contributions and for all gains and losses in the designated Roth account.

Can Employees Exclude Employees From Contributing?

Absolutely. The 403(b) plan must allow allow employees to make elective deferrals under the plan, but under the universal availability rule, if the employer permits one employee to defer salary by contributing it to a 403(b) plan, they must extend the offer to all of their employees. The only exceptions are employees who would contribute less than $200 annually, those employees who work less than 20 hours a week, employees who participate in a 401(k) or 457(b) plan, or students performing services that are described in Code Section 3121(b)(10).

So When Can Employees Get the Dollars?

Employees may withdraw from the 403(b) plan when the reach the age of 59 and a half, have a severance from employment, have a financial hardship, or become disabled. Money can also be taken out if an employee passes away. The employee will have to pay taxes on the amount of the distribution that was not from designated Roth or after-tax contributions, and they may have to pay an additional ten percent early distribution tax.

Are There Rules for In-Service Transfers or Exchanges?

Yes. Contract exchanges with a non-payroll slot vendor are permitted only if the plan permits it, the accumulated benefit after the exchange is, at the very least, the same as before the exchange, if the employer and the non-payroll slot vendor agree to share information regarding the plan’s terms, if any pre-exchange benefit restrictions are maintained after the exchange, and if the vendor complies with the terms outlined in the plan.

How Much Can be Contributed Annually? Does the Employee Have to be Current?

As of 2013, the maximum combined amount that an employer and an employee can contribute to a 403(b) plan is $51,000. That number may go up, depending on the annual cost-of-living.

If the plan allows, an employer can contribute up to the annual limits for an employee’s account for up to five years after the date of severance. No portion of the contributions can come from money that was due to be paid to the former employee, and these contributions must cease if the employee passes away.

There’s much more to learn about a 403(b) plan, but these are the basics. Does your company have a 403(b) plan?


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