What is a tax-sheltered annuity?


Tax-sheltered annuities (TSA) are retirement plans that provide a tax-sheltered method of saving, allowing the employees to make elective deferral contributions on a tax-deferred basis. 

One example of tax-sheltered annuity is the Section 403b retirement plan, which has been designed for employees of hospitals, churches, non-profit organizations and public education institutions.

Characteristics of Tax-Sheltered Annuities

Eligible employees can elect to have their salaries reduced by a certain amount and use the reduction to fund their retirement plan. The elective-deferral contributions of employees are not taxable until they are withdrawn.

Employers may make direct matching contributions to their employees' tax-sheltered annuities. Employer contributions are tax-deductible.

Certain contribution limits adjusted each year according to the cost of living index, apply to workers' elective deferral contributions. For tax year 2009, a maximum of $16,500 can be invested in a tax-sheltered annuity by individuals aged 49 and below. Participants aged 50 and above can benefit from the "catch-up" provision giving them the right to invest an additional amount of $5,500 in their tax-sheltered annuities.

Employees of hospitals, non-profit organizations and public education institutions, who participate in both a 403b and a 401k plan, can contribute a maximum total of $16,500 for year 2009.

Under a tax-sheltered annuity contract, the participant's rights on the amounts deferred and the employer's contributions are always non-forfeitable.

A tax-sheltered annuity must also be non-transferable, i.e. - it cannot be used for other purposes.

As of 2006, employees of non-profit organizations and public education institutions have the right to invest in the new Roth 403b - a retirement plan whereto contributions are made with after-tax dollars. The advantage of the Roth 403b is that earnings accumulate tax free, and qualified distributions are not taxable after retirement.

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