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What is a Defined Benefit Plan and How it Works?

A Defined Benefit Plan provides employees with guaranteed pensions and benefits. They are funded by employers, with retirement benefits determined by a formula that considers an employee's income, age, and length of service.

  • 3,977 Views | Updated on: Jun 14, 2024

A Defined Benefit Pension Plan is an employer-supported retirement plan . in which employee benefits are calculated using a formula that considers several variables, such as length of service and income history. Unlike 401(k) plans, employees cannot often withdraw assets at will. Instead, they become eligible to receive their benefit as a lifelong annuity or, in certain instances, a lump payment at an age specified by the plan’s conditions.​

What is a Defined Benefit Plan?

A Pension Plan or Qualified Plan is known as a Defined Benefit Plan because employees and employers know the formula for calculating retirement benefits in advance and utilise it to define and establish the benefit paid out. This fund is unlike other retirement funds, such as retirement savings accounts, where payouts are contingent on investment outcomes.

Inadequate investment returns or erroneous assumptions and estimates might result in a financing gap for which employers are legally required to make the difference. Since the employer is responsible for making investment decisions and managing the plan’s investments, all investment and planning risks are borne by the employer.

How Does a Defined Benefit Plan Work?

Historically, companies have used Defined Benefit Plans, which provide fixed salary-like payments, to retain employees for long periods. A Defined Benefit Plan is an example of an employer-sponsored retirement plan that meets Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requirements. They can then take advantage of perks like tax-deferred investment growth and deductions for donations.

Types of Defined Benefit Plans

Pensions and cash balance plans are the two most common forms of Defined Benefit Pension Plans.


Most people think of a pension as a Defined Benefit Plan, which provides a set amount each month beginning after retirement and depending on the employee’s length of service and salary.

Pension benefits often require employees to remain with an employer for a minimum of years. After sufficient service time has been accrued, the employee is termed “vested” which means that the money belongs to you and it cannot be taken back by the employer when you resign. Vesting requirements vary greatly amongst pension schemes.

Plans With a Cash Value

In contrast to traditionally Defined Benefit Plans, Cash Balance Plans provide participants with a lump sum upon retirement or termination of employment. However, while companies still bear all the financial risk for managing retirement funds, they do not assure employees of receiving benefits indefinitely. Instead, up to a particular cash sum, your security is ensured. Pay and interest credits are the two most common methods employers use to determine the cash balance.

Merits of Defined Benefit Plans

Plans with Defined Pension Benefits are of utmost importance for retirees and senior citizens who want financial assistance to maintain a standard of life. Mentioned below are the benefits of the Pension Plan

Stable financial support

A Defined Benefit Plan ensures that participants receive a certain amount of benefits each year after retirement.

No market fluctuations will affect payment amounts

The employee’s retirement payout is not affected by the performance of the underlying assets.

Possibility of Spousal Maintenance

After the employee’s death, the spouse may be eligible to continue receiving the guaranteed income.

Profit-sharing and other tax breaks for employers

Defined Benefit Plans allow companies to deduct their payments from their taxable income.

Higher levels of retention

Defined Benefit Plans can retain workers with a firm for a considerable time since they accrue the largest retirement benefits upon full vesting.

What is Defined-Contribution Pension Plan?

Tax-deferred retirement plans, such as 401(k) and 403(b), are illustrations of a Defined Contribution Pension Plan in which workers set up a certain amount or a percentage of their earnings each pay period to be used for retirement. As a bonus, the sponsoring firm may sometimes double or even triple the number of employee donations. When and how much money an employee may take out of their retirement funds tax-free is governed by their plan’s rules.


We can conclude that Defined Benefit Plans, sometimes known as Pension Plans, ensure workers’ retirement income and other benefits. Employers often foot the bill for Defined Benefit Plans, which use a formula to calculate retirement benefits based on factors such as an employee’s salary, age at retirement, and the number of years with the company.

Key Takeaways

    The key Benefits of the Pension Plan are as follows.

    1 Provides Financial Support

    2 Possible Benefits Transferred to Spouse

    3 Greater Retention

    4 Profitable Tax Benefits

- A Consumer Education Initiative series by Kotak Life

Amit Raje
Written By :
Amit Raje

Amit Raje is an experienced marketer who has worked in various Fintechs and leading Financial companies in India. With focused experience in Digital, Amit has pioneered multiple digital commerce in India. Now, close to two decades later, he is the vice president and head of the D2C business department. He masters the skill of strategic management, also being certified in it from IIMA. He has challenged his challenges and contributed his efforts in this journey of digital transformation.

Amit Raje
Reviewed By :
Prasad Pimple

Prasad Pimple has a decade-long experience in the Life insurance sector and as EVP, Kotak Life heads Digital Business. He is responsible for developing user friendly product journeys, creating consumer awareness and helping consumers in identifying need for life insurance solutions. He has 20+ years of experience in creating and building business verticals across Insurance, Telecom and Banking sectors

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