This is a type of defined benefit, or pension plan, too.
But instead of replacing a certain percentage of your income for life, you are promised a certain hypothetical account balance based on contribution credits and investment credits (e.g. annual interest). One common setup for cash-balance plans is a company contribution credit of 6 percent of pay plus a 5 percent annual investment credit, says Littell.
The investment credits are a promise and are not based on actual contribution credits. For example, let’s say a 5 percent return, or investment credit, is promised. If the plan assets earn more, the employer can decrease contributions. In fact, many companies that want to shed their traditional pension plan convert to a cash-balance plan because it allows them better control over the costs of the plan.
Pros: It still provides a promised benefit, and you don’t have to contribute anything to it. “There’s a fair amount of certainty in how much you’re going to get,” says Littell. Also, if you do decide to switch jobs, your account balance is portable so you’ll get whatever the account is worth on your way out the door of your old job.
Cons: If the company changes from a generous pension plan to a cash-balance plan, older workers can potentially lose out, though some companies will grandfather long-term employees into the original plan. Also, the investment credits are relatively modest, typically 4 percent or 5 percent. “It becomes a conservative part of your portfolio,” says Littell.
What it means to you: The date you retire will impact your benefit. “Retiring early can truncate your benefit,” says Littell. Working longer is more advantageous. Also, you’ll get to choose from a lump sum or an annuity form of benefit. When given the option between a $200,000 lump sum or a monthly annuity check of $1,000 for life, “too many people,” choose the lump sum when they’d be better off getting the annuity for life, says Littell.
If you’re married and don’t want to leave your spouse in the lurch — in the event you predecease him or her — consider a joint-life annuity rather than a single-life annuity.