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What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans?

Investing in your retirement early is the best way to ensure financial stability as you age, especially when it comes to understanding various retirement options. Getting started may feel overwhelming — luckily we’re here to help. We help break down the difference between 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, and how they can impact your financial life.

You may already know the value in adjusting your budget to make saving for a rainy day a priority. But are you also prioritizing your retirement savings? If you’re just getting started in the workforce and looking for ways to invest in yourself, 401(k) and 403(b) plans are great options to know about. And, the main difference between a 401(k) and a 403(b) is the company who’s offering them.

401(k) accounts are offered by for-profit companies and 403(b) accounts are offered by nonprofit, scientific, religious, research, or university companies. To understand the similarities and differences between plans in depth, skip to the sections below or keep reading for an in-depth explanation.

How a 401(k) Works
How a 403(b) Works
The Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b)
The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)
5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
What is a 401(k) and 403(b)

How a 401(k) Works

A 401(k) is a retirement account set up by for-profit employers for employees to contribute before-tax earnings. Employer-sponsored 401(k) accounts give employees the opportunity to build retirement savings in different forms — including company stocks, before-tax earnings, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Each company’s retirement plans may vary on benefits like employee matching, stock options, and more. In addition, you’re able to choose how much you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis. Keep in mind, both 401(k) and 403(b) plans have a yearly limit of $19,500 with your employer matches. Plus, most retirement funds have required minimum distributions (RMDs) by the time you turn 70. This essentially means you have to take a minimum amount of money out each month whether you want to or not.

In most cases, employers will offer 401(k) matching to encourage consistent contributions. For example, your employer match may be 50 cents of every dollar you contribute up to six percent of your salary. For example, with this employer match on a $40,000 salary, you would contribute $200 and your employer would contribute an additional $100 each month. This pattern would continue until your annual contributions hit $2,400 and your employer contributes $1,200.

Employee matching is essentially free money. You’re monetarily rewarded for your retirement payments. Be sure to pay attention to vesting periods when setting up your employer match. Vesting periods are an agreed amount of time you need to work at a company before you receive your 401(k) benefits. For example, some companies may require you to work for their team for a year before earning retirement benefits. Other employers may offer retirement benefits starting the day you start working with them.

How a 403(b) Works

A 403(b) is a retirement account made by employers for tax-exempt, charitable nonprofit, scientific, religious, research, or university employees. Organizations that qualify for 403(b) accounts include school boards, public schools, churches, hospitals, and more. This type of account is also known as a tax-sheltered annuity plan — they allow pre-tax income to be invested until taken out.

Employers that offer 403(b) retirement plans may offer a pool of provider options that undergo nondiscrimination testing. This allows employers that qualify for this account to shop around for plans that offer the best benefits and don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). For instance, some 403(b) accounts may charge more administrative fees than others.

Employers are able to offer employee matching on 403(b) accounts if they decide to. To cut costs for nonprofit companies, 403(b) retirement plans generally cost less than 401(k) accounts. Costs associated with starting up these accounts may not affect you, but it may affect your employer.

Account Type 401(k) 403(b)
Yearly Contribution Limit $19,500 $19,500
Employer-Issued Packages For-profit employers:
Corporations, private establishments, etc. and sole proprietors
Non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employers:
School boards, public schools, hospitals, etc.
Minimum Withdrawal Age 59.5 years old 59.5 years old
Early Withdrawal Fees 10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary 10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
Source: IRS.org

The Differences Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Both a 401(k) and 403(b) are similar in the way they operate, but they do have a few differences. Here are the biggest contrasts to be aware of:

  • Eligibility: 401(k) retirement plans are issued by for-profit employers and the self employed, 403(b) retirement plans are for tax-exempt, non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employees. As well as Hospitals and Charities.
  • Investment options: 401(k)s offer more investment opportunities than 403(b)s. 401(k) accounts may include mutual funds, annuities, stocks, and bonds, while 403(b) accounts only offer annuities and mutual funds. Each employer varies in retirement benefits — reach out to a trusted financial advisor if you have questions about your account.
  • Employer expenses: 401(k) accounts are generally more expensive than 403(b) accounts. For-profit 401(k) accounts may pay sales charges, management fees, recordkeeping, and other additional expenses. 403(b) plans may have lower administrative costs to avoid adding a burden for non-profit establishments. These costs vary depending on the employer.
  • Nondiscrimination testing: This form of testing ensures that 403(b) retirement plans are not offered in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). However, 401(k) plans do not require this test.

The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Aside from their differences, both accounts are set up to aid employees in retirement savings. Here’s how:

  • Contribution limits: Both accounts cap your annual contributions at $19,500. In the event you contribute over this limit, your earnings will be distributed back to you by April 15th. If you’re under your retirement contributions by the time you’re 50 years old, you’re allowed to make catch-up contributions. This means that, if you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,500 more than the yearly contribution limit.
  • Withdrawal eligibility: You must be at least 59.5 years old before withdrawing your retirement savings. In the case of an emergency, you may be eligible for early withdrawal. However, you may be charged penalties, taxes, and fees for doing so.
  • Employer matching: Both retirement account options allow employers to match your contributions, but are not required to. When starting your retirement fund, ask your HR representative about potential benefits and employer matching.
  • Early withdrawal penalties: If you choose to withdraw your retirement savings early, you may be penalized. In most cases, you need a valid reason to withdraw your funds early. Eligible reasons may include outstanding debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or medical bills. In addition, you may be charged a 10 percent penalty fee, taxes, and other fees. During a downturned economy, as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, fees may be waived.

5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings

5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings

Contributing to a 401(k) or 403(b) can help grow your investments at a reduced risk. You’re able to grow your non-taxed income to put towards your future goals. The more you contribute, the more you may have by the time you retire. Here are a few tips to get ahead of the game and invest in your financial future.

1. Create a Retirement Account Early

It’s never too late to start a retirement account. If you’re currently employed, but haven’t set up your retirement account, reach out to your HR representative. Ask about retirement plan options and their benefits. When employers offer retirement matches, consider contributing as much as you can to meet their match.

2. Set up Monthly Automatic Contributions

Save time and energy by setting up automatic contributions. You may feel less interested in contributing to your retirement as your payday approaches. Taking time to set up a retirement fund and budgeting for this change may be holding you back. To meet your retirement goals, consider setting up automatic payments through your employer. After a while, you may not even notice the slight budget adjustment.

3. Leverage Employer Matching

Employer matching is essentially free money. Employers may put money towards your future for nothing but your own contribution. This encourages employees to consistently put money towards their retirement savings. Not only are you able to earn extra money each month, but this “free money” will grow with interest over time. If you can, match your employer’s contribution percentage, if not more.

4. Avoid Early Withdrawal

Credit card balances, student loans, and mortgages can be stressful. Instead of withdrawing early from your retirement fund to pay for these, consider other debt payoff methods. If you’re eligible to withdraw from your retirement early, you may face penalty fees, taxes, and administrative expenses. This may hinder your savings potential or push back your desired retirement date.

5. Contribute Your Future Raises and Bonuses

If you’re saving less than $19,500 to your retirement fund this year, consider contributing more. If you earn a bonus or a raise, stick to your current budget and consider increasing your contributions. Ask your employer to increase your retirement payments right before you receive a bonus or raise. The more you contribute, the more interest you’ll accrue over time.

Whether your retirement funds are established through a 401(k) or a 403(b), these accounts offer you the chance to build your financial portfolio. Consistently funding your retirement account may better your financial plan and set you at ease. As your contributions age, so do your interest earnings. You’ll be able to make money on your pre-taxed income and set your future self up for success. Get started by checking in on your budget and carving out a specific amount to put towards your retirement each month.

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How To Become a Freelancer and Make a Full-Time Income

Today, I have a fun interview to share with you that will show you how to become a freelancer.

I recently had the chance to interview Ben Taylor. Ben has been freelancing since 2004, and he has worked for dozens of companies.

Yes, this is a career path that you can learn!

As Ben will tell you in the interview below, a freelancer can be anything. You can be a freelance designer, personal trainer, nutrition coach, online teacher, virtual assistant, writer, and more.

If you are looking for a new business or even just a side hustle so that you can learn how to make extra money, learning how to become a freelancer may be something that you want to look into.

In this interview, you will learn:

  • What a freelancer is, who they work for, what they do, etc.
  • How much a new freelancer should expect to earn
  • How a person can find their first freelancing job
  • The steps needed to take to make money as a freelancer

And much more!

He also has an informative course called Freelance Kickstarter. This course takes you through the step by step process of creating your own freelance business.

Check out the interview below for more information.

How to become a freelancer.

1. Please give us a background on yourself and how you started as a freelancer.

I’m Ben, and I live by the sea in England with my wife and two young sons.

I started a career in tech back in 1998, and by 2004 was Head of IT for a government department. It didn’t take long for me to tire of company politics, and the endless meetings that were more about displays of ego than really getting anything done.

I came from an entrepreneurial family and my parents both had businesses rather than jobs. The businesses weren’t always successful, and there were definitely periods of “feast and famine.” However, I was well used to that and I think that branching out on my own was something I was destined to do.

My move into freelancing splits into a couple of clear phases:

Initially, in 2004, I quit my IT job, walking away from business class travel and a gold-plated pension with nothing more than a vague plan to begin to work as a freelancer!

I started to provide IT support and consultancy to both businesses and individuals. I do actually still do some of that work for a select group of long-term clients, but by 2009 I had managed to burn myself out with it. The business was going well, but I was working ridiculously long days and every holiday I tried to take was interrupted by constant phone calls and emails.

So phase two began when I sold off most of my client-base and moved to Portugal! That’s when I really started to broaden my freelance horizons. I had to start from scratch, with an unclear intention to start writing for a living, and no real plan for how to do it.

I did lots of things, including wasting a LOT of time down fruitless blind alleys. I wrote for content mills, started blogs, found clients on freelance job boards, and – slowly and steadily – started to build my income back up. The difference was that I was doing it all completely on my terms with work I really enjoyed. 

I was also living in a dream destination whilst doing it.

2. Can you explain what exactly a freelancer is, who they work for, what they do, etc.?

This seems like a basic question, but it’s very worthwhile. There’s a considerable difference between freelancing and remote working that not everybody appreciates.

First off, a freelancer can be anything. For some reason many people immediately think of writing when they think about freelancing. But you can be a freelancer designer, personal trainer, nutrition coach, online teacher, virtual assistant, and dozens of other things.

It’s also worth noting you don’t only have to be one of those things. I AM a freelancer writer, but I also still dabble in IT consultancy, run my own blogs, provide coaching, and even build websites for people (if they ask nicely and the price is right!)

Regardless of what you do as a freelancer, the important thing to realise is that you are running your own business. The big plus of this is that you are in total charge. But the big negative is that you don’t have any of the safety nets you have if you are employed by a single company. This means you’re responsible for everything from your own insurance and healthcare to your own technical support!

Freelancers typically work for several different clients. There are myriad places to find those clients. It’s quite common for freelancers to find clients within their existing professional networks, and not at all unusual for ex-employers to be among them. Then there are freelance job boards like Upwork and PeoplePerHour, which provide an endless stream of new opportunities.

3. How much should a new/beginner freelancer expect to earn?

This is an incredibly difficult question to answer! I can think of one freelancer I coached who’s in a very specific writing niche. He went onto Upwork with an initial rate of $100 per hour and found lots of work. I started out in IT consultancy charging a similar rate and was quickly earning more than I did in my full-time job.   

However, at the other end of the scale there are people with limited experience or specialist skills who will need to pay their dues. This means building the foundations of a freelance career by proving yourself and taking low paying jobs to build up examples of work and positive feedback. My move into writing was much more like this!

I think “job replacement income” is a useful target for new freelancers to keep in mind. That can vary vastly from individual to individual. Obviously replacing and exceeding a corporate-level income takes much more than freelancing as an alternative to a part-time, entry-level job. That said, people with senior-level experience command much higher freelance rates.

Related content: 20 Of The Best Entry Level Work From Home Jobs

4. What do you like about being a freelancer?

Not having a boss!

The difference in lifestyle is massive when you work for yourself. This is always brought home to me when I’m making plans with friends and family, and people say “I’ll see if I can get the time off.”

This makes me shudder, because it’s SO alien to me now. The example I always use is that I never have to ask anybody before I can tell my children I’ll be at their sports day or nativity play.

When you have what I call a “traditional job,” you DO have the security of healthcare, and perhaps things like holiday and sick pay. But you give up a tremendous amount of freedom in return. Freelancing is profoundly different, and it’s rare to find people who’ve given it a go that would ever choose to go back to full-time employment.

So that’s a huge thing for me, but there are other huge benefits too. I love the fact I can pivot into different things, which always allows me to keep things fresh.

About four times a year I reassess my priorities and lay out new goals for the short, medium and long term. They might involve starting a new blog, writing another book, learning a new marketable skill. For somebody like me who relishes variety, I love having total control of this.

5. How can a person find their first freelancing job?

There are SO many ways to find freelance jobs. I have an article listing 50 different options!

However, they broadly split into two categories that I call “real world” and “online world.”

It’s always worth starting out by thinking of your real life networks. As I’ve said, many freelancers do their first self-employed work for people who already know them. I’d advise people to think about any contacts who’ve already seen the kind of work they’re capable of. These are “warm leads” that are well worth perusing.

It makes sense to think about personal contacts as well as business contacts, too. Plenty of freelancers find clients who are their “wife’s best friend’s brother” or something like that!

Remaining in the “real world,” there are also options like local business groups and networking events – although they are obviously far less accessible at the present time.

Moving to the online world, the freelance job boards are the place to be. They can be intimidating places initially, and it’s crucial to learn how to use them and how to avoid scammers and low paying clients. But there are plenty of great clients out there, including many household name companies who use those boards to hire freelancers.

Often, a quick one-off $50 job can evolve into a long and lucrative client relationship. My wife and I both have clients who we first met on the freelance boards years ago. We still work with them now.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to where to find the first client, but there are options for everybody.

setting rates when learning how to become a freelancer

setting rates when learning how to become a freelancer

6. How does a freelancer decide what to set their rates at?

This is a question I’m asked a LOT! The answer leads to lots more questions, and I think many of my readers are disappointed when I don’t just give them an answer of “$x per hour” or “$x per article!”

It’s a subject I cover in my Freelance Kickstarter course, and I’m happy to share a slide from that particular lesson here. The factors to consider include tangible things like the “market rates” for specific types of work, and how each client’s geographical location could impact how much they expect to pay.

But there’s much more to consider beyond that: How much does the gig align with your long-term goals? Will the job produce a great example of work that will help you win more clients in the future? Is this a job that could lead to on-going, long-term work?

I guess a simpler answer is that your rate needs to be fair and competitive, and sufficient to make it worth your while to do the job. However, the rate for each job really needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The reality is that there are millions of freelancers out there charging vastly different rates, often for very similar services. There’s a bit of an art to working out where you sit on the pricing spectrum, but it’s an art you can learn, and it gets easier with experience.

7. What steps does a person need to take to make money as a freelancer?

The first and most important is working out what it is you actually want to do. That may seem obvious, but my inbox is full of emails from people asking what they should do, without telling me what they’re capable of and what kind of work would make them happy.

I will attempt to lay it out in a fairly simple series of steps:

  1. Work out what skills you have and what market there is for them.
  2. Look at who else is providing those services, what they charge, and what you can provide that will make you stand out and appeal to clients.
  3. Identify any gaps in your knowledge and experience, and work to fill them. This could mean doing some training, or doing some voluntary jobs to bulk out your portfolio.
  4. Establish a personal brand. This isn’t as big a deal as it sounds, but does mean having a solid resumé and LinkedIn profile, and sometimes some other ways to demonstrate your expertise.
  5. Learn how the freelance job boards work. Even if you have a rich personal network to draw on, it’s wise to understand the wider world of freelancing.
  6. Put yourself out there, and start pitching and applying for things.
  7. Make sure you provide perfect work and delight your clients, so that they want to work with you again and recommend you to others.

Repeating and refining these steps is the essence of becoming a successful freelancer.

8. How much does it cost to start this type of business and how much on a monthly basis to maintain it?

Freelancing is generally a low-cost venture, but that’s not to say it’s free. Depending on what you do, you may need specialist equipment and / or software. And if you’re switching from an employed position, you may have to buy things like this yourself for the first time.

A good computer is a must, as it’s often the key tool of your trade. You may also need to budget for things like insurance, possibly including healthcare cover if you are somewhere like the US where this isn’t covered by tax payments.

When it comes to monthly costs, the main things I pay for include software subscriptions and insurance policies. Thankfully these tend to build over time and no individual thing is particularly expensive. You can start out as an online freelancer without even having a personal website, and add things like that once you gain some momentum.

I also recommend budgeting for ongoing training and learning. Thankfully there are all kinds of ways to learn online inexpensively. Companies have training budgets, but when you’re a freelancer, keeping your skills on point is on you.

9. What kind of training is needed to become a freelancer?

I’d say the training splits into two: learning about freelancing itself, and building skills around the specific work you want to do.

Courses like my own Freelance Kickstarter cover the first part. Freelancing is a skill in itself, and we’ve covered some of the important areas in this interview already. Stuff like setting rates isn’t immediately obvious, so learning from those who have been there and done it already is very valuable.

When it comes to skills-specific training it depends what work you’re doing. Let’s say somebody wanted to work as a freelance social media manager. Not that long ago it would have been all about Twitter and Facebook. Nowadays Pinterest is a much bigger deal for many people, and TikTok is emerging as the latest trend.

So as that freelancer, you need to decide what you’re going to focus on. Do you want to be the “go-to guru” for TikTok, or be more of a generalist with social media in general?

It’s wonderful to have the choice.

10. Are there any other tips that you have for someone who wants to become a freelancer?

I have many!

The one I repeat over and over is that you have to eventually go for it and make the jump. I see a lot of people who never get past the “thinking about it” phase. Meanwhile the go-getters have taken the leap of faith and started to build success.

Moving to freelancing is one of those things where there may never be a perfect time to do it. Those who keep waiting for that time to arrive can easily find themselves looking back ten years later with the same commute and the same job.

Another thing I’m like a broken record about is the importance of “paying your dues.” There are often plenty of less-than-ideal gigs to finish successfully before you arrive at the amazing ones.

I wrote about some really dull topics in my early days of freelance writing, for example. But I had to wade through that stuff to build my reputation. It all felt thoroughly worth it a few years later when I was being well paid for travel articles and restaurant reviews!

You learn something from every job along the way: How to handle clients, renegotiate rates, refine your skills, and get work done more efficiently so that you’re boosting the value of your time. Freelancing isn’t supposed to be easy but it’s almost always challenging, interesting and rewarding.

And let’s face it, many people don’t feel that way about their jobs.

11. What can a person learn from your course? Can you tell us about some of the people who have successfully taken your course?

OK, so Freelance Kickstarter expands on all of the topics I’ve touched on here, and many others. It’s intended to remove confusion, and that feeling of overwhelm that often descends when researching this stuff online. It helps new freelancers make a clear plan for getting started. As the strapline goes, the idea is that people “stop wasting time, and start making money!”

I never intended to create a course, but after running the HomeWorkingClub website for several years, it became clear there was a space for something like this. I make it very clear that it’s not some kind of “get rich quick” scheme.

To be brutally honest, I don’t want students who are looking for shortcuts. There is real hard work involved in being a successful freelancer, but it’s a more than viable option for those willing to do what’s required.

The course starts with the basics of working out what you can do and want to do, and presents LOTS of different options. It then moves on to auditing your skills and experience, building your brand, and working out your own personal goals. I particularly like that section because it helps people learn the exact process I use myself every few months to keep things moving forward.

The next lessons cover finding clients, and there’s a big module on learning how to use freelance job boards like Upwork. Once people have completed this, they will know how to uncover the good and genuine jobs, and how to side-step the time-drains and scams.

Students also learn about setting rates, and all the other practicalities of running a freelance business, from getting the tech right to taking undisturbed holidays! We also cover side gigs, and long-term slow-burn projects like blogs and self-published books.

I provide personal support on the course, and people can ask me all the questions they need as they go along. There are also regular exclusive podcasts with extra advice and news of industry developments and new opportunities.

In terms of people who have already taken the course, I recently published a case study from a lady called Lyn. She now has “more work than she can handle” as a freelance writer working via Upwork. Two things that have particularly pleased me about her situation is that she’s cherry-picking projects that interest her, and that she’s been able to do exactly what I suggest in increasing her rates as she builds experience and reputation.

I’ve also had great feedback from people at a much earlier stage. I’ve kept the course price low so that people can use it to help decide if freelancing is for them – just dipping their toes in for the first time.

As one student said, the course is “ideal if you are considering going freelance and don’t know where or when to start, or even if freelancing is for you.”

Several of the testimonials so far have aligned perfectly with the original objective, which was – essentially – to help people see the wood for the trees in an environment than can seem very daunting to begin with.

I set out to create the course I wish I’d had! I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes in over 16 years of freelancing. The people taking Freelance Kickstarter should hopefully be able to avoid the same ones!

Click here to learn more about Freelance Kickstarter.

 Are you interested in learning how to become a freelancer?

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