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What is a Cash-Balance Plan?

Cash balance plans are a type of pension in which the benefit is stated as a future account balance rather than an income stream. A Cash-Balance Plan is very similar to a normal Pension Plan. You do not technically contribute anything to the plan (unless you are an owner-employee), and you don’t have any control over the assets which are managed on your behalf. In a normal pension, the benefit waiting for you in retirement is a monthly income stream, but in a Cash Balance plan, your future benefit is stated as an account balance, which you will be able to take as either a lump sum or an income stream. Continue reading...

What is the Difference Between Cash-Balance Plans and Other Retirement Plans?

Cash Balance plans are Defined Benefit plans, but are not much like Pensions as you may know them, or other types of retirement plans, for that matter. On one side of the retirement isle you have defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s and SEPs and so on, where the contributions are certain, or at least ascertainable, while the ending balance or benefit of each employee’s account is unknown, or at least does not have to be (and in most cases isn’t). Continue reading...

How Do I Invest Money in My Cash-Balance Plan?

Employees do not have control of their own accounts in a Cash Balance plan, but they can possibly influence how much is contributed each year. Contributions to a Cash Balance plan should not be adjusted more than once every few years, but they can be adjusted. In small partnerships without many, or any, employees, there is likely to be more flexibility, or willingness for the owners of the business to jump through the hoops required to have the plan re-worked. Such changes could require a new plan document. Continue reading...

Can I Withdraw Money From My Cash-Balance Plan?

It’s not likely that a cash-balance plan will allow for early withdrawals. Generally speaking, you can’t withdraw money from a Cash-Balance Plan before you retire unless it is to roll over assets to a new employer’s plan or a personal IRA. Once the money is in another account, you could potentially have full access to it, minus the 10% IRS penalty if you’re under 59 ½. Loans from a cash balance plan may be permitted if they abide by the same rules as 401(k) loans — and if the IRS and the DOL will allow you to consider your vested amount in your hypothetical account as adequate collateral. Continue reading...

What Happens If I Withdraw Money From My Cash-Balance Plan Before I Retire?

In general, this won’t even be an option for many. Cash balance plans do not permit partial withdrawals. If you have separated from service at the employer, you can take your entire vested amount with you. You can cash out your balance and pay income taxes on it, as well as a 10% IRS penalty if you’re younger than 59 ½. This penalty may also be avoided if you separated a from service after age 55; these rules are the same for 401(k)s and other qualified plans. Continue reading...

What Happens If I Withdraw Money From my Cash-Balance Plan After I Retire?

You may not be able to make non-recurring withdrawals of various amounts from a Cash Balance plan. After you retire, you’ll typically have two options: a fixed monthly payment for the rest of your life, or a lump-sum payment. Cash balance plans generally do not allow random, non-recurring withdrawals because the individual account was always a hypothetical account. The administrative work of fetching various sums for everyone and keeping up with the total pool of plan assets is not the administrator’s prerogative with these plans. Continue reading...

Can I Take a Periodic Distribution From My Cash-Balance Plan?

Periodic distributions are one of the main ways that former employees enjoy the benefits of a Cash Balance plan. Yes, you can take periodic distributions from your cash-balance plan. As opposed to the other option (lump-sum distribution), opting for the periodic distribution can help you sleep better at night, knowing that you have a fixed stream of income for the rest of your life. This Life Annuity option is mandated by law to be an option to participants of a cash balance plan. Continue reading...

Can I Take a Lump-Sum Distribution From my Cash-Balance Plan?

Absolutely – this is what separates them from traditional pension plans. Yes. Cash balance plans maintain a hypothetical account balance for the participant, and the ending balance is known and guaranteed from the time the contributions occur. Many participants opt to take this lump sum balance and move it into their own IRA, or just to pay the taxes on it and be done with the plan. The other option is to have the balance paid out in the form of a life annuity, with equal payments for the rest of your life like a traditional pension. This option can be more risky simply because it is forfeiting the safety and security of monthly payments for life, in favor of a one-time distribution. Continue reading...

What Should I Do With a Lump-Sum Distribution From My Cash-Balance Plan?

Lump Sum distributions can allow you to invest according to your preferences, but could also be used frivolously and spent down in a short time. The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s very easy to spend a lump sum right away without thinking about the consequences. While the monthly payment option protects your money from overspending, many people feel that they would derive a greater value from having access to more of their money. Continue reading...

Can I Take a Loan From my Cash-Balance Plan?

The IRS permits such loans, but it is rare to find a plan that allows it. In the vast majority of cases, you cannot. Though the IRS permits it, the administrative burden of a defined benefit plan is already significant for an employer, and it is much more likely that they will not make a provision for loans in the plan document. As far as the IRS is concerned, generally speaking, these plans have the same rules as other qualified plans. If a small partnership or LLC with a cash balance plan wants to put loan provisions into their plan document, they can do it. Continue reading...

Will My Cash-Balance Payments Affect My Social Security payments?

Social security can become taxable if a person has a certain level of income in retirement. Retirement income from pensions or 401(k)s and other taxable sources will contribute to the AGI of a person in retirement, but it will not ever disqualify a person from receiving their social security check in retirement if it is owed to them. Instead, social security benefits become taxable as income if a person has enough income in retirement to trigger the social security taxes. The level is actually quite low, and has not been adjusted for inflation recently. Continue reading...