Use a 401(h) plan to remove money from a pension plan tax-freeArticle added by Roccy DeFrancesco on October 14, 2009
Roccy Defrancesco

Roccy DeFrancesco


Joined: May 24, 2006

Let me start with a simple question: Do you know what a 401(h) plan is?

I had no idea what a 401(h) plan was until my pension administrator, John Lalonde, told me about it. My guess is that 99 percent of those who read this article have never heard of a 401(h) plan, so this information should be helpful to those looking for unique and useful marketing tools.

What is a 401(h) plan? It's a medical expense account under Code Section 401(h). The plan pays for costs associated with sickness, accident, hospitalization, and medical expenses of retired employees (EEs), and their spouses and dependents.

One of the largest expenses of retired EEs is their health care costs. How do retired EEs pay for such costs? Typically, with savings or out of their taxable income.

With a 401(h) plan, an employer can take a 100 percent deduction to fund a tax-free sinking fund where, when retired EEs remove money from the plan to pay for medical expenses, there are no income taxes due.

Is a 401(h) plan practical, and should you recommend them? Absolutely. Let me show you an example:

Assume Dr. Smith earns $400,000 a year (W-2) and has five employees of various ages and salaries. Dr. Smith has been funding in a tax-deferred manner $80,000 into a defined benefit plan every year. If he keeps doing this, he will ultimately have approximately $2,000,000 in the plan when he turns 65 years old. Assume that, on average, Dr. Smith will have $10,000 of medical expenses every year in retirement. Assume he is now and will continue to be in the 35 percent income tax bracket.

How can a 401(h) plan help?

Dr. Smith could have his medical practice fund X amount of money in a tax-deductible manner into a 401(h) plan every year as an employee benefit for himself and the other employees (discrimination testing for EE contributions is done using the classic age, years of service, and salary testing guidelines).

As stated, the money is allowed to grow tax-free and can then come out tax-free from the 401(h) plan if used for medical expenses (including elective surgery). Therefore, instead of funding $80,000 every year into a defined benefit plan, let's assume he allocates $10,000 of the $80,000 to the 401(h) plan from ages 55-65.

At age 65, what is the net positive benefit of using the plan?

If I assumed a 5 percent rate of return in the 401(h) plan and the pension plan, the accounts would both have the same balances when Dr. Smith hits age 65: $149,171 (I'm just comparing the $10,000 contribution made from ages 55-65).

Now, let's assume that Dr. Smith incurs $10,000 of medical expenses every year in retirement. When Dr. Smith uses $10,000 from his 401(h) plan, the money comes out 100 percent tax-free. When he removes it from the defined benefit plan to pay expenses, it is 100 percent taxable.

How do the numbers compare?

From the 401(h) plan, he could remove $10,000 a year tax-free until he turns age 90. However, because he would have to remove $15,384 from his taxable pension plan to net $10,000 after tax, he would run out of money in this example at age 78. Therefore, the net positive benefit to Dr. Smith when allocating $10,000 to a 401(h) plan vs. a tax-deferred plan is $127,007. This is how much more after-tax money could be removed over time using the 401(h) plan in my example.

Let me ask you again: Do you think many of your business clients would be interested in using a 401(h) plan to help plan for their retirement?

What does learning about a 401(h) plans mean to you? Opportunity!

This the prefect time of the year to talk with your clients about adding a 401(h) plan to their pension plan. Also, if you want to take planning with a 401(h) plan up a notch, wait until I discuss the power of the Super 401(k)(TM) plan.

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