403(b) retirement plans are generally available to employees of educational institutions and certain non-profit organizations as determined by section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The most common participants of the plan include teachers, school administrators, school personnel, nurses, doctors, professors, researchers, librarians, and ministers
How do I know if it’s protected?
When it comes to protection of retirement accounts, one of the first things we suggest clients do is find out if their plan is ERISA (Employee Retired Income Security Act of 1974) qualified. We often hear clients ask “what is ERISA?” Most people probably don’t even know whether their retirement account is ERISA qualified or not. We’ve previously discussed why it is important your retirement is ERISA qualified in another blog post. You can often find your ERISA rights in a plan summary provided by your human resources department or plan administrator. However, depending upon the type of retirement plan you have, it may not be ERISA qualified.
“I have confirmed the plan is non-ERISA, now what?”
Generally speaking, if your 403(b) retirement plan is non-ERISA, you are likely limited to protecting it with one option in bankruptcy. This option is known as your “wild card” exemption. However, your “wild card” exemption is limited to $5,000 in the state of North Carolina. It’s rare that a 403(b) retirement plan is non-ERISA so be sure to have documented proof stating it is “non-ERISA”, just as you would for those that are ERISA. It’s not often we come across a non-ERISA 403(b) retirement plan, so we would suggest being 100% certain it is not a qualified plan before assuming it is not. Determining whether a plan is ERISA qualified may be the difference of being able to protect your retirement account so we strongly encourage our clients to take the time to make the necessary connections to find out. If you are interested in filing bankruptcy, but are concerned about your retirement account because you believe it may be non-ERISA, contact a local bankruptcy attorney to find out your options. A bankruptcy lawyer would then be able to get a better idea of the full situation and provide you with more information for protecting your personal property.