457 Plan: An In-Depth Overview

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Last updated: Jul 21, 2023

The 457 Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

The 457 plan is a tax-advantaged retirement savings option that offers significant benefits for eligible employees, typically those employed by state and local governments or certain non-profit organizations. This educational article delves into the intricacies of the 457 plan, discussing its key features, advantages, and limitations.

💡 Key Ideas

  • The 457 plan is a tax-advantaged retirement savings option primarily offered to state and local government employees and certain non-profit organization employees.

  • There are two main types of 457 plans: the 457(b) plan for state and local government employees and the 457(b) deferred compensation plan for tax-exempt organization employees.

  • Eligible participants can make pre-tax contributions to their 457 plan, subject to annual contribution limits set by the IRS.

  • The 457 plan offers various tax advantages, including tax-deferred growth, penalty-free withdrawals upon separation from employment, and catch-up contributions for those nearing retirement age.

  • Participants can make penalty-free withdrawals after separating from their employer, but early withdrawals while still employed may incur a 10% penalty.

What is a 457 Plan?

A 457 plan is a retirement savings vehicle established by state and local governments or certain non-profit organizations, falling under Section 457 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Unlike 401(k) plans, which are primarily offered by private sector employers, the 457 plan caters to government and non-profit employees.

Types of 457 Plans

There are two main types of 457 plans:

457(b) PlanAvailable to state and local government employees
457(b) Deferred Compensation PlanAvailable to employees of tax-exempt organizations

Both types of plans allow eligible participants to contribute a portion of their pre-tax income to the account, where it can grow tax-deferred until retirement.

Eligibility and Contributions

Eligibility for a 457 plan varies depending on the employer. Generally, state and local government employees, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters, are eligible for a 457(b) plan. Employees of tax-exempt organizations, like universities and hospitals, can participate in a 457(b) deferred compensation plan.

As for contributions, employees are allowed to defer a portion of their salary into the plan, subject to annual contribution limits set by the IRS. The contribution limit is typically separate from other retirement accounts like 401(k) or 403(b) plans, offering an additional opportunity to save for retirement.

Tax Advantages

The 457 plan offers remarkable tax advantages, making it an attractive option for retirement savings. Some key tax benefits include:

  • Tax-Deferred Growth: Contributions to the 457 plan are made with pre-tax income, meaning they reduce the participant's taxable income for the year. Furthermore, the earnings on these contributions grow tax-deferred until withdrawal during retirement.

  • No Early Withdrawal Penalty: Unlike other retirement plans, the 457 plan allows penalty-free withdrawals before age 59½, provided the individual has separated from their employer. This feature can be advantageous for early retirees or those facing unexpected financial emergencies.

  • Catch-up Contributions: Participants who are nearing retirement age and haven't reached the contribution limit can take advantage of catch-up contributions, allowing them to contribute more than younger employees.

Withdrawals and Distributions

When participants reach retirement age or separate from their employer, they can start making withdrawals from their 457 plan account. Withdrawals are subject to ordinary income tax based on the individual's tax bracket at the time of distribution.

It's important to note that if funds are withdrawn before reaching age 59½ and the individual is still employed, the distribution may be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty. However, as mentioned earlier, the penalty is waived if the individual has separated from their employer.

Rollovers and Transfers

457 plans offer flexibility in terms of rollovers and transfers. Participants who change jobs or retire can typically roll over their 457 plan funds into another eligible retirement account, such as an IRA or a new employer's retirement plan. This rollover process allows individuals to continue benefiting from tax-deferred growth while maintaining control over their retirement savings.

Advantages of a 457 Plan

The 457 plan presents several advantages that set it apart from other retirement accounts:

  • Higher Contribution Limits: The 457 plan often has higher contribution limits compared to IRAs and 401(k) plans, enabling participants to save more for retirement.

  • Flexibility in Withdrawals: The ability to make penalty-free withdrawals upon separation from the employer provides greater financial flexibility during retirement.

  • Additional Savings Option: Government and non-profit employees have an additional retirement savings option, allowing for diversification of their retirement portfolio.

Limitations of a 457 Plan

While the 457 plan offers various benefits, it also has some limitations to consider:

  • Limited Availability: Not all employers offer 457 plans. Therefore, access to this retirement savings option might be restricted for some individuals.

  • No Employer Match: Unlike 401(k) plans, 457 plans do not usually come with an employer match, which means participants must rely solely on their contributions and investment returns.

Comparing 457 Plans with Other Retirement Accounts

To make informed decisions, individuals should compare the 457 plan with other retirement accounts like 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and IRAs. Factors such as employer match, contribution limits, investment options, and withdrawal rules should be carefully evaluated to align with personal financial goals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Who is eligible to participate in a 457 plan?

Eligibility for a 457 plan depends on the employer offering the plan. Generally, employees of state and local governments, including teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public sector workers, are eligible for a 457(b) plan. Employees of tax-exempt organizations, such as universities, hospitals, and non-profit entities, can participate in a 457(b) deferred compensation plan. It's essential to verify with your employer whether you qualify for a 457 plan.

2. What are the contribution limits for a 457 plan?

The contribution limits for a 457 plan are determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and are subject to change each year. As of the writing of this article (September 2021), the contribution limit for a 457(b) plan is $19,500 per year for individuals under 50 years old. However, participants who are age 50 or older can make additional catch-up contributions of up to $6,500 per year, bringing their total annual contribution limit to $26,000. For 457(b) deferred compensation plans, the rules may vary, so it's crucial to check with your employer regarding the specific limits.

3. Are there any penalties for early withdrawals from a 457 plan?

The 457 plan offers more flexibility than other retirement accounts when it comes to early withdrawals. If you separate from your employer and access your funds before reaching age 59½, you can make penalty-free withdrawals. However, if you withdraw funds from the 457 plan while still employed and under age 59½, you may be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty on top of the ordinary income tax.

4. Can I roll over my 457 plan into another retirement account?

Yes, in most cases, you can roll over your 457 plan into another eligible retirement account, such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or a new employer's retirement plan (e.g., 401(k) or 403(b)). The rollover process allows you to continue benefiting from tax-deferred growth and opens up new investment options. However, it's essential to follow the specific rollover rules and guidelines to avoid any tax implications or penalties.

5. Does a 457 plan offer an employer match?

Unlike some other retirement plans, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans, the 457 plan typically does not come with an employer match. This means that the responsibility for contributions lies solely with the participant. However, the higher contribution limits and other tax advantages of the 457 plan can make it an attractive option, even without an employer match.

6. Can I contribute to both a 457 plan and another retirement account simultaneously?

Yes, if you are eligible to participate in a 457 plan and another retirement account, such as a 401(k) or IRA, you can contribute to both simultaneously. The contribution limits for each account remain separate, allowing you to maximize your retirement savings across different plans. Diversifying your retirement savings in this manner can be beneficial for building a robust financial future.

7. Are 457 plan distributions taxed as ordinary income?

Yes, when you make withdrawals from your 457 plan during retirement, the distributions are taxed as ordinary income. The tax rate applied depends on your income tax bracket at the time of withdrawal. It's essential to consider the tax implications of your distribution strategy when planning for retirement to optimize your overall tax situation.

8. Can I access my 457 plan funds if I need emergency funds before retirement?

In some cases, you may be able to access your 457 plan funds for financial emergencies even before reaching retirement age without incurring the typical early withdrawal penalty. However, the rules and conditions for hardship withdrawals vary depending on your employer's plan. Make sure to check with your plan administrator to understand the specific guidelines and potential consequences of an early withdrawal for emergencies.

9. How can I monitor and manage my 457 plan investments?

To monitor and manage your 457 plan investments, you will typically have access to an online portal provided by your plan administrator. This portal allows you to track your contributions, review investment performance, make changes to your investment allocation, and update beneficiary information. It's crucial to review your plan periodically and make adjustments as needed based on your risk tolerance, retirement goals, and overall financial situation.

10. Can I continue contributing to a 457 plan after retirement?

While it's not common, some 457 plans may allow retired individuals to continue making contributions after retirement, provided they meet specific requirements. This option may be advantageous for individuals who choose to work part-time during retirement or return to work after a temporary break. However, this feature is subject to the rules and regulations of the individual plan, so it's essential to verify with your plan administrator.

Please note that the information provided in this FAQ section is based on general knowledge and may not apply universally to all 457 plans. It is crucial to consult your plan administrator or a financial advisor for guidance specific to your particular situation.


The 457 plan is a valuable retirement savings option for government and non-profit employees seeking tax advantages and flexibility in withdrawals. With its higher contribution limits and unique features, it complements other retirement accounts, enabling individuals to build a robust financial foundation for their retirement years. However, participants should carefully consider their individual circumstances and retirement goals before making investment decisions. Seeking advice from financial professionals can further enhance retirement planning and ensure a secure financial future.

Remember, this article provides general information and should not be construed as financial advice. Always consult with a qualified financial advisor to tailor a retirement plan to your specific needs and objectives.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as financial or investment advice. Please consult with a professional financial advisor before making any financial decisions.