Guide to 457 Retirement Plans

By Rebecca Lake · February 12, 2024 · 8 minute read

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Guide to 457 Retirement Plans

A 457 plan — technically a 457(b) plan — is similar to a 401(k) retirement account. It’s an employer-provided retirement savings plan that you fund with pre-tax contributions, and the money you save grows tax-deferred until it’s withdrawn in retirement.

But a 457 plan differs from a 401(k) in some significant ways. While any employer may offer a 401(k), 457 plans are designed specifically for state and local government employees, as well as employees of certain tax-exempt organizations. That said, a 457 has fewer limitations on withdrawals.

This guide will help you decide whether a 457 plan is right for you.

What Is a 457 Retirement Plan?

A 457 plan is a type of deferred compensation plan that’s used by certain employees when saving for retirement. The key thing to remember is that a 457 plan isn’t considered a “qualified retirement plan” based on the federal law known as ERISA (from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974).

These plans can be established by state and local governments or by certain tax-exempt organizations. The types of employees that can participate in 457 savings plans include:

•   Firefighters

•   Police officers

•   Public safety officers

•   City administration employees

•   Public works employees

Note that a 457 plan is not used by federal employees; instead, the federal government offers a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) to those workers. Nor is it exactly the same thing as a 401(k) plan or a 403(b), though there are some similarities between these types of plans.

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How a 457 Plan Works

A 457 plan works by allowing employees to defer part of their compensation into the plan through elective salary deferrals. These deferrals are made on a pre-tax basis, though some plans can also allow employees to choose a Roth option (similar to a Roth 401(k)).

The money that’s deferred is invested and grows tax-deferred until the employee is ready to withdraw it. The types of investments offered inside a 457 plan can vary by the plan but typically include a mix of mutual funds. Some 457 retirement accounts may also offer annuities as an investment option.

Unlike 401(k) plans, which require employees to wait until age 59 ½ before making qualified withdrawals, 457 plans allow withdrawals at whatever age the employee retires. The IRS doesn’t impose a 10% early withdrawal penalty on withdrawals made before age 59 ½ if you retire (or take a hardship distribution). Regular income tax still applies to the money you withdraw, except in the case of Roth 457 plans, which allow for tax-free qualified distributions.

So, for example, say you’re a municipal government employee. You’re offered a 457 plan as part of your employee benefits package. You opt to defer 15% of your compensation into the plan each year, starting at age 25. Once you turn 50, you make your regular contributions along with catch-up contributions. You decide to retire at age 55, at which point you’ll be able to withdraw your savings or roll it over to an IRA.

Who Is Eligible for a 457 Retirement Plan?

In order to take advantage of 457 plan benefits you need to work for an eligible employer. Again, this includes state and local governments as well as certain tax-exempt organizations.

There are no age or income restrictions on when you can contribute to a 457 plan, unless you’re still working at age 73. A 457 retirement account follows required minimum distribution rules, meaning you’re required to begin taking money out of the plan once you turn 73. At this point, you can no longer make new contributions.

A big plus with 457 plans: Your employer could offer a 401(k) plan and a 457 plan as retirement savings options. You don’t have to choose one over the other either. If you’re able to make contributions to both plans simultaneously, you could do so up to the maximum annual contribution limits.

Pros & Cons of 457 Plans

A 457 plan can be a valuable resource when planning for retirement expenses. Contributions grow tax-deferred and as mentioned, you could use both a 457 plan and a 401(k) to save for retirement. If you’re unsure whether a 457 savings plan is right for you, weighing the pros and cons can help you to decide.

Pros of 457 Plans

Here are some of the main advantages of using a 457 plan to save for retirement.

No Penalty for Early Withdrawals

Taking money from a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account before age 59 ½ can result in a 10% early withdrawal tax penalty. That’s on top of income tax you might owe on the distribution. With a 457 retirement plan, this rule doesn’t apply so if you decide to retire early, you can tap into your savings penalty-free.

Special Catch-up Limit

A 457 plan has annual contribution limits and catch-up contribution limits but they also include a special provision for employees who are close to retirement age. This provision allows them to potentially double the amount of money they put into their plan in the final three years leading up to retirement.

Loans May Be Allowed

If you need money and you don’t qualify for a hardship distribution from a 457 plan you may still be able to take out a loan from your retirement account (although there are downsides to this option). The maximum loan amount is 50% of your vested balance or $50,000, whichever is less. Loans must be repaid within five years.

Cons of 457 Plans

Now that you’ve considered the positives, here are some of the drawbacks to consider with a 457 savings plan.

Not Everyone Is Eligible

If you don’t work for an eligible employer then you won’t have access to a 457 plan. You may, however, have other savings options such as a 401k or 403(b) plan instead which would allow you to set aside money for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. And of course, you can always open an IRA.

Investment Options May Be Limited

The range of investment options offered in 457 plans aren’t necessarily the same across the board. Depending on which plan you’re enrolled in, you may find that your investment selections are limited or that the fees you’ll pay for those investments are on the higher side.

Matching Is Optional

While an employer may choose to offer a matching contribution to a 457 retirement account, that doesn’t mean they will. Matching contributions are valuable because they’re essentially free money. If you’re not getting a match, then it could take you longer to reach your retirement savings goals.

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457 Plan Contribution Limits

The IRS establishes annual contribution limits for 457 plans. There are three contribution amounts:

•   Basic annual contribution

•   Catch-up contribution

•   Special catch-up contribution

Annual contribution limits and catch-up contributions follow the same guidelines established for 401(k) plans.

The special catch-up contribution is an additional amount that’s designated for employees who are within three years of retirement. Not all 457 retirement plans allow for special catch-up contributions.

Here are the 457 savings plan maximum contribution limits for 2023 and 2024.



Annual Contribution Up to 100% of an employees’ includable compensation or $22,500, whichever is less Up to 100% of an employees’ includable compensation or $23,000, whichever is less
Catch-up Contribution Employees 50 and over can contribute an additional $7,500 Employees 50 and over can contribute an additional $7,500
Special Catch-up Contribution $22,500 or the basic annual limit plus the amount of the basic limit not used in prior years, whichever is less* $23,000 or the basic annual limit plus the amount of the basic limit not used in prior years, whichever is less*

*This option is not available if the employee is already making age-50-or-over catch-up contributions.

457 vs 403(b) Plans

The biggest difference between a 457 plan and a 403(b) plan is who they’re designed for. A 403(b) plan is a type of retirement plan that’s offered to public school employees, including those who work at state colleges and universities, and employees of certain tax-exempt organizations. Certain ministers may establish a 403(b) plan as well. This type of plan can also be referred to as a tax-sheltered annuity or TSA plan.

Like 457 plans, 403(b) plans are funded with pre-tax dollars and contributions grow tax-deferred over time. These contributions can be made through elective salary deferrals or nonelective employer contributions. Employees can opt to make after-tax contributions or designated Roth contributions to their plan. Employers are not required to make contributions.

The annual contribution limits to 403(b) plans, including catch-up contributions, are the same as those for 457 plans. A 403(b) plan can also offer special catch-up contributions, but they work a little differently and only apply to employees who have at least 15 years of service.

Employees can withdraw money once they reach age 59 ½ and they’ll pay tax on those distributions. A 403(b) plan may allow for loans and hardship distributions or early withdrawals because the employee becomes disabled or leaves their job.

Investing for Retirement With SoFi

When weighing retirement plan options, a 457 retirement account may be one possibility. That’s not the only way to save and invest, however. If you don’t have a retirement plan at work or you’re self-employed, you can still open a traditional or Roth IRA to grow wealth.

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How does a 457 plan pay out?

If you have a 457 savings plan, you can take money out of your account before age 59 ½ without triggering an early withdrawal tax penalty in certain situations. Those distributions are taxable at your ordinary income tax rate, however. Like other tax-advantaged plans, 457 plans have required minimum distributions (RMDs), but they begin at age 73.

What are the rules for a 457 plan?

The IRS has specific rules for which types of employers can establish 457 plans; these include state and local governments and certain tax-exempt organizations. There are also rules on annual contributions, catch-up contributions and special catch-up contributions. In terms of taxation, 457 plans follow the same guidelines as 401(k) or 403(b) plans: Contributions are made pre-tax; the employee pays taxes on withdrawals.

When can you take money out of a 457 plan?

You can take money out of a 457 plan once you reach age 59 ½. Withdrawals are also allowed prior to age 59 ½ without a tax penalty if you’re experiencing a financial hardship or you leave your employer. Early withdrawals are still subject to ordinary income tax.

Photo credit: iStock/Nomad

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