Retirement Savings Plans

The purpose of the Northwestern University Retirement Plan is to provide faculty and staff with the opportunity to accumulate a source of retirement income in addition to income from Social Security and personal savings. The money you contribute to the Retirement Plan belongs to you and is immediately vested.

Retirement Plan Summary Plan Description PDF Document

2018 Qualified Default Investment Alternative Notice and Participant Disclosure Notice PDF Document

Plan Benefits

Any benefits-eligible employee scheduled to work half-time or more (18.75 or more hours per week) and is at least age 24, may participate in the Northwestern University Retirement Plan starting the 1st of the month after their 1 year anniversary month. This allows the following pre-tax contribution types:

  • Unmatched contributions: 5% of eligible earnings; funded entirely by Northwestern University
  • Matched contributions: 1%-5% of eligible earnings; Northwestern University matches employee contributions
  • If contributing 5% in Matched contributions, then Supplemental contributions into the Voluntary Savings Plan are allowed as a percentage of eligible earnings or flat dollar amount; entirely funded by the employee.

Any employee not eligible to participate in the Northwestern University Retirement Plan may participate in the Voluntary Savings Plan starting the 1st of the month after his or her date of hire.

Eligible Earnings

  • Your 403(b) retirement contributions are calculated by using your base salary including any eligible earnings (contact the Payroll Department regarding earnings that are pensionable).
  • Additional pay for supplemental pay, temporary assignments and additional assignments are included for employees who do not meet the IRS limit of highly compensated, which is $120,000 in 2017.

IRS Contribution Limits

Use this 403(b) Supplemental Contribution Calculator to calculate your supplemental contribution for 2018 up to the 2018 IRS limit.

Use this 403(b) Supplemental Contribution Calculator to calculate your supplemental contribution for 2019 up to the 2019 IRS limit.

Contribution Source

2018 Annual Limits

Eligible salary limit for retirement plans


Employee total contribution limit


Age 50 catch up limit (above and beyond the limit)


Employee and employer aggregate contribution limit


Enroll in the Plan

  1. Make elections upon hire via this form.
    • Voluntary contributions begin the first of the month following enrollment.
    • Matched, Unmatched, and Supplemental contributions the first of the month following your 1-year anniversary (must also meet other eligibility criterion)
  2. Submit a completed Service Waiver PDF Document to waive the waiting period.
  3. Set up an account with your investment company

Change Enrollment in the Plan

Transfer Funds between Investment Companies

Should you have an interest in transferring funds, all you need to do is to contact the investment company to which you want the funds transferred.

Matched and Unmatched Funds

  • Transfer from TIAA: $10,000 minimum transfer; transfers spread over a 10 year period
  • Transfer from CREF: $1,000 minimum transfer; transfers less than $2,000 occur immediately
  • Transfer from Fidelity: No minimum transfer; transfer occurs immediately

Supplemental and Voluntary Funds

  • $1,000 TIAA minimum transfer; $250 Fidelity minimum transfer; transfer will occur immediately

Withdraw from your Retirement Savings Account

Matched and Unmatched Funds

  • You may withdraw contributions only upon separation or retirement from the University
  • You have the option of receiving funds in the form of monthly annuity income upon retirement
  • If you have participated in the plan for more than five years or accumulated funds greater than $4,000, you may also withdraw contributions for reasons of financial hardship (employer funds cannot be withdrawn while still employed)

Supplemental Voluntary Funds

You can withdraw voluntary contributions only on the basis of an IRS defined "triggering event" such as:

  • attaining age 59 1/2
  • disability
  • death
  • separation of employment
  • financial hardship

Financial Hardship

Monies received on the basis of financial hardship are subject to the investment company’s approval and a 10% IRS penalty if withdrawn prior to age 59 1/2.

Financial hardship must meet an IRS qualifying reason which includes:

  • down payment on a home
  • prevention of eviction from a principal residence
  • dependent tuition expenses and medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of adjusted gross income

Alternatively, you may borrow against GRA, GSRA and SRA with TIAA, and both matched, supplemental and voluntary Fidelity contributions.

Address and Name Updates

If you need to update your address or your name, you must do so directly with your investment vendor (TIAA or Fidelity). For Fidelity, call 800-343-0860 to update. For TIAA, you can update your name and/or address online or by filling out the following form and mailing it to TIAA at the address listed on the form.

Name or Address Change for TIAA

For questions, please contact the appropriate vendor. Contact information can be found on the Provider Contact page.

2016 Investment Fund Updates

Updates to the investment fund options offered through your Northwestern University Retirement Plans became effective in 2016. Here are communication materials associated with these Plan actions.