Benefit of Retirement Plans
Retirement plans may be classified as defined benefit or defined contribution according to how the benefits are determined. A defined benefit plan guarantees a certain payout at retirement, according to a fixed formula which usually depends on the member’s salary and the number of years’ membership in the plan. A defined contribution plan will provide a payout at retirement that is dependent upon the amount of money contributed and the performance of the investment vehicles utilized. Hence, with a defined contribution plan the risk and responsibility lies with the employee that the funding will be sufficient through retirement, whereas with the defined benefit plan the risk and responsibility lies with the employer or plan managers.Some types of retirement plans, such as cash balance plans, combine features of both defined benefit and defined contribution plans.
Defined benefit plans
A traditional defined benefit (DB) plan is a plan in which the benefit on retirement is determined by a set formula, rather than depending on investment returns. Government pensions such as Social Security in the United States are a type of defined benefit pension plan. Traditionally, defined benefit plans for employers have been administered by institutions which exist specifically for that purpose, by large businesses, or, for government workers, by the government itself. A traditional form of defined benefit plan is the final salary plan, under which the pension paid is equal to the number of years worked, multiplied by the member’s salary at retirement, multiplied by a factor known as the accrual rate. The final accrued amount is available as a monthly pension or a lump sum, but usually monthly.
The benefit in a defined benefit pension plan is determined by a formula that can incorporate the employee’s pay, years of employment, age at retirement, and other factors. A simple example is a Dollars Times Service plan design that provides a certain amount per month based on the time an employee works for a company. For example, a plan offering $100 a month per year of service would provide $3,000 per month to a retiree with 30 years of service. While this type of plan is popular among unionized workers, Final Average Pay (FAP) remains the most common type of defined benefit plan offered in the United States. In FAP plans, the average salary over the final years of an employee’s career determines the benefit amount.
Averaging salary over a number of years means that the calculation is averaging different dollars. For example, if salary is averaged over five years, and retirement is in 2009, then salary in 2004 dollars is averaged with salary in 2005 dollars, etc., with 2004 dollars being worth more than the dollars of succeeding years. The pension is then paid in first year of retirement dollars, in this example 2009 dollars, with the lowest value of any dollars in the calculation. Thus inflation in the salary averaging years has a considerable impact on purchasing power and cost, both being reduced equally by inflation.