What Is a Vested Interest in a Retirement Account?

Vesting becomes a serious topic if you are planning a job change.

Vesting becomes a serious topic if you are planning a job change.

Although you are many years from retirement, your growing retirement plan account is important to your long-term financial security. For that reason, you should know when you become vested in your retirement plan, as this affects your long-term saving and could affect your decision to change jobs.

Ownership Interest

Vested interest is a pension plan term for what portion of your retirement plan account is yours and would not be lost if you left your current job. Retirement plan vesting allows a business to offer you additional retirement benefits if you stay with the company for a certain period. The tax rules that allow your employer to offer retirement accounts such as a 401(k) also govern how the vesting schedule should work.

Your Contributions

Any contributions from your salary that go into your retirement account are always 100 percent vested. That money remains your money and you can transfer your contributions and any gains earned by those contributions to another employer-sponsored retirement account or individual retirement account if you leave your job. On your retirement plan account summary -- which you should receive at least quarterly -- your contribution amounts are listed separately from contributions made by your employer.

Employer Contributions

Retirement account contributions made by your employer are subject to the plan's vesting schedule. Although employer contributions show up in your account totals and earn money, that money is not truly yours until it is vested. Retirement plans typically have a step vesting schedule. For example, after one year, 20 percent of the employer deposits are vested, and after two years, 40 percent are vested. For 401(k) accounts, Internal Revenue Service rules limit the vesting schedule to a maximum of six years. Your retirement plan account will be 100 percent vested at that point.

Leaving Your Job

If you are thinking about changing jobs, check on the vesting level and year-end date of your retirement account. If you leave your job, you will lose the unvested portion of the account. You can pick up some extra money in your retirement account by staying with your current job a little longer. For example, you might notice that you jump from 60 percent vested to 80 percent vested if you stay where you are for another month and hit an anniversary date. It may pay off to hang in there for another month before changing jobs.


About the Author

Tim Plaehn has been writing financial, investment and trading articles and blogs since 2007. His work has appeared online at Seeking Alpha, Marketwatch.com and various other websites. Plaehn has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Photo Credits

  • Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images