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The 403(b) Basics: 403(b) Products and Vendors

Investment Products Available in a 403(b)

There are two categories of investment products available: annuity products and a 403(b)(7) custodial account made up of mutual funds.

Mutual Funds

A mutual fund is an investment that pools money from many participants and invests in stocks, bonds, short-term money-market instruments or some combination of the three. The combined holdings of stocks, bonds, or other assets that the fund owns are known as its portfolio. Each investor in the fund owns shares, which represent a part of these holdings. There are two kinds of mutual funds: loaded mutual funds and no-load mutual funds. A load is a commission the investor must pay in order to purchase and/or to sell that fund. All mutual funds have operating costs. Mutual funds are securities regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) but are not guaranteed or insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC).

Fixed Annuities

A fixed annuity works much like a certificate of deposit but is not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC). Generally, investors are given two interest rates: the current rate and the guaranteed rate. The current rate is the return that the insurance company promises to pay for a set period of time, typically between one and five years. The guaranteed rate, usually lower, is the minimum rate that investors will likely receive after the current rate expires, regardless of market conditions.

Equity Indexed Annuities 

Also know as a Fixed Indexed Annuity or an Indexed Linked Annuity, this product is sub-class of the fixed annuity. Interest in an Equity Indexed Annuity is linked to a market index such as the S & P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, or the NASDAQ. A participant's money is not actually invested in the index. Instead, the interest rate paid is determined by a formula created by the insurance company that is tied to a market index. This product is not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC). There have been numerous warnings about the cost and suitability of these products. 

Variable Annuities

A variable annuity offers a range of investment options, such as mutual funds that invest in stocks, bonds, short-term money-market instruments or some combination of the three. These investments options are referred to as the sub account. The value of the investment will vary depending on the performance of the investments in the sub account. There is usually a death benefit that will pay a beneficiary the greater of the account value or a guaranteed minimum amount, such as total purchase payments. Variable annuities are securities regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) but are not guaranteed or insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC).

Available Vendors

Contact your employer to see what vendors are available in your plan.

Higher Ed Stories

403(b) or 457(b)?

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Inga Chira is a professor and a CFP®. Here is her perspective on the 403(b) vs. 457(b) question.