Difference Between a Pension and an IRA

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Key Differences Between A Pension and An IRA

  1. Structure and Management:
  2. Contribution Sources:
    • Pension: Funded by the employer, sometimes with employee contributions.
    • IRA: Funded by the individual, with limits set by the IRS.
  3. Tax Treatment:
    • Traditional IRA and Pension: Contributions are often tax-deductible, but withdrawals during retirement are taxed.
    • Roth IRA: Contributions are made with after-tax dollars, but withdrawals are tax-free in retirement.
  4. Payout Options:
    • Pension: Often offers a choice of lump sum or annuity payments.
    • IRA: Primarily provides a lump sum, but can be converted into an annuity.
  5. Control and Flexibility:
    • Pension: Limited control over investment choices.
    • IRA: Greater flexibility in investment options.
  6. Guaranteed Income:
    • Pension: Typically provides a guaranteed income in retirement.
    • IRA: Income depends on the investment’s performance; no guaranteed income.

Pension: Lump Sum vs. Annuity Payout

  • Lump Sum: A one-time payment of the entire pension value.
  • Annuity Payout: Regular payments over a period, often for life.

IRA: Lump Sum and Annuity Transfer

  • Primarily provides a lump sum, but funds can be transferred to an annuity for regular payments.

Taxation in Retirement

  • Traditional IRAs and Pensions: Taxed as income at current tax rates during retirement.
  • Roth IRAs: Provide tax-free income in retirement, as taxes are paid upfront.

Comparison of Pensions and IRAs

FeaturePensionTraditional IRARoth IRA
Funding SourceEmployer (mostly)IndividualIndividual
Tax on ContributionsPre-taxPre-taxAfter-tax
Tax on WithdrawalsTaxableTaxableTax-free
ManagementEmployer/Fund ManagerSelf/AdvisorSelf/Advisor
Payout OptionsLump Sum/AnnuityLump Sum/Annuity TransferLump Sum/Annuity Transfer
Investment ControlLimitedHighHigh


Understanding the differences between a pension and an IRA is crucial for retirement planning. Pensions, often employer-sponsored, offer guaranteed income with limited control, while IRAs provide more flexibility and control over investments. Both traditional pensions and IRAs are taxed in retirement, whereas Roth IRAs offer tax-free income. Choosing between a lump sum and an annuity payout in a pension and the ability to convert an IRA into an annuity are important considerations.

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Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Shawn Plummer is a licensed financial professional, insurance agent, and annuity broker with over 14 years of first-hand experience with annuities and insurance. Since beginning his journey in 2009, he has been pivotal in selling and educating about annuities and insurance products. Still, he has also played an instrumental role in training financial advisors for a prestigious Fortune Global 500 insurance company, Allianz. His insights and expertise have made him a sought-after voice in the industry, leading to features in renowned publications such as Time Magazine, Bloomberg, Entrepreneur, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, Women’s Health Magazine, and many more. Shawn’s driving ambition? To simplify retirement planning, he ensures his clients understand their choices and secure the best insurance coverage at unbeatable rates.

The Annuity Expert is an independent online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. The goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning and find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates

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