What is a 401(k)?

A 401(k) plan is a type of employer sponsored retirement plan in which you can elect to defer some of your paycheck to save for retirement.

If you make pretax contributions, your taxable income is reduced by the amount that you contribute to the plan each year, up to certain limits.

what is a 401(k)

The contributed amount and any investment earnings are taxed to you when withdrawn or distributed. If your plan allows after-tax Roth contributions, there is no immediate tax benefit, but qualified distributions are tax-free. Most 401(k) plans offer an assortment of investment options, ranging from conservative to aggressive.

401(k) Plans Key strengths

  • You receive "free" money if your employer matches your contributions
  • You decide how much to save (within federal limits) and how to invest your 401(k) money 
  • Your regular 401(k) contributions are made with pretax dollars
  • Earnings accrue tax deferred until you start making withdrawals, usually after retirement 
  • Your Roth 401(k) contributions (if your plan allows them) are made with after-tax dollars; there's no upfront tax benefit, but distributions of your contributions are always tax free and, if you satisfy a five-year waiting period, distributions of earnings after age 59½, or upon your disability or death, are also tax free 
  • You may qualify for a partial income tax credit 
  • Plan loans may be available to you
  • Hardship withdrawals may be available to you, though income tax and perhaps an early withdrawal penalty will apply, and you may be suspended from contributing for up to six months
  • Your employer may provide full-service investment management 
  • Savings in a 401(k) are generally exempt from creditor claims (but not from IRS claims)

If you make pretax contributions, your taxable income is reduced by the amount that you contribute to the plan each year, up to certain limits. The contributed amount and any investment earnings are taxed to you when withdrawn or distributed. If your plan allows after-tax Roth contributions, there is no immediate tax benefit, but qualified distributions are tax-free. Most 401(k) plans offer an assortment of investment options, ranging from conservative to aggressive. 

Bear in mind... 

  • 401(k)s do not promise future benefits; if your plan investments perform badly, you could suffer a financial loss 
  • If you withdraw the funds prior to age 59½ (age 55 in certain circumstances) you may have to pay a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty (in addition to ordinary income tax)
  • The IRS limits the amount of money you can contribute to your 401(k)
  • Unless the plan is a SIMPLE 401(k) plan, a safe harbor 401(k) plan, or the plan contains a qualified automatic contribution arrangement, you may have to work for your employer up to six years to fully own employer matching contributions

For more information, contact your financial professional or call Security Benefit at 800.888.2461. 

Security Benefit Corporation and its affiliates are not a fiduciaries and the information provided is not intended to be investment advice. This information is general in nature and intended for use with the general public. For additional information, including any specific advice or recommendations, please visit with your financial professional.

The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.