401a vs 401k: Find Out The Difference [2021]!

 401a vs 401k: Find Out The Difference [2021]! 401a vs 401k: Find Out The Difference [2021]!

There are two types of sponsored retirement savings plans provided by employers which are the 401a and the 401 k plans.

Retired people have mostly become used to relying on revenue from the monthly retirement contributions they made through social security plans and individual savings for retirement.

Employers today are however replacing this arrangement with the 401a and 401k plans.

Both of these can be referred to as sponsored workplace retirement savings packages through the internal revenue code of chapter 401.


401a vs 401k401a vs 401k
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Both the 401a and 401k programs differ based on the employer type and the conditions regarding the employment.

In this review, we will examine the differences between these two retirement plans.

401a vs 401k: What Is The Difference?

Most employers of today don’t have pension plans but instead, contribute to your retirement plan through sponsored retirement savings plans like the 401k and 401a plans. Let’s look at their differences here below.

401a Retirement Plan: What is it?

Otherwise known as money purchased retirement package, it is mostly offered by educational institutions, government establishments, and non-profit organizations. Not a privately owned company.

This retirement plan is designed and provided as an encouragement by these establishments to keep certain employees faithful to them.

Being an incentive, these kinds of monthly retirement contributions are normally determined by the employer. The employer contributions are usually an addition to the employee’s contributions on the plan.

What Happens When the Employee Leaves

When an employee leaves a company he or she can effortlessly withdraw contributions, purchase an annuity, or roll them over to a different qualified retirement savings plan.

Compulsory Participation

Participation for workers from an employer providing the 401a pension plan is mandatory. Mandatory participation is also expected from every employer however they can define the amount they can contribute to the plan.

All qualified employees are subject to what the employer decides before getting the retirement plan package. Therefore it is the employer who decides if you are in or not.

401a Plan Can Be Post Taxed or Pre Taxed

One clear feature is the tax advantages the 401a plan comes with as contributions can be done before or after income taxes have been deducted.

In other cases employees can use the funds to cater for emergencies or other such events. This early withdrawal comes with a 10% penalty when the employee is not at least 59.5 years yet as well as income taxes.

401k Retirement Plan: What is it?

This plan is commonly provided by private sector employers and eligible employees participate willingly towards it.

Among the alternatives organizations have on this plan include, matching with a certain percentage of the worker’s contribution where the employee is not financially capable to fully participate.

401k is Pre-Taxed Funding

This means that money is contributed prior to tax payments, unlike the 401a plan which can be pre and post-taxed.

Another benefit is that employees can alternate their contributions any time this perk is not availed in the other plan.

Tax advantages enjoyed by employees include being able to defer some of their income into the 401 k plan before any taxation is done.

This means that workers can determine how much money is pre-taxed as they work on long-term savings. If an employee does not make an early withdrawal, it will be absolutely tax-free to withdraw the 401 k contributions.

Only Employee Contributions

Earlier in this article, we’ve seen that both employees and employers in the 401a plan contribute monthly to the plan however here only workers contribute to the 401 k plan from their incomes.

It is therefore not compulsory for employers to contribute to this plan however they can provide about thirty investment options if they decide to make them available.

When employees have several investment options in their 401 k plans, it becomes complicated remembering that they get taxed anytime they withdraw when taxes are higher.

Main Differences Between 401a and 401 k Plans

  • Only public employers provide the 401a plan including educational institutions, NGOs, and government establishments. Private companies on the other hand provide the 401 k retirement plan but are not mandated to contribute to it.
  • Public companies and workers must engage in the 401a programs. However private employers don’t have to participate in the 401 k plan and workers can contribute voluntarily.
  • Money contributed through the 401 k plan is employee dictated while contributions in a 401a plan are employer dictated.
  • Workers in a 401k retirement plan save money and get broad investment options while 401a plan employees have limited investment options.
  • Maximum annual contribution for a 401a plan is currently at $58,000 and $19,000 for 401k plans.

401a and 401k Qualification Differences

Both 401a and 401k programs are workplace retirement savings packages. According to chapter 1 of section 410a of the IRC regulations, an employee has to have reached the age of 21 years to participate.

Besides the age, an employee needs to have worked for a certain period with the employer financing the plan.

The minimum period an employee needs to have completed qualifying for a 401a plan is two years (2) and one (1) year for a 401k package.

Maximum and Minimum Retirement Savings Plans

Each of these pension plans has a different limit for annual savings. An employee can only keep up to $58,000 in the 401a program and $19,500 for the 401 k plan.

As you can see there’s a huge difference between these two plans meaning the employee will have more money after retiring through the 401a contributions.

Tax Matters

There are certain tax benefits that come with these two programs. An employee with a 401a retirement account will not be expected to pay taxes if contributions are made after taxes have been deducted.

Anyone qualifies for tax cuts as long he or she is over 18 years and isn’t a full-time student. You also get tax waivers when there is nobody claiming that you’re their dependant within the 401a plan.


401a vs 401k401a vs 401k
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For informational purposes, the tax waivers you qualify for are 10% or 20%, or 50% of the total contribution made toward your retiring package. This can reach a total of $2,000 if the employee is doing a maximum annual contribution.

Extent of Contributions

Depending on the retirement account you’re on you can also participate in other plans.

According to ICMA, an employee operating a 401a plan can at the same time subscribe to 457 and 403 plans however this provision is not open for those operating the 401k plan.

Noting that the highest annual contribution is $14,500 for the 401k plan, most workers older than 50 years can save an extra $6,000 to add up to $24,500 annually to boost their retirement income.

401k subscribers can also run a Roth IRA has set limits to the highest amount you can contribute. For every year you let the money stay in the account they pay taxes i.e 6% yearly increments.

Investment Risks Associated with 401a and 401k plans

Financial advisors maintain the 401a plan has lower financial risks compared to the 401k plan since employers limit the investment vehicles available to their employees which makes them safer.

401k employees have extra opportunities for investment which attract higher risks. This is why 401k plans have higher returns than 401a plans.

Employees can borrow from both plans however with certain limitations.

While some 401a companies will not permit you to borrow, most employers will let you borrow up to $5,000 to support your personal finance goals.

The same rule applies with the 401k package where you can borrow not more than half your savings and as well pay taxes when refunding it.

Platforms To Use To Invest Retirement Money

Now that we have gone over the 401a and 401k plans, where or how will you be able to invest the funds? A savvy worker will want to use either of the following investment platforms to plan and invest the funds;








Whichever plan you choose between the two, maximizing your retirement income means you have to be keen on some factors all financial advisors will caution you on.

Resist the need of borrowing from your retirement fund before you retire because they will be very beneficial after retiring from work.

You must be careful when investing your money and we think Motley Fool Retirement Rule will be of huge help as it better structured and diversified.



What Is A 401a vs 401k?

A 401a retirement package is provided to certain employees as an encouragement to stay loyal while a 401k plan is a voluntary contribution towards a fund through an employer.

Which Plan Do Private Sector Employers use?

The 401k retirement package is the most preferred plan by any private employer however private employees can contribute voluntarily.

What is a Qualified Retirement savings Plan?

This is a retirement plan designed by an employer to provide income for particular workers and beneficiaries after retiring. They also have to satisfy particular IRS codes in the matter of operation and form.

401a vs 401k: What’s The Difference?

Most workers in the 401a plan work for public employers like government institutions, NGOs, and educational establishments while the 401k plan is provided by private employers.


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Author: J Maver

Passionate in tech, software and gadgets. I enjoy reviewing and comparing products & services, uncovering new trends and digging up little known products that deserve an audience.