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Retirement Savings Plans

Northwestern University has two 403(b) retirement savings plans:

Attention: Elect to maximize the Retirement Plan's 5% match BEFORE contributing to the Voluntary Savings Plan.

See the Retirement Savings Plans Summary Plan DescriptionMaking Sense of Your Benefit, and Introducing the New Roth After-Tax Contribution Option notices for more information on both plans.


 The Retirement Savings Plans allow the following pre-tax contribution types: 

To enroll or change your Retirement Savings Plans contributions amounts, see the Make Changes to Contribution Amounts & Investments webpage.

For deferral changes effective your first paycheck in 2024, you MUST make the request between the following dates:

IRS Dollar Limits on Contributions 2024 Annual Limits
Eligible salary limit $345,000
Employee total contribution limit $23,000
Age 50 catch-up limit (above and beyond the limit) $7,500
Employee and employer aggregate contribution limit $69,000

You have a choice of contributing pre-tax and after-tax Roth dollars to the Plans. Pre-tax contributions come out of your paycheck before your income is taxed, which lowers your taxable income and saves you money on taxes today. Roth after-tax contributions do not reduce your current taxable income; you pay income taxes at the time you make contributions to the Retirement Plan, the Voluntary Savings Plan, or a combination of both. While paying taxes today on Roth contributions will reduce your take-home pay, when you retire you will pay no taxes on the Roth distributions you receive, including any investment gains your Roth contributions may have earned over the years. See Introducing the New Roth Contribution Option and Roth FAQ sheet for additional details and considerations.

A Roth in-plan conversion feature is also available, for more information contact your investment company.


Retirement Plan

Benefits-eligible employees scheduled to work half-time or more (18.75 or more hours per week), who are at least age 21 and have completed at least one year of continuous service, may participate in the Northwestern University Retirement Plan.

Waiver Exception: You may be credited with one year of service if you submit a Waiver Form documenting that you (1) were employed by a tax-exempt educational or research organization or a state educational organization for at least a 12-month period ending 60 or fewer days before your Northwestern Date of Hire; and (2) received employer contributions under a Code Section 403(b), 401(a) or 401(k) retirement plan maintained by this organization 60 or fewer days before your Northwestern Date of Hire.

True-up Adjustment: Faculty and staff who fail to maximize their 5% match to the Retirement Plan and, at the same time, are contributing to the Voluntary Savings Plan, will receive a true-up adjustment.  For the true-up adjustment the University will recalculate your matching contributions based on your elective deferrals to both the Retirement Plan and Voluntary Savings Plan and eligible earnings for the period during year you were eligible for University contributions. If this amount is greater than the amount of the matching contributions already contributed to your Retirement Plan account for the year, the University will make an additional “true-up” matching contribution equal to the difference.  This calculation is done after the close of the plan year.  Funds are deposited directly into your account with Fidelity and/or TIAA; not through payroll.  The deposit is typically done between mid- to late March for the prior year.  You may not be notified that you received a true-up contribution, so review your account with Fidelity and/or TIAA.

Voluntary Savings Plan

All actively employed Faculty and Staff with eligible earnings may participate beginning on their date of hire, there are no length of service or age requirements. Students, graduate students and temporary employees such as adjuncts (but excluding contractors, consultants, and leased employees) on the payroll of the University may participate to the extent they have eligible earnings. 

If you are contributing to the Voluntary Savings Plan BEFORE becoming eligible for the Retirement Plan, your voluntary contributions will not automatically be transitioned to the Retirement Plan. Ensure you elect to maximize the Retirement Plan's 5% match BEFORE contributing to the Voluntary Savings Plan.

Eligible earnings 

Eligible earnings for contributions to the 403(b) retirement plans generally means your base salary or wages. Eligible earnings do not include scholarships, reimbursements or other expense allowances, severance pay, stipends for living or other expenses (for example to graduate students) and NRSA earnings.  

Supplemental pay and pay for temporary assignments and additional assignments are included for employees who do not meet the IRS limit of highly compensated, which is $135,000 in 2022.

Protect yourself from cyber threats

Here are 4 steps you can take to help protect your retirement accounts:

  1. Register, set up and routinely monitor your online accounts
  2. Use strong and unique passwords
  3. Use multi-factor authentication
  4. Keep personal contact information current

To protect your devices and stay cyber safe, be wary of free wi-fi, close or delete unused accounts and beware of ‘phishing’. A phishing message aims to trick you by looking like it comes from a trusted organization, but in fact is luring you to click on a dangerous link or pass along confidential information to gain access to your accounts. Stay cyber safe!