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Rabbi Trust


A Rabbi Trust is a type of non-qualified deferred compensation plan designed in such a way to protect employees’ deferred compensation from the employer’s creditors. It is an irrevocable grantor trust, where the trust assets remain available for claim by the employer’s creditors. The name “Rabbi Trust” originated from the first trust of this nature created for a Rabbi, and the IRS issued a favorable letter ruling on its tax treatment.


The phonetic pronunciation of the keyword “Rabbi Trust” would be: Rabbi: /ˈræb.aɪ/Trust: /trʌst/

Key Takeaways

  1. A Rabbi Trust is a non-qualified deferred compensation plan created by companies to provide supplemental retirement benefits and income for key executives and employees. It is designed to be a “golden handcuff” that incentivizes executives to stay with the company by tying significant financial benefits to their continued employment.
  2. Rabbi Trusts are called so because they were first established for a rabbi, and the term has since been used to describe any similar arrangement. They are considered “trusts” because the company sets aside assets – such as cash, securities, or other property – to fund the promised benefits, and the funds are held by a trustee (typically a bank).
  3. While the assets are held in the trust, they are protected from claims by the company’s creditors in most cases. However, in the event of the company’s bankruptcy or insolvency, the executives may lose their promised benefits. Additionally, unlike many other types of retirement plans, the funds in a Rabbi Trust are not tax-deferred, meaning that the employee will pay taxes on the full value of the distribution when they receive it.


A Rabbi Trust is an important financial arrangement designed to protect the deferred compensation of employees, particularly executives, in the event of a corporate takeover or bankruptcy. It is a type of irrevocable trust set up by a company to secure its promise to pay future benefits to key employees. The trust offers the employees a greater level of security that the promised funds will be available when they are due, even if the company experiences financial difficulties. However, unlike secular trusts, Rabbi Trusts do not protect the assets from the company’s creditors, maintaining a balance between the interests of both employees and creditors. This unique feature has made Rabbi Trusts a popular deferred compensation tool in the world of business and finance.


A Rabbi Trust serves as a vital financial tool for organizations to provide executives and key employees with nonqualified deferred compensation. This purpose is primarily aimed at attracting and retaining top talent in the competitive corporate environment. Essentially, the Rabbi Trust is created as an irrevocable trust for the benefit of these key employees, ensuring that the company makes good on its promise of delivering deferred compensation in the future. Moreover, the assets held within the trust account remain secure even in times of financial turmoil, protecting the employees’ compensation from any potential corporate insolvency or bankruptcy. This added financial security is seen as advantageous to both the employer and employee in the long run, incentivizing loyalty and commitment within the organization.

In addition to providing financial security to employees, a Rabbi Trust also offers a strategic benefit to the company. By deferring compensation, the company may effectively lower its short-term tax liability, as the tax deduction is only taken when the deferred compensation is paid out to the employees. This, in turn, allows the company to manage its cash flow more effectively and allocate resources to other pressing areas such as investment and expansion. Although the trust’s assets may be subject to the creditor’s claims in the event of bankruptcy, the structure of the Rabbi Trust retains a level of insulation for the beneficiaries that might not be otherwise possible in an unsecured agreement. Overall, Rabbi Trusts serve as an important tool to balance the interests of a company and its key employees, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship that encourages long-term growth and success for both parties.


A Rabbi Trust is a type of non-qualified deferred compensation plan used by companies to provide supplemental retirement income and other deferred benefits to select executives or key employees. The trust is irrevocable, and assets put into it are set aside for the named beneficiary, but remain subject to the claims of the company’s creditors. Here are three real-world examples of Rabbi Trusts:

1. General Electric (GE) Rabbi Trust: General Electric established a Rabbi Trust for its executives and other key employees. It helped GE retain and attract top talent by providing these employees with supplemental retirement income and deferred benefits beyond their standard 401(K) plans. In this case, the Rabbi Trust served as an additional incentive for valuable employees to stay with the company and contribute to its growth.

2. Enron Rabbi Trust: Enron, the infamous energy company that collapsed due to financial fraud, also had a Rabbi Trust in place for its top executives. Prior to the company’s bankruptcy, the trust held millions of dollars in assets meant to provide deferred compensation to the beneficiaries. However, when Enron filed for bankruptcy, the assets in the trust became subject to claims from the company’s creditors. This ultimately left the beneficiaries of the Rabbi Trust with significantly reduced benefits, showcasing one of the risks of such trusts.

3. IBM Rabbi Trust: IBM has a Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan (SERP) that uses a Rabbi Trust to fund non-qualified deferred compensation benefits for key executives. The plan assists the company in retaining and rewarding top-level employees by providing them with additional retirement income beyond their standard pension plans. The trust helps ensure that these additional benefits will be available to the executives, but still protects the company’s interests by leaving the assets subject to potential claims from creditors.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a Rabbi Trust?

A Rabbi Trust is a type of non-qualified deferred compensation plan that provides financial security for employees, typically executives, by setting aside funds for their future benefits. Rabbi Trusts are established by an employer and are named after the first IRS ruling on this type of arrangement, which involved a non-profit religious organization.

How does a Rabbi Trust work?

A Rabbi Trust is set up as an irrevocable trust, meaning that it cannot be revoked by the employer. The employer contributes funds to the trust on behalf of specific employees, usually top executives, which are invested and managed by a trustee. When the employee becomes eligible for benefits such as retirement, disability, or severance, the funds are distributed to the employee from the Rabbi Trust.

What are the tax implications of a Rabbi Trust?

Rabbi Trusts are designed with tax benefits in mind for both the employer and the employee. For the employer, contributions to the Rabbi Trust are tax-deductible when the benefits are actually paid to the employee. For the employee, funds in the Rabbi Trust are not taxed until they are distributed. However, these trusts don’t protect funds from the employer’s creditors in case of financial instability or bankruptcy.

Are Rabbi Trusts limited to specific industries or types of organizations?

No, Rabbi Trusts can be used by a wide range of organizations, including private and public companies, non-profits, and religious organizations, as long as they meet the requirements set forth by the IRS.

What happens to the funds stored in a Rabbi Trust if the company that has established the trust faces bankruptcy or financial difficulty?

It is important to note that although assets in a Rabbi Trust are protected from being used for other purposes by the employer, they are not protected from the claims of the employer’s creditors. If the company faces financial difficulty, creditors may be able to access the funds held in the trust.

Can employees contribute to a Rabbi Trust?

No, only the employer can contribute to a Rabbi Trust on behalf of its employees. Employees cannot make their own contributions to the trust.

Are there alternative deferred compensation plans to Rabbi Trusts?

Yes, there are various deferred compensation plans available, such as 401(k) plans, 457 plans, and non-qualified deferred compensation (NQDC) arrangements. Employers should consult with financial experts and legal counsel to determine the most suitable arrangement for their organization and employees.

Related Finance Terms

  • Deferred Compensation
  • Grantor Trust
  • Non-Qualified Retirement Plan
  • ERISA Regulations
  • Key Employee Retention

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