What is a 401k?

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What is a 401k?

A 401k, also written as 401(K), is a US tax-deferred established retirement plan which allows employees to contribute a part of their salary towards retirement. The Canadian equivalent of a 401(k) is the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). 401k allows an employer to equal an employee’s contribution to tax-deductible company contributions.

Notably, earnings on all contributions are permitted to grow in a tax-deferred trust. Also, if your employer made contributions while you were residing in the U.S, you will be permitted to transfer part of your payment from your 401k account. If your employer permits, you can transfer your 401k to a rollover IRA and then transfer the IRA to a Canadian RRSP.

Types of 401k Accounts

There are two major types of 401k accounts; the conventional 401k and the Roth 401k account. The Roth account is also known as a “designated Roth account.” The only difference between the two accounts is tax. They are both taxed differently. An employee can choose to run both accounts.

401k Benefits

As a Canadian resident, there are pros and cons involved in the 401k program you should know about. Some of the benefits of 401k include:

  • Convenience

It is easier to deduct money via automatic payroll withholding towards your retirement. You do not feel the impact of the money deducted, as it feels like the money was never there.

  • Free Money

With 401k, your employer also contributes towards your retirement. Your employer’s contribution equals free money. This simply means more money for you after retirement.

Other benefits include; deferment of U.S tax on contributions, the prospect of contributing more toward 401k than IRA, and lastly, professional bodies handling your fund.

How to Contribute to Your 401k

To make contributions, an employer and employee must make contributions up to the dollar limit established by the Internal Revenue Service.

As an employee, you are responsible for selecting the desired investment within the 401k accounts from the selection provided by your employer. Most of the selected options usually include a variety of stock and bond mutual funds.

An employee is responsible to give an employer any desired amount of money upon retirement. Employers now use 401k rather than the conventional pension scheme. It is easier, has minimal risk, and safe.

401k Contribution Limit

The highest amount an employer or employee can contribute to a 401k plan is regularly adjusted to account for inflation. For a designated Roth 401k account, the maximum contribution for the year 2020 is $19,500, up from $19,000 established in 2019. Notably, account holders aged 50 or above may make catch-up contributions of up to $6,500 for a prospect of an overall annual contribution of $26,000.

The cap, including employer and employee contribution, amounts to $57,000 to $63,500 for employers aged 50 and above. Catch-up payments are additional contributions that help employees close to retirement age to surge up the account in the years before the funds will be needed for regular income.

Withdrawing From A 401k Plan

Always have it at the back of your mind that once you contribute to a 401k plan, it may be difficult to withdraw your money without a penalty. With the traditional account, once a withdrawal is made, the tax-free money will be taxed as ordinary income.

Roth account owners must be aged at least 59½ or meet other criteria stipulated by the IRS, like being totally and permanently disabled when they start making withdrawals.

Also, Roth account owners who have paid income tax on the amount contributed will owe no tax on their withdrawals as long as they meet the stipulated requirements. Else, they will be charged an extra 10% early-distribution penalty tax on any other tax they owe.

Note that both accounts are subject to the required minimum distribution or RMDs. After age 70½, account owners are required to withdraw at least a specified percentage from their 401k plans, using IRS tables based on their life expectancy at the time of withdrawal. Nonetheless, if they are still active in service and the account is with their current employer, they may not have to take RMDs from their plan.

What to Do When Changing Jobs

Do not fret whenever you decide to leave a company. Your contribution is still safe. When leaving a company where they have a 401k plan, there are four options available for you:

  • You can choose to withdraw your funds
  • You can it rollover into an IRA
  • You can decide to leave it with your previous employer
  • Or transfer to the new employer

If an employee gets fired, some funds in your 401k plan might be altered. Note that your company cannot seize your 401k funds. It might necessitate you to transfer it to another account. You might also be losing any contributions the company made on your behalf.

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Kareena Maya is a freelance writer focused on the personal finance and travel spaces. He frequently writes about credit cards, banking, student loans, insurance, travel rewards and more. His work has been featured in publications such as Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Credit Karma, Finance Buzz, The Ascent and Student Loan Planner.

Kareena Maya is a freelance writer focused on the personal finance and travel spaces. He frequently writes about credit cards, banking, student loans, insurance, travel rewards and more. His work has been featured in publications such as Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Credit Karma, Finance Buzz, The Ascent and Student Loan Planner.