retirement accounts

  • What are the different OSU Retirement Plans?

    When starting a new job, you often have many new things to learn and get used to: new commutes, new coworkers, different policies and procedures. Being successful in your new position requires you to get up to speed as quickly as you can. An item that’s often pushed off until later, but one that’s crucially important to achieving your long-term goals is understanding and maximizing your new retirement plan benefits.

    The governmental, non-profits, contractors, and large health systems that make up the majority of employers in the healthcare world offer a wide array of benefits and retirement plans. The variety and seeming complexity can be overwhelming to anyone, whether you are a med school grad starting your first residency or an experienced PA making a move to a different hospital.

    Ohio State University, in Columbus Ohio, provides a good example of this complexity. As a state university they employee faculty, university and hospital staff, as well as student employees. The subsequent variety of retirement plans offered can confuse even veteran healthcare workers with years of experience.

    This variety can be confusing at first, but in the end provides a great opportunity for employees to contribute and save a ton for retirement in multiple different accounts. After reading this post you should have a better idea of what’s available when it comes to choosing an OSU retirement plan.

    Key Points

    • As an OSU employee you can fully contribute to three separate retirement buckets (and in some cases even a fourth!).
    • For your “primary” retirement account employees choose between a pension version, for most staff this is OPERS the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, or a defined contribution version the ARP the Alternative Retirement Plan, similar to a 403b.
    • All employees can also contribute to a 403(b) plan and/or a 457(b) plan.
    • Ohio State Employees don’t pay into Social Security. Your primary retirement account (OPERS, STRS, or the ARP) are meant to replace your social security benefit.

    OSU classifies three types of employees: Faculty, Staff, Student

    OSU places employees into three buckets: Faculty, Staff, and Student employees. Which bucket you fall into affects which OSU retirement plan you have access to. There are also scenarios where you could fall into multiple buckets. A surgeon at the OSU medical center would be classified as a staff employee, but if they were also teaching a course outside of their normal duties they could be classified as faculty as well.

    Staff Employee Retirement Plans

    Staff Employees will be automatically enrolled in the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) for their primary retirement plan, or they can instead opt out of participating in OPERS and choose the Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP) for their primary OSU retirement plan.

    Staff can also contribute to a 403b and/or 457b. OSU calls these their Supplemental Retirement Accounts (SRA).

    Some staff, where their salary exceeds the IRS and Ohio retirement system limits may even be able to contribute to the Retirement Continuation Plan (RCP)/415(m).

    Faculty Employee Retirement Plans

    Faculty Employees will be automatically enrolled in the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) for their primary retirement plan, or they can instead opt out of participating in STRS and choose the Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP) for their primary OSU retirement plan.

    Faculty can also contribute to a 403b and/or 457b. OSU calls these their Supplemental Retirement Accounts (SRA).

    Some faculty, where their salary exceeds the IRS and Ohio retirement system limits may even be able to contribute to the Retirement Continuation Plan (RCP)/415(m).

    Student Employee Plans

    We will focus mainly on the retirement plans available to OSU Faculty and Staff in this post. Student Employees have access to similar OSU retirement plans and can choose to enroll or opt out of OPERS as well as contribute to the Supplemental Retirement Accounts.

    Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) Plan

    • Available to Staff employees
    • Can be like a pension or a 401k/403b depending on your choice
    • Employees can opt out and choose the ARP instead

    Staff employees can choose to participate in the OPERS plan. The base version of this plan is a defined benefit plan where employees receive retirement benefits calculated using their salary and years of service.

    Employees can also participate in a member-directed version of OPERS and choose their own investments. In this version the employee assumes all of the risk and their retirement benefit is based on the growth in their investments.

    In either plan employees contribute 10% of their eligible compensation to the plan and OSU contributes 14% of their eligible compensation. In the member-directed version, not all of the 14% employer contributions ends up in the employee’s account. 7.5% goes to their OPERS account, 4% goes into their OPERS Retiree Medical Account (RMA), 2.24% goes into the OPERS Traditional Pension Plan to fund past liabilities (required by law), and 0.26% goes towards administrative expenses.

    There are also different limits on the amount that can be contributed to each of these accounts. The member-directed limit is pretty straightforward. The maximum that can be contributed each year is $66,000 combined from employer and employee contributions.

    For the OPERS pension plan, the limit on contributions is based on your salary and when you were hired. Employees hired prior to 1994 get contributions based on up to $490k in earnings, and if you were hired after 1994 you make contributions based on up to $330k of your earnings.

    State Teachers Retirement System (STRS)

    • Available to Faculty employees
    • Can be like a pension or a 401k/403b depending on your choice
    • Employees can opt out and choose the ARP instead

    The STRS retirement plan is very similar to the OPERS plan offering a defined benefit pension version and a defined contribution version, but unlike OPERS an employee can choose a combined plan that has pension and self-directed accounts.

    OSU and the employee both contribute 14% of their eligible salary to the STRS plan. In the member-directed STRS plan 11.09% of employee contributions go to your STRS account and 2.91% goes to the STRS plan to fund past liabilities (required by law).

    The total contribution limits ($66,000) and the eligible compensation limits ($490k if hired before 1994, $330k if hired after) are the same as the OPERS plan as well.

    Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP)

    • Available to both Faculty and Staff employees
    • No pension option – only a defined contribution plan like a 401k/403b

    If an employee doesn’t want to enroll in the OPERS or STRS plans they can set up an account with the Alternative Retirement Plan instead. The ARP only offers one plan type – a defined contribution plan similar to a 401k/403b.

    Contributions to this plan are very similar to what an employee would contribute to their OPERS or STRS plan. Employees contribute 14% of their pay and OSU contributes 10% for staff or 14% for faculty. A portion of your employee contribution goes to OPERS or STRS as a mitigating rate to mitigate any negative impact on the state retirement system. The total employee/employer contribution limit is $66,000.

    Additional Retirement Plans employees have access to

    Along with an employee’s primary OSU retirement plan – whether that is OPERS, STRS, or the ARP – OSU employees also have access to a few supplemental retirement accounts. This is great news for employees looking to sock away even more money for retirement accounts as these supplemental accounts exist in their own retirement buckets and you can contribute to all of them at the same time.

    Supplemental Retirement Accounts (SRA) – Traditional and Roth

    • 403b plan (Traditional and Roth versions)
    • 457b deferred compensation plan (Traditional and Roth Versions)
    • Allows an additional $45,000 in retirement contributions ($22,500 in each account), $60k for those over 50 years old due to catch-up contributions

    Along with one of the State pension plans and the ARP, employees are able to contribute to both a 403b plan and a 457b deferred compensation plan.

    A 403b, similar to a 401k is a defined contribution plan where you (the employee) make contributions and select your investments. There are no employer matching contributions for either of these plans because OSU is already contributing to your primary retirement plan.

    A 457b deferred compensation plan is another plan where you contribute your own money on a pre-tax or Roth basis and make your own investment decisions within the plan. Your contributions are technically income that you haven’t been paid yet and it’s held within a trust managed by your employer. If you want to learn more about 457b plans you can read this explainer article I wrote here.

    The great thing about these plans is that they exist as 2 distinct retirement buckets and you can make the maximum contribution ($22,500 in 2023, plus an additional $7,500 if you’re over 50) for both of them. So that’s an additional $45,000 in retirement contributions you can make in these accounts, not counting what you are already saving in your primary OSU retirement plan.

    Executive Retirement Plan – Retirement Continuation Plan (RCP)/415(m)

    • Only available to select employees
    • RCP and/or 415(m)
    • A way or employees with salary greater than retirement plan limits to save more

    The Executive Retirement Plan is only open to employees with salary and retirement savings needs higher than the retirement plan limits.

    Wrap up and which retirement plan is right for you

    As I said in the beginning of this post there are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to selecting your OSU retirement plan. But it really boils down to whether you’d rather have a pension and allow the state of Ohio to manage your investments for you, or if you’d like a plan where you have more control over your investments and assume more of the risk. And depending on how much you can contribute you can have both options – selecting OPERS for your primary retirement plan while also contributing to a 403b and/or a 457b plan.

    For employees that plan to work at OSU for their entire career, and for 30 years or more, choosing the OPERS plan likely makes the most sense. But for individuals know they will be transferring to another employer or just aren’t sure, then choosing the ARP might make more sense since they will be able to bring their retirement contributions with them and roll them over into another plan.

    No matter your situation, with all of the OSU retirement plan options, you are sure to find one that works for you.

  • What is a 457b Plan & How Should Physicians Use It?

    A 457b deferred compensation plan is a tax advantaged retirement plan similar to a 401k or a 403b plan. Just like those accounts a 457b allows you to save for retirement with pre-tax or after-tax (Roth) contributions. Although similar to the more widely known 401k and 403b, a 457b plan has a few differences you need to be aware of before incorporating it into your financial plan.

    Key Points

    • 457b plans are similar to 401k/403b plans. They allow you to make pre-tax contributions and invest those in a tax-advantaged plan.
    • There are two main types of 457b plans: governmental and non-governmental plans. It’s important to understand the type of 457b plan you have because non-governmental plans have additional restrictions, and can be riskier than governmental plans.
    • A 457b plan is an additional retirement account bucket you can fill up alongside your 401k/403b, providing you the opportunity to save an additional $22,500 in a tax-advantaged retirement account.
    • 457b plans can allow penalty-free early withdrawals before reaching 59 ½. There are additional tax consequences to prepare for though, so have a plan for early withdrawals.

    How is the 457b plan different from the 401k/403b

    Most people are familiar with what a 401k and 403b plan are. They are very similar plans allowing you to contribute up to $22,500 (this is the limit for 2023, this amount can increase each year based on inflation) to a tax-advantaged plan for retirement savings. The 401k is offered to employees of for-profit companies and the 403b is offered by non-profit/governmental employers.

    Within these plans you can make pre-tax or after-tax contributions, your earnings grow tax-free, and you can make withdrawals without penalty after you reach the age of 59 ½.

    A 457b plan is typically offered by an employer as an additional retirement savings account in addition to a 401k/403b. Which is great because the contributions to your 401k/403b don’t count against your 457b contributions, and vice versa. With access to a 457b plan you could contribute an additional $22,500 each year to your tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

    The key difference with a 457b plan

    One main difference between a 457b plan and a 401k/403b plan is included in its full name: The 457b Deferred Compensation Plan. The money that you contribute to your 457b plan is considered deferred compensation and belongs to your employer until you withdraw it after leaving or retiring from your employer.

    Another difference is that money can be withdrawn from a 457b plan much earlier without penalty than with 401k/403b plans. If you leave a job, and are younger than 59 ½, you have the option to begin withdrawing the funds from your 457b plan without the 10% penalty that you would face when taking an early withdrawal from a 401k/403b plan.

    You need to be aware of the tax consequences of withdrawing from a 457b plan, because the withdrawals are treated as income (hence the name deferred compensation), and plans vary in their withdrawal options. Some funds force you to take everything in a lump sum which depending on the size of your 457b could cause quite the tax headache.

    What are the two types of 457b plan?

    457b plans are offered in two flavors and there are key differences between the two: governmental and non-governmental plans.

    Governmental 457b plans

    Governmental 457b plans are typically offered to employees of state and local governments. These are seen as a “less risky” version of the 457b plan since they are backed by the government rather than an individual business.

    While you are an employee the money in your 457b is held in a trust. After leaving your employer, funds in these plans can be rolled over into an IRA or 401k, avoiding the possible tax headaches that come with distributions from a non-governmental 457b plan.

    Non-Governmental 457b plans

    Non-Governmental 457b plans are offered by non-profit employers such as hospitals, not state and local governments. These plans are considered riskier because the plans rely on your employer’s solvency, not the government.

    With a non-governmental 457b plan, rather than making contributions out of your paycheck, contributions are made by your employer and it is technically money that you haven’t earned yet, hence the name deferred compensation. Rather than sitting in a trust as with a governmental plan, the 457b in this case still belongs to your employer, not you, until you transfer or withdraw the funds.

    This can be helpful and protect you in the case of a personal bankruptcy, as your 457b funds belong to your employer and are not subject to your creditors (+ for asset protection). But the funds are also subject to your employer’s creditors in a situation where your employer goes under. This is not as big of a risk when it comes to an established hospital or company but is still something to consider.

    Another potential downside for non-governmental 457b plans has to do with their distribution or rollover options. These plans can only rollover into another non-governmental 457b plan, and only in limited situations. That means that rolling over into a 401k or IRA is not an option.

    When you leave an employer funds must be distributed within 10 years. Most 457b plans allow you to make distributions over 5-10 years, but some make you take a lump-sum distribution upon leaving your employer. A lump-sum, or even 5 years of distributions could create quite the tax headache if not planned for properly.

    457b plan is a great early retirement tool

    The 457b plan can be a great supplemental retirement savings account, but can be especially impactful for individuals pursuing early retirement. Having a 457b in addition to a 401k/403b doubles your annual contribution limit for retirement accounts, $22,500 => $45,000 in pre-tax or Roth contributions each year.

    Because of their status as deferred compensation and the lack of an early withdrawal penalty, 457b plans can build a great bridge between your early retirement years and when you turn 59 ½ and can withdraw from your 401k/403b penalty free.

    Should I contribute to my 457b, 401k, or 403b first?

    When considering which retirement plans to contribute to, and which one you should focus on first, the 457b tends to come in as an afterthought when compared to your 401k/403b and IRA/Roth IRA accounts. This makes sense, as most people haven’t even heard of a 457b before finding out they have access to one.

    The first account to fund should be whichever one is providing you an employer match. If your employer 100% matches the first 5% you put into your 401k, do that first. It’s hard to beat a 100% return on your money. After that it usually makes sense to max out your contributions to your 401k/403b before making additional contributions to your 457b.

    All of the above recommendations may vary based on the available cash flow that you can contribute to these accounts, as well as the other tax-advantaged accounts that you have access to and want to fund to meet your goals: your HSA, 529 education account, IRA/Roth IRA, etc.

    You will want to compare your available plans for any differences in investment options, fees, or vesting schedule (how long you need to remain at your company until the money is yours with no strings attached) before making your final decision.

    Another difference with 457b plans is that you have a total contribution limit of $22,500 which any employer contributions also count against. Where employer contributions to your 401k/403b count against your total $66,000 contribution limit, and you can still contribute your full $22,500. It’s a minor difference, but still one to keep in mind.

    In either case, the great thing with the 457b is that it resides in its own bucket and doesn’t impact how much you can contribute to your 401k/403b. Allowing you to contribute an additional $22,500 to a tax-advantaged retirement account.

    401k and 403b Catch-Up Contributions vs 457b Catch-Up Contributions

    401k and 403b plans allow individuals who are 50 or older to make additional catch-up contributions of $7,500 per year. The contribution limit for a 457b plan is doubled for the three years prior to the plan-specified retirement age. Based on current contribution limits you could make $45,000 in annual contributions in the three years before you retire.

    Pros and Cons of 457b plans

    Pros

    • Provides another tax-advantaged retirement account bucket for you to contribute to
    • Ability to make early withdrawals without penalty after you leave your employer
    • Can roll funds in governmental 457b plans into another retirement account (401k/IRA)
    • Allows larger catch-up contributions in the 3 years before the plan specified retirement age

    Cons

    • Riskier option compared to a 401k/403b if you are contributing to a non-governmental plan
    • Can’t rollover a non-governmental plan into another retirement account (401k/IRA)
    • Some plans have limited withdrawal options, such as requiring a lump sum withdrawal that could cause a major tax headache
    • Can (sometimes) have less investment options available for you to choose from

    Wrap up

    A 457b plan is a great retirement savings tool to have access to, providing an additional bucket of tax-advantaged savings to contribute to outside of your 401k/403b. But before you start using your 457b you need to understand the type you have: governmental or non-governmental, along with other details to make sure it fits in your financial plan correctly.

    Using a 457b plan correctly can help you turbocharge your retirement savings, and provide an income bridge for those pursuing early retirement. It’s hard to overstate the additional flexibility that a governmental 457b plan provides. With the option to early withdraw funds penalty-free or roll them over into another 401k/IRA, they are one of the best accounts out there.