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Can a plan sponsor merge 401(k) and 403(b) plans?

“I have at least one of my plan sponsor clients who has both a 401(k) plan and a 403(b) plan. Could my client merge the two plans in order to consolidate the assets?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs and qualified retirement plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with an advisor in New York is representative of a common inquiry involving the merging of retirement plans.

Highlights of Discussion

  • Save for two exceptions, no, your client cannot merge 403(b) assets with an unlike plan (e.g., a profit sharing, 401(k), 457(b) plan, etc.) without causing the 403(b) assets to become taxable to the participants. Such a transfer could also jeopardize the tax-qualified status of the 401(k) plan.
  • 403(b) plan assets may only be transferred to another 403(b) plan. Further, the final 403(b) regulations are clear that neither a qualified plan nor a governmental 457(b) plan may transfer assets to a 403(b) plan, and a 403(b) plan may not accept such a transfer (see Treasury Regulation Section 1.403(b)-10 and Revenue Ruling 2011-07).
  • The two exceptions noted previously are plan-to-plan transfers by participants to governmental defined benefit plans in order to 1) purchase permissive service credits; or to make a repayment of a cash out.
  • This does not preclude a 403(b) or 401(k) participant with a distribution triggering event (such as plan termination) to distribute and complete a rollover to another eligible plan [e.g., a 401(k) or 403(b) plan] that accepts such amounts.


While there are similarities between a 401(k) plan and 403(b), the IRS treats them as unlike plans and, therefore, incompatible, for the purpose of plan-to-plan transfers or mergers. Participant rollovers, on the other hand, are potentially possible between the two.



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