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Greetings, Ranger75, and welcome. You wrote:

<<I work at a state college and am enrolled in a mandatory 403(b). 3% of my salary is taken pre-tax and the state contributes an amount equal to 10% of my salary. It's handled through TIAA-CREF (invested in mutual funds)and I've been very happy with it. I can also voluntarily contribute up to an additional $9500 pre-tax into the 403(b). I'm looking to invest more money and my question is this: should I take advantage of the obvious and pump all available money into the 403(b) or should I get into DRIPS. Obviously, the DRIPS would be after tax, but that money would be available for other things that come up, whereas the 403(b) is tucked away till 59-1/2. Should all my money go into retirement or should I put away retirement money and invest in DRIPS? >>

That's a personal decision you have to make. Obviously, you must live today as well as set funds aside for retirement. Money in the 403b cannot be touched easily prior to age 59 1/2. Additionally, it can be invested only in annuities and/or mutual funds, so you will have far greater flexibility outside of that plan. The tax deduction for 403b contributions isn't the be all and end all of investing. Often, in the absence of a matching contribution from an employer, you can do better for yourself outside the plan. To see if that's true, though, you must do a tax-equivalent comparison of the plan options versus any alternative outside that plan that you may be considering. I suggest one way you can run those numbers in Step 4 of my 13 Steps to Foolish Retirement Planning at Do such an analysis for yourself, and the decision should be easier to make.

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