How Do Defined Benefit Plans Differ From Defined Contribution Plans?

Don’t confuse a defined benefit plan with another type of qualified retirement plan, the defined contribution plan (e.g., 401(k) plan, profit-sharing plan). As the name implies, a defined benefit plan focuses on the ultimate benefits paid out. The company promises to pay you a certain retirement income and is responsible for making sure that there are enough funds in the plan to guarantee to eventually pay out this amount, even if plan investments don’t perform well.

In contrast, defined contribution plans focus primarily on current contributions made to the plan. Your plan specifies the contribution amount you’re entitled to each year (contributions made by either you or your employer), but your employer is not obligated to pay you a specified amount at retirement. Instead, the amount you receive at retirement will depend on the investments you choose and how those investments perform.