Differentiating Between 401(k)s and 403(b)s

When it comes to retirement planning, it can be quite a daunting task, especially if you are trying to decide which retirement accounts are best for you. One of the most common retirement accounts is the 401(k) and the other is the 403(b). They have some similarities, but they are designed for different types of employers, although they share some similarities. We will discuss the differences between 401(k)s and 403(b)s in this article so that you will have all the information you need to make an informed decision.

How do 401(k)s work?

An employer that offers a 401(k) plan to its employees is known as a for-profit employer. A pre-tax contribution to the account is made by employees, which is then invested in a portfolio of mutual funds, stocks, and bonds on behalf of the employees. Contributions to the plan grow tax-deferred until they are withdrawn.

How do 403(b)s work?

Non-profit employers such as schools, hospitals, and religious organizations offer 403(b) plans to their employees as retirement plans. It is similar to a 401(k) plan in that employees contribute pre-tax dollars to the plan, which are then invested in mutual funds, stocks, and bonds that are chosen by a portfolio manager. If the contributions are made before the withdrawal date, they will grow tax-deferred.

Eligibility of employers

One of the most important differences between 401(k)s and 403(b)s is the type of employer that is eligible to offer a 401(k). There are many for-profit companies that offer 401(k) plans, however, there are also non-profit organizations that offer 403(b) plans, such as hospitals and schools.

Limits on contributions

There will be a $19,500 contribution limit for both 401(k)s and 403(b)s for 2023. An additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 can be made by people who are over the age of 50, for a total contribution of $26,000 if you are over the age of 50.

Contributions to catch up

A catch-up contribution can be made by employees who are over the age of 50 to a 401(k) or a 403(b) plan. There is a limit of $6,500 on the catch-up contribution for both plans.

Options for investing

401(k)s and 403(b)s are two types of retirement plans that offer a wide range of investment options, such as mutual funds, stocks, and bonds, among others. However, depending on the type of plan and employer, the specific investment options that are available may differ.

Fees for plans

According to the plan and the employer, the fees associated with 401(k)s and 403(b)s can vary widely, depending on the plan and the employer. There are some plans that charge an administrative fee or an investment fee, while there are others that charge no fees at all.

The withdrawal process

401(k)s and 403(b)s, along with regular income taxes, are subject to a 10% penalty if they are withdrawn before the age of 59 12. There are some exceptions, such as for disability, medical expenses, and qualified domestic relations orders, to this rule, but there are some exceptions to this rule as well.


401(k)s and 403(b)s are both retirement plans that can be rolled over into another retirement plan, such as an IRA, without being penalized. It is important to consult with a financial advisor before making any decisions about a type of plan since each plan has its own specific rules and limitations.

Getting a loan

It’s important to note that both 401(k)s and 403(b)s may allow participants to take out a loan against the balance of their retirement accounts. It should be noted, however, that there are specific rules and limitations associated with each type of retirement plan, and taking out a loan may have long-term consequences on your retirement savings.

Options for Roth accounts

A Roth option may be offered by both the 401(k) and the 403(b) plans. When you choose a Roth account, you will be able to contribute after-tax dollars to your retirement account, and you will be able to withdraw tax-free in retirement. In fact, this can be a very good option for individuals who plan on retiring at a time when their tax brackets will be higher.
Differentiating Between 401(k)s and 403(b)s
Differentiating Between 401(k)s and 403(b)s. Source


The contributions that are made to both the 401(k)s and the 403(b)s are made with pre-tax dollars and, as a result, the taxable income for the year is reduced. There is, however, a requirement to pay regular income tax on retirement withdrawals if they are made during retirement.

Minimum distributions required

It is mandatory that participants in both 401(k)s and 403(b)s take the required minimum distributions (RMDs) after reaching the age of 72 (or age 70 11 if you turned 70 11 before 2020). In order to calculate the RMD amount, the balance of the account and the expected life expectancy are taken into account.

401(k)s vs. 403(b)s: Considerations

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to choose a 401(k) or a 403(b) as your retirement plan. In the first place, there is the issue of employer eligibility; if you work for a for-profit company, you may only be able to contribute to a 401(k). For those who work for a non-profit organization, a 403(b) may be the only option that is available to them.
It is also important to consider your investment options when making a decision. Despite the fact that both plans offer a wide selection of investment options, the exact options that are offered may vary depending on what the plan offers and where the employer is located. In order to make an educated decision on which plan is best suited for you, you need to do your research and compare the investment options available in each plan.
There is also the matter of fees to consider. In some plans, you might be charged an administrative fee as well as an investment fee, while in others, there may be no fee at all. You should be aware of the fees associated with each retirement plan and how they may affect how much you can save for retirement.
Lastly, it is vital to consider any additional features that may be available with your retirement plan, such as Roth options and loan provisions, as well as how these may be able to help you reach your goals in retirement.

Final thoughts

There are 401(k) plans as well as 403(b) plans, both of which are popular retirement plans that share many similarities, even though they are designed for different types of employers. I feel it is important to consider several factors before deciding which of these two plans is right for you, including employer eligibility, contribution limits, investment options, fees, and other features, such as the Roth options and loan provisions. By consulting with a financial advisor, you can make a wise decision that aligns with your retirement goals and helps you make an informed decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to contribute to both a 401(k) and a 403(b) plan at the same time?
As long as you meet the contribution limits for both plans, you are able to contribute to both plans at the same time.
When it comes to withdrawing money from a 401(k) or 403(b) early, are there any penalties associated with it?
If you withdraw money from your retirement account before age 59 1/2 you will be subject to a 10% penalty in addition to your regular income tax.
Would I be able to roll over my 401(k) or 403(b) into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)?
There are rules and limitations that apply to each type of plan, but both can be rolled over into an IRA without penalty if the plans meet the requirements.
In both 401(k) plans as well as 403(b) plans, are Roth options available?
The Roth option is available in both plans, which allows retirees to take advantage of tax-free withdrawals at retirement.
What are the required minimum distributions that I have to take from my 401(k) or 403(b)?
Both plans require participants to begin taking minimum distributions as soon as they reach the age of 72 (or 70 1/2 if they reached that age before 2020).
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