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Defined-Contribution Plan


A Defined-Contribution Plan is a type of retirement plan wherein both employees and employers can contribute, but the final benefits are not predetermined. The total retirement benefit depends on the performance of the investments chosen by the employee. Examples of these types of plans include 401(k) and 403(b) plans.


The phonetics of the keyword “Defined-Contribution Plan” is:dih-fahynd kuhn-trib-yuh-shuhn plan

Key Takeaways

  1. Employee-Controlled Contributions: In a defined-contribution plan, the employee, not the employer, is primarily responsible for contributing to the plan. The amount a person decides to contribute may be matched, up to a certain limit, by the employer.
  2. Investment Risk and Rewards: The investment risk in a defined-contribution plan is borne by the employee, not the employer. This means that the final benefit received depends on the investment’s performance. If the investments do well, the employee may end up with more money than he or she would have with a defined-benefit plan. However, if the investments do poorly, the employee could end up with less.
  3. Portability: A key advantage of defined-contribution plans is their portability. If an employee changes jobs, he or she can roll over the funds into a new employer’s plan or into an individual retirement account (IRA), without losing any of the money accrued.


A Defined-Contribution Plan is a vital element in business/finance because it serves as a type of retirement plan where the employer, employee, or both contribute regularly. Its importance lies in the fact that it helps employees save and invest today for their retirement. Specifically, it provides employees with the ability to choose how to allocate their funds among various investment options that can lead to growth over time. Unique features such as tax-deferred growth and potential employer match contributions also add considerable value. The risk and reward are borne by the employee, making it crucial for them to take an active role in managing their investments. Thus, this plan plays a key role in enhancing long-term financial security and retirement planning.


The primary purpose of a defined-contribution plan is to provide employees with flexibility and control over their retirement savings. Essentially, this financial instrument allows employees to put a portion of their salary into a special retirement account, the value of which depends on the performance of the investments chosen by the employee. The earnings on these investments are tax-deferred until funds are withdrawn, often after retirement. The main advantage of this plan is that it allows employees to have a direct hand in securing their future financial stability.Defined-contribution plans are used largely as a means of retirement planning. An important feature of such plans is that the investment risk shifts from the employer, who pledges a specific retirement benefit in a defined-benefit plan, to the employee. The balance in these plans, therefore, may fluctuate based on the returns gained (or losses suffered) by the investments made. Popular types of defined-contribution plans include 401(k) and 403(b) plans in the U.S., which provide employees with the ability to shape how their retirement savings are invested. These plans also allow for employer contributions, which can significantly enhance the retirement savings of an employee over time.


1. 401(K) Plan: Perhaps the most well-known type of defined contribution plan, 401(k) plans allow employees to invest a portion of their salary into the plan before taxes are deducted. Employers often match a portion of employee contributions, boosting the growth of the fund. The exact amount of retirement income received will depend on the performance of the investments selected by the employee.2. 403(B) Plan: Similar to a 401(K) plan, 403(b) is a type of defined contribution plan specifically for employees of tax-exempt organizations, such as schools, hospitals or religious groups. Through this plan, employees selectively choose their contributions and investments as per their future financial goals.3. 457 Plan: This is a retirement saving plan available mainly for governmental and certain non-governmental employers in the United States. It allows employees to defer income taxation on retirement savings in a way similar to a 401(k) or a 403(b) plan. However, unlike those plans, there is no 10% penalty for withdrawal before the age of 59.5, as long as the employee is no longer working for the employer.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a Defined-Contribution Plan?

A Defined-Contribution Plan is a retirement plan in which the employee, employer, or both contribute regularly. The final benefit value depends upon the investment’s performance rather than a set amount.

Who is responsible for investing the funds in a Defined-Contribution Plan?

Typically, the employee is responsible for making investment decisions, choosing how to allocate their funds among various investment options.

How does a Defined-Contribution Plan differ from a Defined-Benefit Plan?

With a Defined-Benefit Plan, the employer guarantees a specific retirement benefit amount for the employee. A Defined-Contribution Plan does not promise a specific amount upon retirement. Instead, you or your employer contribute money to your individual account in the plan.

Can the employer contribute to the Defined-Contribution Plan as well?

Yes, often employers will match the contribution made by the employee up to a certain percent.

Are there tax benefits linked to Defined-Contribution Plans?

Yes, the contributions made are often tax-deductible, and the earnings from investments are also tax-deferred until withdrawal.

Do all Defined-Contribution Plans have the same investment options?

No, investment options can vary widely depending on the specific plan. Most plans offer a range of investment options to choose from, which could include a mix of mutual funds, money market funds, and stock and bond funds.

What happens to the funds in a Defined-Contribution Plan if the employee changes jobs?

The employee can generally choose to roll over the funds to a new employer’s plan or to an individual retirement account (IRA). Alternatively, the employee could choose to cash out the plan, although this could result in tax liabilities and penalties.

Are there penalties for withdrawing funds early from a Defined-Contribution Plan?

Yes, typically there are penalties for withdrawing funds before retirement age, with certain exceptions depending on the specific plan and situation. It’s always recommended to consult a financial advisor before making such decisions.

Related Finance Terms

  • 401(k) Plan
  • Employee Contributions
  • Investment Choices
  • Plan Sponsor
  • Vesting Schedule

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