Plan design refers to the framework of a retirement plan, defined by such characteristics as participation requirements (mandatory or optional); required contributions by the employer and employees; vesting requirements; benefit levels; methods of benefit distribution; and others.
There are two main types of retirement plans: defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC). Among employees of state and local government, the vast majority participate in a DB plan. Some retirement plans, often referred to as hybrid plans, combine features of DB and DC plans.
A defined benefit plan is an employer-sponsored retirement benefit that provides workers, upon attainment of designated age and service thresholds, with a monthly benefit based on the employee's salary and length of service. The value of a DB plan benefit is not affected by the return on the assets that are invested to fund the benefit, although some DB plans in the public sector link post-retirement cost-of-living adjustments to investment performance. DB plans, also known as pension plans, are the central organizing element of the public retirement system community.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 85 percent of employees of state and local government participate in a DB plan (this also includes those who participate in hybrid retirement plans); substantially all of the remainder participate in a defined contribution plan. More ...
A defined contribution plan is an employer-sponsored retirement benefit in which the employer provides a retirement savings vehicle for its employees, and also typically makes a contribution to the employee's retirement account. The 401(k) plan is the most popular form of defined contribution plan, although states and local governments may also sponsor other types of DC plans, such as 401(a), 403(b), and 457 plans.
On a statewide basis for broad employee groups (i.e., not including legislators, judges, etc.), three states and the District of Columbia provide only a defined contribution plan to their workers: all newly hired employees in Alaska since July 2006, new state employees in Michigan since March 1997 and Oklahoma since July 2015, and general employees (not teachers or public safety workers) in the District of Columbia have only a DC plan as their primary retirement benefit. More ...
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As their name implies, hybrid plans combine features of both defined benefit and defined contribution retirement plans. Hybrid plans fall into one of two broad categories. One is a cash balance plan, which marries elements of traditional pensions with individual accounts into a single plan. The other type of hybrid is combines a traditional DB plan with a defined contribution plan. More ...
In-depth: Risk Sharing in Public Retirement Plans, January 2019
Balancing Objectives in Public Employee Post-Retirement Employment Policies: Reassessing Barriers to Continued Work, November 2018 & Dataset on Public Retirement System Post-Retirement Employment Policies
The Hybrid Handbook: Not All Hybrids are Created Equal, National Institute on Retirement Security, May 2021
2017-18 Comparative Study of Major Public Employee Retirement Systems, Wisconsin Legislative Council, February 2019
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Proactive Pension Management: An Elected Official's Guide to Variable Benefit and Contribution Arrangements, Center for State & Local Government Excellence, September 2019
Vesting Requirements and Key Benefit-Formula Features of State and Local Government Pension Plans, Social Security Administration, March 2021
Best Practices in Incorporating Risk Sharing Into Defined Benefit Pension Plans, Ryan Frost, Reason Foundation, November 2020
The South Dakota Retirement System Generational Benefit Structure, Doug Fiddler, Paul Schrader, Rob Wylie, June 2018
Public pension risk-sharing mechanisms and their potential impacts, Don Boyd, Gang Chen, Yimeng Yin, July 2019
An Introduction to Police and Fire Pensions, Center for Retirement Research, February 2020
A Variable Benefit Plan for the Public Sector, Brian Murphy, GRS Consulting, November 2019
Teacher Pensions vs. 401(k)s in Six States: Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas, National Institute on Retirement Security, January 2019
Sustainability for Defined Benefit Plans, Joe Newton and Mark Randall, GRS Consulting, August 2018
An Examination of the Benefits and Challenges of Pooled Funding and Risk-Sharing in Collective Defined Contribution Plans, Center for Retirement Initiatives, April 2021
Pension Benefit Design Study, Comparing the cost of different plan designs to the current DB plan, TRS of Texas, December 2018
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Still a Better Bang for the Buck: An Update on the Economic Efficiencies of Defined Benefit Pensions, National Institute on Retirement Security, December 2014
The South Dakota Perspective on Public Employee Retirement Benefits and the SDRS, South Dakota Retirement System, April 2017
Issue Brief: Impact of Automatic Enrollment in the 457 Plan for South Dakota Public Employees, Center for State and Local Government Excellence, March 2018
Decisions, Decisions: An Update on Retirement Plan Choices for Public Employees and Employers, Jennifer Brown and Matt Larrabee, August 2017
Retirement for the AGES: Building Enduring Retirement-Income Systems, American Academy of Actuaries
Most Kentucky Teachers Are Significantly Better Off with Pensions than 401(k)s, Nari Rhee, UC Berkeley Labor Center, March 2018
Are California Teachers Better Off With a Pension or a 401(k)?, Nari Rhee and William Fornia, UC Berkeley Center for Research and Education, February 2016
Sustainability in American Financial Security Programs, American Academy of Actuaries Public Interest Committee, June 2015
Cost-Sharing Features of State Defined Benefit Plans, Pew, January 2017
Retirement Benefit Decisions by City and County Governments, Center for State and Local Government Excellence, November 2014
Cash Balance Plan Primer, GRS Consulting, October 2017
Best Practice: Hybrid Retirement Plan Design, Government Finance Officers Association