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How to withdraw retirement funds: Learn 9 smart ways


Published March 4th, 2024

Retirement planning is a confusing but necessary financial step. There are many retirement account types that may be good for you, depending on a few key factors, like your employer and how you prefer to be taxed. Here’s a look at the top nine types of retirement plans.

What Are the Top 9 Retirement Plans?

Some retirement plans are designed for people with full-time jobs. Some are meant exclusively for business owners. Others are adaptable to anyone, no matter their situation. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

  1. Traditional IRA
  2. Roth IRA
  3. SEP-IRA
  5. 401(k)
  6. Solo 401(k)
  7. 403(b)
  8. Annuity
  9. Defined benefit plan

1. Traditional IRA

An individual retirement account is a savings plan that any individual with a taxable income can open and manage themselves. An IRA offers a tax advantage because once you contribute, your money will grow and you won’t pay taxes until you withdraw it.

Different financial service companies offer different IRA plans. This makes them adaptable for anyone, no matter the income, because you have the freedom to choose the investment options you can afford.

2. Roth IRA

Roth IRA is similar to a traditional IRA. The primary difference between them is that with a traditional IRA, you pay taxes when you withdraw your contributions. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on contributions as you make them, but you don’t pay when you withdraw the money upon retirement.

Also, unlike some of the alternatives, a Roth IRA will allow you to start withdrawing money early under certain circumstances.


A Simplified Employee Pension IRA is an IRA specifically designed for people who are self-employed or run their own businesses.

A SEP-IRA plan has a similar structure to a traditional IRA. The main difference is that an employer can contribute more than a traditional IRA would allow. As of 2024, the employer is allowed to contribute 25% of an employee’s income up to a maximum amount of $69,000.

Given that the contribution is dependent on income, in years when the business makes less money, you can make smaller contributions. This is beneficial if you are the employer, but less so if you are the employee.


A Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees IRA is also intended for use by small-business owners. To qualify for a SIMPLE IRA, a business must have 100 employees or fewer.

Under this plan, the employer matches up to 3% of an employee’s salary per year. If an employee leaves the company, they keep the contributions that the employer has already made.

5. 401(k)

401(k) is the most common retirement plan offered by employers. A 401(k) is tax-free until you are ready to withdraw the money, at which point you pay income tax on the amount you take out. Generally, with some exceptions, you must be at least 59 1/2 to start withdrawing funds without incurring an early withdrawal tax penalty.

Many employers match contributions that you make into a 401(k). You may not be allowed to keep all of your employer’s contributions if you leave the company before you are fully vested. However, you can roll over contributions into your new employer’s 401(k) plan or into an IRA.


6. Solo 401(k)

solo 401(k) is similar to a standard 401(k), but it’s for self-employed individuals with no employees. This type of retirement plan treats you as both an employer and an employee. That means you can make contributions as both — which translates to potentially more tax-deferred savings than you’re allowed with a standard 401(k).

You can contribute as much as 100% of your earned income from self-employment, up to contribution limits. The limit on contributions you can make as an employee is $23,000 in 2024, plus a catch-up contribution of $7,500 if you’re age 50 or older. The limit on your contributions as an employer is 25% of your employee compensation from the business, up to $69,000, plus a catch-up contribution of $7,500 if you’re age 50 or older.

The IRS has a formula for calculating earned income for the purpose of determining your contribution limits. The formula can be tricky and mistakes can be costly, so consider talking with a financial advisor or accountant before you begin contributing to a solo 401(k) account.

7. 403(b)

403(b) plan is similar to a 401(k), but it’s offered to employees of public schools and certain nonprofits, such as churches and 501(c)(3) organizations.

As with 401(k) contributions, 403(b) contributions are tax-deferred, and so is the growth of funds in your account. You’re not taxed until you withdraw the money.

Some employers offer Roth versions in addition to standard 403(b)s. With a Roth 403(b) account, you make contributions from after-tax income and withdraw funds tax-free in retirement.

8. Annuity

Annuities are contracts between you and an insurance company. In exchange for your purchase, whether you pay a lump sum or in installments, the insurance company agrees to make one or more payments, and perhaps pay a death benefit, to you. You can take the payout as a lump sum or as a series of payments.

There are three primary types of annuities:

  • Indexed annuity: Returns are tied to an index, such as the S&P 500
  • Fixed annuity: Offers a fixed interest rate on your funds and periodic payments of a predetermined dollar amount
  • Variable annuity: Allows you to invest funds, which grow tax-free at a variable interest rate

Annuities have fees and risks you should be aware of before you purchase one. While only variable annuities are considered securities, a fee-only investment advisor might be the best person to help you determine whether any kind of annuity you’re considering is the right choice for you.

9. Defined Benefit Plan

A defined benefit plan is the type of retirement plan most people probably associate with employee pensions. Recipients receive a fixed, predetermined benefit when they retire. The benefit can be a set dollar amount or a percentage of your salary, set according to your years of service. The benefits of defined benefit plans are that your employer contributes most of the funds, and you know in advance how much you’ll receive — your employer can’t retroactively decrease the amount, according to the IRS.

Most defined benefit plans are annuities that pay out for the rest of your life or your and your spouse’s lives.

Final Take

Choosing from the retirement account types that are available can be overwhelming, but it is important. If your employer offers a specific plan, that may take the choice out of your hands. If they don’t, then consider what you want out of your plan now in terms of investments and taxation, and what you expect out of it once you retire.


  • What are the most common types of retirement plans?
    • 401(k) is the most common type of retirement plan offered by employers, edging out defined benefit plans, according to an IBISWorld analysis. However, an IRA is the most common retirement plan chosen by individuals.
  • What is the simplest retirement plan?
    • A traditional IRA is the most straightforward retirement plan. Anyone who earns an income can open one, so there are fewer hoops to jump through to see if you qualify.
  • What is better than a 401(k) for retirement?
    • A retirement plan is a personal choice, dependent on when you would rather be taxed and what kind of employer contributions you expect. The best plan for a business owner is not the best plan for an employee, so deciding if a 401(k) or another retirement account type is best requires research or the advice of a professional.
  • What is the difference between a 403(b) and a 401(k)?
    • The primary difference between a 403(b) and a 401(k) is the type of employer that offers them. Public schools and certain charitable organizations sponsor 403(b) plans, while for-profit companies sponsor 401(k)s.
  • Is a Roth IRA better than a 401(k)?
    • They’re different products, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Roth IRAs have the benefit of being individual plans — you don’t need an employer to sponsor one. In addition, you withdraw money tax-free in retirement. The main benefits of a 401(k) are the higher contribution limits and your employer’s ability to contribute funds on your behalf.