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By Penelope Wang
March 15, 2016
Shutterstock

When most people think of a retirement savings account, they think of the gold standard: the 401(k), the most common workplace retirement account. But even if you don’t have a 401(k)—and 57% of working households, in fact, don’t have one through a current employer—you still have access to other tax-deferred plans.

At a job with the government, a nonprofit, or a school, you might have a Thrift Savings Plan, 403(b), or 457. When you’re self-­employed, your options include a SEP-IRA and the increasingly popular solo 401(k), offered at a low cost by many brokerages and fund groups.

Despite the variations among these and other plans, most share basic qualities that can help you jump-start—and ­turbocharge—your retirement. You pay no taxes on the earnings you contribute. Money is automatically deposited into your account, making the process effortless. You have a menu of diversified funds in which you can invest. Your boss can match a portion of what you put in, and your plan may regularly raise your contributions slowly and steadily, easing you toward a high savings rate.

Since the number of different retirement plans can be a little off-putting at first, Money has put together a chart to cut down on the confusion and help you figure out which plan is most likely to be offered to you at work, and which is most appropriate for your particular situation. The retirement plan guide (see below) groups plans by the type of employer that might offer it, or whether it’s designed for individuals to open up on their own. Each entry contains information about eligibility, contribution limits, employer matches, and investment options.

To learn how to minimize these plans’ drawbacks and maximize their advantages, check out Money’s retirement-planning series starting with These Low-Cost Strategies Can Save Your Retirement.

Retirement Plans at Glance
Even if your workplace doesn’t offer a 401(k), the most common type of retirement account, you still have plenty of opportunities to save for retirement while deferring your taxes. Here’s a quick guide to the universe of plans.
PLAN WHO’S ELIGIBLE MAXIMUM ANNUAL CONTRIBUTION EMPLOYER MATCH? ANNUAL CATCH-UP STARTING
AT AGE 50
USUAL INVESTMENT OPTIONS
Business, Government, Nonprofit 401(k) Private company employees $18,000 Usually 1% to 6% of pay $6,000 Mutual funds (19 on average)
403(b) Employees at nonprofits and state and local governments $18,000 Often; typically 3% to 5% of pay $6,000 (more for some longtime employees) Funds and annuities (29 on average)
457 Some government and nonprofit workers $18,000 Rarely $6,000 (sometimes more for employees near retirement) Menu of mutual funds
Thrift Savings Plan Federal government employees, including the military $18,000 5% for those in the Federal Employees Retirement System $6,000 10 funds, including five target-date funds
Small Business SEP-IRA Small-business employers and employees 25% of salary, up to $53,000 (same for all personnel) All contributions come from employer None, but contributions are permitted after age 70½ All funds offered where account is held
Simple IRA Small-business employers and employees $12,500 3% match (or 2% employer contribution to all employees) $3,000; contributions are also permitted after age 70½ Menu of funds
Solo 401(k) Sole proprietors and their spouses 25% of compensation plus $18,000, up to $53,000 No $6,000 All funds offered where account is held
Individual Roth IRA All earners making less than income phaseouts $5,500 No $1,000 All funds offered where account is held
Traditional IRA All earners $5,500 No $1,000 All funds offered where account is held
NOTE: Contribution limits are for 2016. SOURCES: IRS.gov, PSCA.org, TSP.gov
Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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