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Elective Deferral

An Elective Deferral, as it pertains to a 401(k) retirement savings plan, is an important feature that allows employees to contribute a portion of their wages to the plan on a pre-tax basis. Here’s a more detailed look at the various aspects of Elective Deferrals:

  • Pre-Tax Contributions: When employees opt to make an Elective Deferral, the amount they choose is deducted from their gross pay before federal and state taxes are calculated. This reduces the employee’s current taxable income, potentially lowering their tax bill for the year. These contributions are taxed upon withdrawal, typically during retirement when the employee may be in a lower tax bracket.
  • Roth 401(k) Contributions: Some 401(k) plans also offer a Roth option, which allows for Elective Deferrals to be made on an after-tax basis. In contrast to traditional pre-tax contributions, Roth contributions do not reduce current taxable income, but qualified distributions, including earnings, are tax-free if certain conditions are met.
  • Annual Contribution Limits: The IRS sets limits on how much an employee can contribute to their 401(k) as an Elective Deferral each year. For 2023, the basic limit for Elective Deferrals is $20,500. However, employees aged 50 and over are eligible for catch-up contributions, which allow them to defer additional amounts above the standard limit.
  • Employer Matching Contributions: Many employers offer to match a portion of the employee’s Elective Deferrals as an incentive to contribute to the 401(k) plan. This match is often subject to a vesting schedule, meaning the employee gains full ownership of the employer contributions after a specified period of service.
  • Investment Growth: The deferred money is invested in a selection of funds or investment options chosen by the employee from the plan’s offerings. The potential for growth in a 401(k) plan is one of its most attractive features, as the investments can benefit from compounding interest over time.
  • Withdrawals and Penalties: Funds deferred into a 401(k) are intended for retirement, and as such, there are penalties for early withdrawal before age 59½. Withdrawals are subject to regular income tax, and an additional 10% penalty tax is applied to early distributions unless an exception applies.
  • Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): Starting at age 72, the IRS requires account holders to begin taking minimum distributions from their 401(k) plans. The amount is based on the account balance and the participant’s life expectancy.

Elective Deferrals are a cornerstone of retirement planning for many American workers, providing a tax-advantaged way to save for the future while offering flexibility and control over the investment of retirement funds.