NC Total Retirement Plans, Retirement and Savings 101, wave image. Photo of boy with a model airplane.

Glossary of Retirement Terms
401(k) Plan
A retirement savings plan offering individuals added tax benefits on top of their regular retirement plans. This plan is commonly offered to both public and private sector employees. Employees may make salary contributions on a post-tax and/or pretax basis, which are usually capped up to a certain amount annually. Earnings from investments are tax-deferred.​​
403(b) Plan
A retirement savings plan for certain employees of public schools, tax-exempt organizations, and certain ministers. The features of a 403(b) plan are similar to those of a 401(k) plan. Employees may make salary-deferral contributions, which are usually capped up to a certain amount annually. Individual accounts in a 403(b) plan can be any of the following types:
  • An annuity contract provided through an insurance company
  • A custodial account invested in mutual funds
  • A retirement income account for church employees
457 Plan (Deferred Compensation Plan)
A retirement savings plan that allows earners to use their income later in life when they have a lower tax rate. This plan is established by state and local governments and tax-exempt governments and tax-exempt employers. With this plan any full-time, temporary, or part-time employee is allowed to make salary-deferral contributions. Employees are allowed to defer up to 100 percent of compensation not exceeding the applicable dollar limit for the year.​​
Annual Required Contribution Rate
The amount an employer must contribute annually to a defined benefit pension fund, based on an actuarial formula, to fund current and future retirement benefits and liabilities. It is the amount needed to pay out the benefits of future retirees. 

Even if we achieve investment target returns as the economy recovers, the funding status will continue to decline as losses from the 2008 downturn are distributed over the next several years and as contributions continue to fall short of the actuarial requirement. If funding contributions are met, funding status will fall to 90 percent. 

Though TSERS has fallen below a fully funded status, it continues to rank within the top five systems nationally.
A financial product, usually offered by an insurance company, that offers a series of payments over an individual’s lifetime. Immediate annuities begin payments to the annuity owner shortly after purchase. A deferred annuity has a savings phase (the money you put into the annuity earns interest) and an income phase (your account becomes an annuitized series of lifetime payments).​​
Automatic Enrollment
A system that automatically enrolls employees in a supplemental plan, such as a 401(k), unless they opt out. Currently in the North Carolina Retirement Systems, members have to opt in to participate in the supplemental retirement plans.​​
A financial product offered by a corporation or government entity. Bonds are debt obligations for the issuer and have either a variable or fixed rate of return over their lifetime. They are generally safer investments than stocks, though on average they have lower rates of return. Although bonds offered by the U.S. Treasury have minimal investment risk, they may be exposed to inflation and reduced interest earnings.​​​
Cash Balance Plan
A plan that is, by law, a defined benefit plan but that has some of the features of a defined contribution plan, particularly the use of individual accounts, although the accounts are virtual and used merely for accounting purposes.​​
COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment)
Used by defined benefit plan sponsors to counteract the effects of inflation, COLAs increase benefit payments by a certain percentage, although the increase does not necessarily meet or exceed the Consumer Price Index.​​
CPI (Consumer Price Index)
A measure of inflation calculated from the change in price of a basket of goods and services from one period to the next.​
Defined Benefit Pension Plan
A plan that promises participants a specified monthly benefit at retirement. Both participants and their employers contribute a percentage of the employee’s salary each month. The retirement benefit is determined through a formula that considers factors such as salary, age, and length of service, salary (in the case of NC retirement systems, the average of the four years of highest salary), and a multiplier. Most public state and local government retirement plans across the country are defined benefits plans.​​
Defined Contribution Pension Plan
A plan that sets up individual accounts for participants and to which employees contribute a self-specified percentage of their salary each month. Contributions are invested on the participant’s behalf and based on self-selected investment preferences.

Benefits are based on employee contributions, and in some cases employer contributions, plus any investment earnings on the money in the account. Participants receive the balance in their account, which is based on contributions plus or minus investment gains or losses. Examples of defined contribution plans include 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and 457 plans.​​​
Defined Contribution Plan
A plan under which members have individual accounts and some degree of flexibility over how the assets are invested. Upon retirement, members typically receive their account in a lump sum, though the funds can be re-invested or used to purchase an annuity.  Defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) and 457(b) plans, are named and defined by the IRS codes that govern them.​​
Shares of stock in a company.​
Home Equity
The market value of your home minus any outstanding debt for that home. Home equity increases as homeowners pay off their mortgage and the home appreciates in value.​​
The rise in aggregate consumer prices that leads to a decline in the purchasing power of the dollar from one period to the next.​​​
Inflation Risk
The risk that inflation will increase during an individual’s retirement years, reducing the purchasing power of retirement income.​
Investment Risk
The risk that an individual investment loses value (non-systematic risk) or that the entire market experiences a downturn (systematic risk). Diversifying a portfolio of investments is a way to address non-systematic risk.​​
IRA (Individual Retirement Account)
A retirement savings vehicle that offers certain tax advantages. Detailed information can be found on the IRS website:
Longevity Insurance
A type of deferred annuity in which the income phase is deferred to around age 85. It is usually purchased around retirement age.​
Longevity Risk
The risk that a retiree will outlive his or her assets.​​
A federal health insurance program for those ages 65 and older (and other excepted individuals). It consists of the following parts:
  • Part A: insurance for hospital services
  • Part B: insurance for doctor visits and outpatient procedures
  • Part C: Medicare Advantage Plans (includes part A & B) that are run by private carriers and typically include prescription drug coverage and other supplemental insurance
  • Part D: Prescription drug coverage​
Supplemental insurance purchased from a private insurance provider that covers medical costs not covered by Medicare.​​
Rate of Return
The percentage of money earned on an investment over a period of time. For example, if an investor buys $100 worth of a stock at the beginning of a period and earns $10 (the return) on that stock by the end of the period, the rate of return is 10% (10/100). The rate of return can be positive (gain) or negative (loss). The real rate of return is the rate of return minus the inflation rate.​​
Replacement Rate
The ratio of post-retirement income to pre-retirement income. An adequate replacement rate is one in which retirees have enough post-retirement income to meet their needs.​​
Reverse Mortgage
Home equity that is converted into a lump sum payment or series of payments to the homeowner. Reverse mortgages are typically available only to those over age 62. A reverse mortgage is a loan and must be paid back once the homeowner is deceased or no longer uses the residence.
A financial product that guarantees a share of ownership in a company. Rates of return for stocks depend upon the company’s performance. Shares of stock in a company are also called equities.​​
TIPS (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities)
Financial products issued by the United States Treasury that adjust the principal of the security with changes in the Consumer Price Index.​​