What is 401 (k) And How Does Work?

401 (k)

Many companies offer 401 (k) plans to employees as part of their benefit package. These plans allow both workers and employers to claim tax deductions when depositing money into a retirement account.

Your employer must follow certain rules to be able to make a 401 (k) offer. Employee Benefit Security Administration, U.S. Part of the Department of Labor, regulates these plans and spells out the rules.

Let’s take a look at all the information we’ve provided to help you better understand what a 401k plan is and how it works.

What Is a 401(k) Plan?

A 401 (k) plan is an employer-sponsored eligible retirement plan aimed at helping employees increase their retirement savings.

401 (k) is a defined contribution scheme as opposed to a defined benefit scheme like pension. This means that instead of the employer being the sole contributor, the participant contributes a percentage of their earnings to the retirement plan in the form of a pay cut.

As long as your contribution amount does not exceed the IRS limit for the tax year, you can contribute a percentage of your annual income to your 401 (k). For example, if you are earning $50,000 a year and you want to allocate 5 percent of your total salary to the plan, the amount – $ 2,500 – will be divided by the number of paychecks you receive each year.

How Does 401(k) Plan Work?

Once the plan is established, the employee goes through a 401 (k) tax-delayed increment period before reaching retirement. The lifespan of a 401 (k) plan can be summarized in four steps:

Step 1:

Your employer offers you a 401 (k) plan in your benefit package. You enroll in a plan and choose your underlying investment for growth according to your time horizon and risk tolerance. Self-employed workers also have the option to set up an independent, or single 401 (k) scheme.

Step 2:

You contribute pre-tax money directly to the 401 (k) plan from your paycheck. Your employer may match your contribution or offer an additional percentage. (More employers are now offering Roth 401 (k) plans, to which you contribute on a post-tax basis.)

Step 3:

Those funds are invested in your underlying portfolio and earnings may decrease with the performance of the investment over time. Eligible retirement plan contributions and earnings increase on a tax-delayed basis until the time of withdrawal.

Step 4:

At age 59, you can start withdrawing money from the plan to use as retirement income. At that time you can pay income tax on your withdrawal. Depending on the year of your birth, you should start taking the required minimum distributions at the age of 70 ½ or 72 years.


As you begin to receive payments from your plan, you are required to report all distributions in your federal income tax return as earnings – unless they are credited to another eligibility account.

The amount of income tax you have will depend on the type of your plan. Withdrawals from the traditional 401 (k) plan are subject to income tax, while the eligible distribution from the Roth 401 (k) plan is not taxable as you received a tax on the money before you contributed to the plan.

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