How a Cash Balance Plan Can Help You Maximize Your 401(k) Contributions

If you’re looking to save more for retirement or reduce your tax burden, a cash balance plan may be an option worth considering. They’re a great way to maximize the amount of money you can contribute to a 401(k) plan, pre-tax.

They’re also a good option for small business owners who aren’t ready to adopt a 401(k) yet, but still want to provide employees with an attractive retirement savings plan.

Recommended: Fake Bank Account Balances for Friends & Family Members

Tax-Deferred Savings

If you are a high-income earner, the tax-deferred savings offered by cash balance plans can significantly help you accumulate wealth over the long term. The maximum contribution limits are much higher than those for 401(k)s and IRAs, which provides the opportunity to save a significant amount of money that may otherwise not be available.

A cash balance plan can be paired with a 401(k) and profit-sharing plan to offer even more opportunities for tax-deferred savings. While a standalone plan is typically preferred by professional services firms, some businesses can also adopt the cash balance plan as a complementary plan to their existing 401(k) and profit-sharing plans.

Unlike traditional defined benefit plans, cash balance plans allow owners and employees to receive a pay credit each year that can be defined as a percentage of their annual income or a flat dollar amount. The formula used to determine the pay credits can be updated every three to five years if determined based on an objective business criterion (e.g., compensation review).

With the recent Biden administration’s proposals to increase the federal income tax rate for households with taxable income over $1 million, these plans have become increasingly important for high-earning individuals looking to maximize their savings.


Cash balance plans offer a level of flexibility that traditional defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) retirement plan options don’t have. This flexibility allows business owners to meet their savings goals without sacrificing other benefits. It’s a good choice for companies with small-sized employees, as well as law and medical practices that have partners who want to contribute to their retirement benefits.

In contrast to a traditional defined benefit (DB) plan, which determines benefits based on years of service and years of contributions, cash balance plans have a crediting rate that is tied to market rates of return. This allows sponsors to better plan how much money they need to set aside and reduces corporate balance sheet volatility.

The pay credits in a cash balance plan can be defined as flat dollar amounts or as percent of pay, depending on the individual plan. Moreover, age-based pay credits are permitted. Generally, older participants receive larger pay credits due to the time value of money.


A cash balance plan provides business owners with a convenient way to jump start retirement savings and catch up if they are behind their goals. It is also a good way to reduce taxes and increase your overall retirement plan contributions.

These plans are often used as a supplement to 401(k) plans. They allow business owners to make contributions in high income years as well as to reduce those contributions in lower income years. They are more complicated to structure than a 401(k), but it is possible to do so.

Like a defined benefit plan, cash balance plans require actuary calculations and annual testing to ensure that benefits are on track to be paid. In addition, they typically have nondiscrimination rules that prohibit employees from simply putting all their contributions into their own accounts. Similarly, the underlying investment portfolio must be managed to achieve the target growth rate for the plan.

This type of plan is also a good fit for small businesses with a owner and a few employees. For example, we recently looked at a medical group that has a small practice and a couple of employees, and determined that the owner/doctor between his personal deferrals, profit sharing, and the company contribution could save more than $285,000.

Tax Savings

In the current economic environment, many business owners are looking to maximize their retirement savings and minimize their taxes. Adding a cash balance plan to a traditional 401(k) plan can help them achieve these goals.

Owners can contribute a sizable portion of their income to this plan, thereby reducing their taxable income and lowering the top marginal tax rate they pay on their earnings. This is a particularly appealing strategy for high-income earners.

While a cash balance plan may be a great fit for many businesses, it is important to undertake a retirement planning analysis before adopting one. The plan should be maintained for at least three years to avoid IRS scrutiny that could result in a reassessment of the plan and participants’ benefits.

The IRS considers a cash balance plan to be a hybrid of a defined contribution plan and a defined benefit pension plan because it is designed to allow a participant’s accumulated contribution credits to be expressed in terms of their current account balance (similar to a 401(k) plan). In addition, a participant in a cash balance plan receives an annual “fixed interest credit.”

If paired with a 401(k) plan, a cash balance plan can greatly reduce the amount of tax that an owner pays on their yearly income. This is especially attractive for high-income earners, as it can significantly reduce their top marginal tax rate and the personal state income tax they pay.

Leave a Comment