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Here goes: Internal Revenue Code Section 401(a) defines (in all of its subparts) what constitutes a "qualified" retirement plan (a plan sponsored by an employer for the benefit of its employees that has certain tax advantages). ALL qualified retirement plans are, in fact, 401(a) plans. All of the other plans people talk about are specialized retirement plans defined in the subparts of 401(a). So, for example, a 401(k) plan is a 401(a) plan that contains provisions for employee salary deferrals, and the tax benefits contained in it. Code Section 401(k) is a section that defines a certain type of permissable contributions allowed in a plan qualified under 401(a). 403(b) is a section that incorporates many of the provisions (some modified) into a scheme that functions to provide retirement benefits to employees of not-for-profit organizations. It was at one time thought that not-for-profits couldn't (or shouldn't) pay as much in wages and provided some more liberal provisions for retirement plans sponsored by them. most of the differences have been eliminated (albeit some remain) and 403(b)'s tend to look more like 401(k) plans.

A 401(a) plan that provides only for employer contributions would simply be a qualified retirement plan that hasn't implemented the optional provisions of 401(k) relating to salary deferral contributions. Such is the case with pure profit sharing plans (a 401(k) is really a profit sharing plan with a 401(k) feature), a "money purchase pension plan (where an employer promises to contribute a determined amount each year (without regard to profits - or even cash flow), or a "traditional" pension plan that pays a monthly benefit pursuant to a formula (usually based on years of service and final average compensation - such as 2% times years of service time the average of monthly pay over the last five years of employment).

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