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Retirement Plan Income and Tax Benefits

maximum contributions to a retirement account

Retirement planning is important for your future. IRA, 401k, and other types of retirement plans are a future source of income, and contributing to retirement plans can often give you tax benefits now, in the present.

The easiest and most accurate way to find out what tax benefits you can get from your retirement income is to start a free tax return on efile.com. Based on your answers to several questions, we will determine what retirement income you should report and what benefits you qualify for.

Visit the sections below for more information on retirement plans and how retirement affects your taxes:

Tax Benefits of Retirement Plans

Contribution Amounts

Distributions and Rollovers

Retirement Plan Loans

Reporting Retirement Income

Tax Benefits of Retirement Plans

As of 2018, the average monthly Social Security payment is $1,360. Most likely, you will need more than that to live comfortably during your retirement. Keep in mind that retirement can last 30 years or more these days and the costs of living are only increasing. A retirement plan allows you to provide for yourself in the future.

You can easily contribute to a retirement plan through payroll deductions. Your contributions (except in the case of a Roth) are tax-free, and investment interest that the account earns is nontaxable until you withdraw it. You can even move funds from one account to another, or keep the account when you change employers.

Types of Retirement Plans

There are many different types of retirement plans, each with different rules about contributions and distributions (withdrawals). Some retirement plans are sponsored by employers, and others are not. Most of them come with tax benefits of one kind or another.

It can get confusing to distinguish all of the different types of retirement plans, so you can refer to the descriptions of the following retirement plans below (including the associated tax benefits of each type of plan and whether those benefits will take effect now or later):

401(k)

A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored defined contribution plan, which means that your employer contributes a set amount (if they contribute).

Tax Benefits: (Now) Your contributions are generally made with pre-tax dollars, and you don't pay taxes until you withdraw funds (take distributions).

Traditional IRA

A traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a retirement plan that is set up with a financial institution, such as a bank or brokerage. You can contribute via payroll deduction or otherwise. Money you contribute to the account may be deducted on your tax return up to the contribution limits.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Your contributions are generally made with pre-tax dollars, and you don't pay taxes until you withdraw money. Any investment earnings are tax-free until a withdrawal is made.

You may be able to deduct the amount you contribute to a traditional IRA. There are restrictions if you are covered by an employer-sponsored plan. There is also a limit to the amount you can deduct. The deduction for IRA contributions is an above-the-line deduction, which means that you don't have to itemize deductions to claim it. You may be able to deduct up to your contribution limit.

Roth IRA

Roth IRA's are a special type of Individual Retirement Account. If you qualify for a Roth, you can contribute funds up to a certain amount, but contributions are taxed as income. You cannot deduct the contributions.

Tax Benefits: (Later) Qualified distributions from a Roth IRA are tax-free and are not included in your taxable income.

SIMPLE IRA

SIMPLE stands for Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees. A SIMPLE IRA is a traditional IRA that allows employers to contribute. It also allows employees to contribute via paycheck withholding (or otherwise). An employer can only establish a SIMPLE IRA if they cannot sponsor another retirement plan, so these plans are ideally suited to small businesses.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Like traditional IRAs, contributions may be made with pre-tax dollars and investment earnings are tax-free until distributions are taken.

SEP Plan

A Simplified Employee Pension Plan is a traditional IRA that is owned by the employee but is set up by the employer to allow them to contribute and receive tax benefits for their contributions. A SEP Plan can also be set up by self-employed individuals.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions may be made with tax-free salary deferrals and any earnings are tax-free until distributions are made.

SARSEP

A SARSEP is a Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension Plan. This is a kind of SEP Plan that is no longer available, and must have been established before 1997. It is essentially a SEP with more restrictive requirements.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions are made with tax-free deferrals of salary and earnings are tax-free until distributed.

403(b)

A 403(b) plan is a tax-sheltered annuity (an annuity is a series of regular payments made for more than a year) that is offered to employees by non-profit groups, public schools, and other tax-exempt organizations. It is similar to a 401(k) and distributions are taxable, but contributions are generally never deductible.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions may be made with pre-tax dollars and income from investments is tax-free (until distribution).

457(b)

A 457(b) is a deferred-compensation plan that allows employees to contribute through payroll deductions on a pre-tax basis. It is only offered by state and local governments and some tax-exempt organizations. Distributions are taxed.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Like a 401(k), contributions may be made pre-tax and any earnings are tax-deferred.

401(a)

A 401(a) is a defined contribution plan (employers contribute a set amount) generally offered to employees of the federal government, state governments, or Indian tribal governments, although private employers can establish them as well. Distributions are generally taxed.

Tax Benefits: (Now) The details of contributions and distributions vary from plan to plan, but contributions may be made with pre-tax dollars.

Designated Roth Account

A Designated Roth Account is a separate account created under a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan. Money is electively contributed to this account from taxed income.

Tax Benefits: (Later) Qualified distributions are tax-free.

Defined Benefit Plans

Defined Benefit Plans are traditional pension plans established by employers. They are much less common than they used to be, due to the cost and complexity involved for employers. Contributions are made by employers and may or may not be made by the employee, depending on the plan. Distributions are annuities and a portion may be taxable, depending on your total income and other factors.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions are generally tax-free.

Profit Sharing Plans

Profit sharing plans are established by employers and only contributed to by employers. Contributions are voluntary and discretionary. Withdrawals are taxable income, and an additional 10% tax penalty may apply for distributions before age 59 1/2.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Employer contributions are tax-free income for the employee.

Money Purchase Plans

In a Money Purchase Plan, employers must make set contributions. Employees may or may not contribute. Distributions are taxed, and early withdrawals are not permitted.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions are generally tax-free.

Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)

An ESOP is a type of 401(a) where contributions are not made with money but with securities.

Tax Benefits: (Now) Contributions to ESOPs are generally nontaxable.

Contribution Amounts

The amount you can contribute annually to a retirement plan is generally capped by a contribution limit. The limit is different for different types of plans and also depends on your age. Find out the maximum contribution limits for retirement plans.

Distributions and Rollovers

Most retirement plans require you to withdraw money after you reach age 70 1/2. The amount that you must withdraw each year is your required minimum distribution. The amount of your required minimum distribution varies according to your plan. A rollover is a type of distribution that you contribute directly to another retirement plan.

Find out about retirement plan distributions, required minimum distributions, and rollovers.

Most retirement plans allow you to take early distributions, but there is generally a penalty for doing so. There are also certain exceptions to the penalty. Find out more about early withdrawals from retirement plans.

Retirement Plan Loans

The following types of retirement plans may (but are not required to) offer loans from plan funds: 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), profit-sharing, and money purchase.

Check with your employer or plan administrator to find out the specific qualifications and how to apply for a loan. They can also give you the interest rates on repayment. The maximum loan amount is generally limited to 50% of your vested account balance (or $50,000, whichever is less) and must usually be repaid within 5 years. The 5-year limit is waived if you use the money to buy a primary home. You might have to repay the loan immediately if you separate from your employer. If you borrow more than the maximum amount, or if you miss a repayment, the loan could be considered an early distribution and be subject to a tax penalty. Plans such as IRAs, SEPs, and SARSEPs cannot offer loans to participants.

Reporting Retirement Income

You should get a Form 1099-R from each of your retirement plans from which you received a distribution. You can report the totals directly in your account when you prepare your return on efile.com.  We will guide you through the process, create the correct forms, check them for errors, and efile them for you with your tax return.

Related Tax Information on Retirement

Maximum Contributions to 401(K), IRA, Retirement Plans

Minimum Distributions for Retirement Plans, IRA, 401(K)

Early Withdrawals from Retirement Plans and Tax Penalties

Retirement Pension Plan Contribution Limits

Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver's Credit)

Is Social Security Income Taxable?