How Much Can You Put in a Cash Balance Plan? $3.4 Million Rule


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For tax year 2023, you can contribute as much as $3.4 million into a cash balance plan. This assumes you pay yourself a maximum wage (currently $265,000) and have the plan open for at least 10 years.

But you don’t have to contribute the maximum amount. In fact, most business owners are just concerned with how much they can put in for a give year.

How much can you put in a cash balance plan?

A cash balance plan is a type of defined benefit pension plan that is designed to provide retirement income to employees. It is funded by contributions from the employer and may also allow for employee contributions.

The amount that can be contributed to a cash balance plan is determined by a number of factors, including the terms of the plan, the age of the participant, and any applicable laws and regulations. In general, cash balance plans have contribution limits that are set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and are subject to annual cost-of-living adjustments.

As of 2021, the maximum contribution that an employer can make to a cash balance plan is the lesser of:

  • 100% of the participant’s compensation, or
  • The maximum contribution limit for defined benefit plans, which is currently $230,000 per year (indexed for inflation).

Employees may also be able to make voluntary contributions to a cash balance plan, subject to certain limits. However, employee contributions are not required and are not a common feature of cash balance plans.

It’s important to note that cash balance plans have been the subject of controversy and legal challenges in the past, and their use has been somewhat limited as a result. If you have questions about your specific cash balance plan or how much you can contribute to it, it’s a good idea to consult with a financial professional or a qualified legal advisor.

Cash balance Plan Basics

A cash balance plan is a type of defined benefit pension plan that is designed to provide retirement benefits to employees. It combines elements of traditional defined benefit plans with those of defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s. In a cash balance plan, the employer contributes a fixed amount, or “cash balance,” to an account for each employee, which earns a guaranteed rate of return. The employee’s account balance is portable and can be taken with them if they leave the company.

There are several critical features of cash balance plans:

  1. Employer contributions: In a cash balance plan, the employer contributes a fixed amount each year to the employee’s account. This contribution is typically a percentage of the employee’s salary.
  2. The guaranteed rate of return: The employer also guarantees a specific rate of return on the employee’s account balance. This rate is typically based on a formula that includes a fixed interest rate and other factors, such as the yield on long-term corporate bonds.
  3. Account balance: Each employee has their own account balance, which reflects their contributions and the guaranteed rate of return. The account balance is portable, meaning it can be taken with the employee if they leave the company.
  4. Vesting: Employees are typically fully vested in their account balance after a certain period, usually five to seven years. This means they are entitled to the full value of their account balance, even if they leave the company before retirement age.
  5. Retirement benefits: When an employee retires, they receive their account balance as a lump sum or as an annuity, which is a stream of payments over time.

There are several advantages to cash balance plans for both employers and employees. These plans are relatively easy to administer for employers and can provide a predictable cost for funding retirement benefits. For employees, cash balance plans offer the potential for a higher return on their contributions compared to traditional defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s.

However, there have been legal challenges to cash balance plans. Some argue that they disproportionately benefit higher-paid employees and may not provide the same benefits to lower-paid workers. It is crucial for employees to carefully review the terms of a cash balance plan and to seek financial advice before making any decisions about their retirement benefits.

Paul Sundin

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