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Retirement Savings Plans

Northwestern University has two 403(b) retirement savings plans:

Attention: Elect to maximize the Retirement Plan's 5% match BEFORE contributing to the Voluntary Savings Plan.

See the Retirement Savings Plans Summary Plan Description and Enhancements to Your Plans notice for more information on both plans.


 The Retirement Savings Plans allow the following pre-tax contribution types: 

IRS Dollar Limits on Contributions 2021 Annual Limits
Eligible salary limit $290,000
Employee total contribution limit $19,500
Age 50 catch-up limit (above and beyond the limit) $6,500 
Employee and employer aggregate contribution limit $58,000


Retirement Plan

Any benefits-eligible employee scheduled to work half-time or more (18.75 or more hours per week) and is at least age 21, may participate in the Northwestern University Retirement Plan starting the first pay period available after their two-year anniversary.

Waiver Exception: You may be credited with two years of service if you submit a Waiver Form documenting that you (1) were employed by a tax-exempt educational or research organization or a state educational organization for at least a 24-month period ending 60 or fewer days before your Northwestern Date of Hire; and (2) received employer contributions under a Code Section 403(b), 401(a) or 401(k) retirement plan maintained by this organization 60 or fewer days before your Northwestern Date of Hire.

Voluntary Savings Plan

All actively employed Faculty and Staff with eligible earnings may participate beginning on their date of hire, there are no length of service or age requirements. Students, graduate students and temporary employees such as adjuncts (but excluding contractors, consultants, and leased employees) on the payroll of the University may participate to the extent they have eligible earnings. 

If you are contributing to the Voluntary Savings Plan BEFORE becoming eligible for the Retirement Plan, your voluntary contributions will not automatically be transitioned to the Retirement Plan. Ensure you elect to maximize the Retirement Plan's 5% match BEFORE contributing to the Voluntary Savings Plan.

Eligible earnings 

Eligible earnings for contributions to the 403(b) retirement plans generally means your base salary or wages. Eligible earnings do not include scholarships, reimbursements or other expense allowances, severance pay, stipends for living or other expenses (for example to graduate students) and NRSA earnings.  

Supplemental pay and pay for temporary assignments and additional assignments are included for employees who do not meet the IRS limit of highly compensated, which is $130,000 in 2020 and 2021.