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A simple guide to the many types of retirement accounts

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Saving for retirement is a journey, and every path is different. You may be saving in a traditional employer-sponsored retirement plan, like a 401(k), but depending on your interests, needs and retirement dreams, you may want to expand beyond that one method of saving. In fact, Thrivent's 2022 Retirement Readiness Survey1 found that among those nearing retirement, 42% intend to rely on a mix of assets such as a 401(k), personal savings, Social Security benefits and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

The different types of retirement accounts may feel like an alphabet soup of names, benefits and eligibility. If you're at the point in life where you are starting to envision what retirement may look like for you, learning about the savings options available can help you decide if you need to diversify your savings options.

Among those nearing retirement, 42% intend to rely on a mix of assets such as a 401(k), personal savings, Social Security benefits and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).
Thrivent's 2022 Retirement Readiness Survey

Types of employer-sponsored retirement plans

401(k) & Roth 401(k)

  • 2022 contribution limit: $20,500
  • 2022 catch-up limit: $6,500

  • 2023 contribution limit: $22,500
  • 2023 catch-up limit: $7,500

A 401(k) is one of the most common types of employer-sponsored retirement plans. If your employer offers a 401(k), you can contribute pretax dollars to it, and your investments may grow tax-deferred until you retire. However, because your employer determines the investment options available, you may be limited in your choices.

A 401(k) is a tax-later account, meaning your contributions reduce your taxable income during your contribution or working years. And any investment earnings aren't taxed. Instead, you pay taxes once you withdraw funds. You can begin withdrawing from your 401(k) penalty-free at 59½, and at age 72, you must take the required minimum distributions (RMDs) unless you meet certain requirements (you are still working, not a 5% owner of the business, and the plan document allows.)

Your employer also may offer a Roth 401(k). It works much like a traditional 401(k) in that it's funded with contributions from your paycheck and offers a pre-selected list of investment options. But unlike a traditional 401(k), which is funded with pre-tax dollars, the contributions you make to a Roth 401(k) already have been taxed so no additional tax liability will be incurred down the road (given you've met withdrawal eligibility requirements).2

403(b) & Roth 403(b)

  • 2022 contribution limit: $20,500
  • 2022 catch-up limit: $6,500

  • 2023 contribution limit: $22,500
  • 2023 catch-up limit: $7,500

A 403(b) plan is another one of the more common types of employer-sponsored retirement plans available. This plan is for public sector employees and those who work for 503(c)(3) organizations, including religious, charitable or educational institutions.

Like a 401(k), you can contribute to your retirement investments through payroll deductions. With a traditional 403(b), your money goes in pretax, and your investment earnings can grow tax-deferred until it's time to withdraw the funds. Typically, 403(b) plans are limited to annuities or mutual funds investments. 403(b)s will require you to take RMDs at age 72 unless you meet certain stipulations (you are still working and the plan document allows a delay).

You may have the option for a Roth 403(b). In this plan, you make contributions using after-tax dollars, but you don't pay taxes on withdrawals as long as you have a qualified distribution.2 If you believe you may be in a higher tax bracket in your retirement, this may be an option to discuss with your financial advisor and tax professionals.

457(b) & Roth 457(b)

  • 2022 contribution limit: $20,500
  • 2022 catch-up limit: $6,500

  • 2023 contribution limit: $22,500
  • 2023 catch-up limit: $7,500

A 457(b) is another employer-sponsored retirement savings plan for those working in state and local governments. It works like a 401(k): You contribute pretax dollars directly to your plan, any earnings from investments grow tax-deferred and you pay taxes on withdrawals in the future. One difference from a 401(k) is you may withdraw funds from a 457(b) once you leave your company without facing early tax penalties—but you have to pay income taxes on the amount withdrawn. So it's wise to leave the funds in the account until retirement to benefit from compound interest. These types of plans will be subject to RMDs at 72 unless you are still working and the plan document allows a delay.

Some employers offer a Roth 457(b), which works similarly to Roth 403(b) plans where you contribute post-tax dollars. However, when it comes time to withdraw funds, you don't have to pay taxes on it as long as you have a qualified distribution. It may make sense if you're considering your potential income at retirement being in a higher tax bracket and are offered this plan.

SEP IRA

  • 2022 contribution limit: The lesser of $61,000 or 25% of your salary

  • 2023 contribution limit: The lesser of $66,000 or 25% of your salary

With the Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA, your employer will make contributions on your behalf to an IRA that’s established in your name. The contributions made on your behalf are generally a percentage of your compensation. With a SEP IRA, you will be able to choose the investment options that are right for you. Over time, the assets in your account benefit from both the power of compound interest and tax-deferred growth.

As with a 401(k), you don't pay taxes until withdrawals begin. You can begin withdrawing penalty-free at 59½ and must take RMDs at 72.

SIMPLE IRA

  • 2022 contribution limit: $14,000
  • 2022 catch-up limit: $3,000

  • 2023 contribution limit: $15,500
  • 2023 catch-up limit: $3,500

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRAs work in a similar way to 401(k)s. You can elect to defer your own salary and your employer makes contributions on your behalf. The assets have the opportunity to grow tax-deferred until you begin withdrawals. RMDs must be taken by age 72.

Company-provided pension or profit-sharing plans

Though not as common today, some employers offer profit-sharing plans or company-provided pensions. Both of these are potential ways to get an income during retirement.

With a profit-sharing plan, the employer gives employees a share in company profits based on earnings (usually quarterly or annually). The company lays out what percentage of profits employees get and makes contributions to the plan. The IRS defines compensation rules for profit-sharing plans.

A pension is another possible way to generate retirement income. With a pension, employers contribute to investments that grow while the employee works. Once the employee retires, they get funds from their pension plan in one of two ways:

  • Defined benefit pension. The employee receives a set monthly payment for life (employees also may choose a lump-sum payment).
  • Defined contribution pension. The employer contributes to an investment account during the employee's working years, and upon retirement, the balance transfers to the employee.

Consider a Solo 401(k) if you are self-employed with no employees

  • 2022 contribution limit: $61,000
  • 2023 catch-up limit: $6,500

  • 2023 contribution limit: $66,000
  • 2023 catch-up limit: $7,500

A self-employed person may want to explore a solo 401(k). It operates similarly to a traditional 401(k)—contributions are tax-deferred, earnings can grow tax-free and withdrawals are taxed.

However, a solo 401(k) is for business owners (with no employees) and their spouses. It allows you to contribute as both an employee and an employer, so if you want to max out your retirement savings over and beyond the IRS limits for other plans, it may be an option.

Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) offer a way to invest outside of your employer's plan

Traditional IRAs

  • 2022 contribution limit: $6,000
  • 2022 catch-up limit: $1,000

  • 2023 contribution limit: $6,500
  • 2023 catch-up limit: $1,000

An individual retirement account (IRA) is a qualified retirement plan available. IRAs are a popular option if you don't have access to an employer-sponsored plan or want to invest a little more toward your future.

With a traditional IRA, you may choose a variety of investments, from stocks and bonds to mutual funds, because they are obtained directly through a financial institution instead of offered through an employer-sponsored plan. You contribute pretax dollars to a traditional IRA and pay taxes upon withdrawing funds. Traditional IRAs will require you to take RMDs by age 72.

A traditional IRA may be right for you if you:

  • Have earned income.
  • Believe you may be in the same or a lower tax bracket when you retire.
  • Want an immediate tax deduction.3
  • Are willing to wait until retirement to access funds (additional taxes and penalties will apply unless you meet IRA exception criteria).

Roth IRAs

  • 2022 contribution limit: $6,000
  • 2022 catch-up limit: $1,000

  • 2023 contribution limit: $6,500
  • 2023 catch-up limit: $1,000

A Roth IRA is similar to a traditional IRA in that it's a qualified retirement plan that isn't employer-sponsored and allows you to choose from various investment options. Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax dollars and earnings grow tax-deferred.

Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs have income limits to participate. You may contribute to a Roth IRA if your monthly adjusted gross income (MAGI) for 2022 is less than $129,000 (single filer) or less than $204,000 (joint filer) or for 2023 is less than $153,000 (single filer) or less than $228,000 (joint filer).

A Roth IRA may be right for you if you:

  • Have earned income within the income limits.
  • Believe you'll be in a higher tax bracket in retirement.
  • Want tax-free distributions in the future.
  • Want the option to take out the money you've contributed before age 59½ without penalties.4

Catch-up contributions help people 50 and older boost their retirement savings

Catch-up contributions are an option available on many retirement plans if you are 50 or order. They allow you to add additional dollars beyond the annual contribution limit of your retirement plan(s) to give your savings an extra boost before retirement. The contribution and catch-up contribution limits vary greatly by the type of retirement plan. You can find the details applicable to your retirement plan below:

2023 catch-up contribution limits

Plan type
Annual contribution limit
Catch-up contribution limit
Total individual contribution limit (if age 50 or older)
Large employer-sponsored retirement plans: 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)
$22,500
$7,500
$30,000
Small business employer-sponsored plans or self-employed retirement plans: SIMPLE 401(k), SIMPLE IRA
$15,500
$3,500
$19,000
Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA
$6,500
$1,000
$7,500

Getting the help you need to make the right choices

It's common to have doubts, fears and questions about available retirement plans. You may even wonder if you're doing enough to save for your ideal retirement. Getting personalized help along the way can make a big difference. Start by checking your progress by using a retirement income planning calculator, then consider meeting with a financial advisor.

Working with a financial advisor means you have a partner who understands your financial situation and dreams. They can answer questions, guide you through turbulent times and work with you to create a retirement strategy to support your needs.

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1Methodology: This research was conducted in June 2022 among a national sample of 1,500 adults in order to measure their sentiments, financial planning, knowledge, and issues regarding retirement. The interviews were conducted online and the data was broken into three sample groups; Saving, Nearing, and Retired. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

2 Distributions of earnings are tax-free as long as your Roth IRA, Roth 403(b) or Roth 401(k) is at least five years old and one of the following requirements is met: (1) you are at least age 59½; (2) you are disabled; (3) you are purchasing your first home ($10,000 lifetime maximum); or (4) the money is being paid to a beneficiary.

3If you are an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan for 2022, your contribution deduction is reduced if MAGI is between $68,000 and $78,000 on a single return and $109,000 and $129,000 on a joint return. If you’re married filing jointly and an active participant in an employer sponsored retirement plan and your spouse is not, the deduction for your spouse’s contribution is phased out if MAGI is between $204,000 and $214,000. For 2023, your contribution deduction is reduced if MAGI is between $73,000 and $83,000 on a single return and $116,000 and $136,000 on a joint return. If you’re married filing jointly and an active participant in an employer sponsored retirement plan and your spouse is not, the deduction for your spouse’s contribution is phased out if MAGI is between $218,000 and $228,000. If you’re a married taxpayer who files separately, consult your tax advisor.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.
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