September 14, 2006


When beginning a job, there are many nuances and intricacies related to the benefits offered through your new employer (elements that should be part of your analysis when evaluating job offers). Among these is the vesting schedule of your retirement plan. What is vesting? Good question …

VESTING is your right of ownership to retirement plan benefits. Your employer determines the vesting schedule for the basic retirement plan, which can be either immediate or delayed. Vesting schedules apply only to employer contributions and earnings on employer contributions. Your contributions (as well as any earnings attributable to your contributions) are always immediately vested, meaning that if you were to leave the company tomorrow, those funds could leave with you.

Immediate Vesting. After you begin your retirement plan, all contributions and earnings vest automatically if it is an immediate vesting plan. The maximum participation requirements for eligibility for a plan with immediate vesting are two years of service and the attainment of age 21, or, for educational institutions, one year of service and the attainment of age 26.

Delayed Vesting. Individuals in delayed vesting plans don't have ownership rights to the contributions (and any earnings on those contributions) made by the employer on their behalf until they meet the vesting requirements. There are two objectives to Delayed Vesting: (1) Reward employees with longer service; and (2) Reduce the cost of providing benefits to employees who leave after only a few years of service.

There are two types of delayed vesting. (1) Cliff Vesting - you work several years and then the employer contribution vests fully at a threshold date. In three-year cliff vesting, for example, none of the client's accumulation would vest during the first two years of participation. But at the end of the third year, the employee's entire accumulation would be 100 percent vested. Under (2) Graded Vesting, in contrast, ownership of retirement benefits accrues in stages -- for example, 20 percent after two years, 40 percent after three years, and so on, until the entire accumulation is completely vested. For employer matching plans, contributions must vest by the end of the third year. To find out more about your vesting schedule, contact your employers benefits department.

Last Weeks Tip: Record Keeping

Schedule a Financial Counseling/Planning Session

The Financial Tip of the Week is a service of:
University of Missouri-Columbia

College of Human Environmental Sciences
Department of Personal Financial Planning

Office for Financial Success
Dr. Mark Oleson - OFS Director