The Diversified Blog

A wealth management blog dedicated to creating a long lasting sustainable retirement.

Your Plan's Vesting Schedule: Tailor It to Meet Your Needs

A retirement plan's vesting schedule, which establishes when employer contributions to the plan will be owned outright by the employee, plays a role in how effective the plan is in helping to attract and retain employees. Employers will want to carefully consider their goals and the available options when selecting a vesting schedule for their plan.

Common Vesting Schedules

The simplest schedule -- from an administrative perspective -- is to allow immediate vesting in 100% of the employer contributions allocated to the employee. However, immediate vesting offers little incentive for employees to stay with the company and therefore may become more counterproductive as the rates of employee turnover increase.

For this reason, sponsors concerned about employee retention often turn to a delayed vesting schedule. Instead of allowing 100% vesting up front, they seek to maximize employee retention by tying the vesting percentage to the participant's years of service.

Generally, for defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans, delayed vesting is available in two forms: "cliff" vesting and "graded" vesting. With cliff vesting, a participant becomes 100% vested after a specific period of service. With graded vesting, a participant becomes vested at a percentage amount that gradually increases until he or she accrues enough years of service to be 100% vested. (It should be noted that an employee's own contributions to the plan are always 100% vested, or owned, by the employee.)





Employers may choose a schedule that provides for vesting at a more rapid rate than those shown above, but they may not adopt a schedule that provides for less rapid vesting.

How do employers calculate years of service? A year of service is any vesting computation period in which the employee completes the number of hours of service (not exceeding 1,000) required by the plan. Typically, the vesting computation period is the plan year, but it may be any other 12-consecutive-month period.

Are all employer contributions subject to a vesting schedule? Several types of employer contributions must always be 100% vested. These include both non-elective and matching contributions in a SIMPLE 401(k) plan or a "safe harbor" 401(k) plan.

Can vesting schedules be changed? Generally, a vesting schedule may be changed, but the vested percentage of the existing participants may not be reduced by the amended schedule. Moreover, an employee with three or more years of service by the end of the applicable election period can choose to select the previous vesting schedule. The election period begins no later than the date of adoption of the amended schedule and ends on the latest of the following dates:

•  Sixty days after the modified vesting schedule is adopted;

•  Sixty days after the modified vesting schedule is made effective; or

•  Sixty days after the participant is provided a written notice of the change in vesting schedule.

What situations would cause vesting of an employee's entire balance? In certain circumstances, the participant's interest in a 401(k) plan is required by law to be 100% vested. These circumstances include attainment of normal retirement age (as defined in the plan), termination or partial termination of the plan, and complete discontinuance of contributions to the plan. Additionally, though not required by law, nearly all 401(k) plans provide for 100% vesting upon the participant's death or disability.


Required Attribution


Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by Wealth Management Systems Inc. or its sources, neither Wealth Management Systems Inc. nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall Wealth Management Systems Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.

© 2016 DST Systems, Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited, except by permission. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

Continue reading
168 Hits
0 Comments

Let us give you a second opinion

Contact us to schedule a no-cost no-obligation consultation and receive a free special report called Finding the Right Financial Advisor - Seven Questions to Help You Discover Whether a Financial Advisor Is the Right Match for You and Your Family.