Deferred compensation

Deferred compensation

In the constantly changing world of employee remuneration, “deferred compensation” stands out as an appealing concept that allows people to safeguard their financial future while giving businesses a powerful weapon for luring and keeping top personnel. Deferred compensation, in contrast to typical payment methods, offers workers the option to put off a portion of their earnings until a later time, frequently after retirement, which promotes tax benefits and increases retirement security. Employers and employees can optimise their financial planning by understanding the workings, advantages, and various forms of deferred compensation. 

What is deferred compensation? 

Deferred compensation is when a company agrees to pay a portion of a worker’s salary, bonuses, or other kinds of remuneration in the future rather than paying them immediately. The deferred sums are often saved in various investment vehicles, so they can increase over time until the employee retires or reaches another designated milestone. This arrangement permits employees to postpone paying taxes on their income until they get compensation, making it a tax-effective retirement planning method. 

Understanding deferred compensation 

The ability to defer a portion of an employee’s pay to a later time, usually after retirement, is a key component of contemporary compensation schemes.  

In essence, deferred compensation allows employees to have the business withhold a certain amount from their pay or incentives. The delayed sum is subsequently put into a tax-advantaged account or other investment vehicles, where it might grow over time. As the deferred amount is not considered taxable income until it is received, employees may be able to reduce their current tax obligation by delaying the receipt of income.  

Due to tax efficiency, retirement years, when income levels are frequently lower, may see better investment growth and financial flexibility. Deferred compensation schemes can also be designed to match employee incentives with the company’s long-term success. Such programmes can be effective recruitment and retention strategies that motivate staff to commit to the company’s goals. 

Overall, a solid understanding of deferred compensation enables employees and employers to make wise choices that will maximise financial planning and produce long-term financial security. 

Benefits of deferred compensation  

  • Tax benefits 

The tax advantage that deferred compensation provides is one of its main advantages. Employees may lower their current tax obligation by postponing the receipt of income because the amount is not considered taxable until it is received. Employees can more effectively control their tax brackets by paying less tax on deferred earnings until retirement, when their income is lower. 

  • Retirement protection 

By adding a second source of income above standard retirement savings, like 401(k) or pension plans, deferred compensation programmes improve retirement security. This additional income can make a huge difference in an employee’s financial security during retirement, enabling them to continue living the way they choose. 

  • Attracting and holding talent 

Deferred compensation schemes can be a powerful recruiting and retention tool for elite employees. Executives and top performers frequently look for complete compensation packages above the minimum wage. A company’s dedication to recognising and motivating long-term contributions is made clear by a well-designed deferred compensation plan, increasing employee loyalty and commitment. 

  • Performance-based rewards 

Plans for deferred pay can be set up to offer performance incentives. Employees might be encouraged to reach organisational goals by linking deferred remuneration to specific performance benchmarks or company objectives, aligning their interests with the businesses. 

Types of deferred compensation 

  • Non-qualified deferred compensation 

Deferred pay is most frequently provided through non-qualified deferred compensation, or NQDC schemes. These programmes do not follow the stringent Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, guidelines. They are, therefore, more adaptable in their design and use, making a wider spectrum of personnel able to use them. Customised vesting timelines, payment options, and a range of investment possibilities are all available with NQDC plans. 

  • Qualified deferred compensation 

The ERISA standards are followed by tax-advantaged retirement savings programs known as qualified deferred compensation plans, such as 401(k) plans. While these plans provide tax-deferral advantages, they are also subject to contribution caps and unique exit restrictions, such as early withdrawal fees. All employees often have access to qualified plans, which offer a mechanism to save for retirement with pre-tax contributions, frequently with company matching. 

  • Restricted stock units and stock options 

Deferred pay that is based on equity includes stock options and restricted stock units, or RSUs. After a vesting period, stock options allow employees to buy company shares at a set price (the strike price). RSUs, however, upon vesting, give employees the equivalent in cash or shares in the corporation. These equity-based incentives encourage employees to contribute to the business’s long-term success by aligning employee and shareholder interests. 

Examples of deferred compensation 

Let us take an example of an executive who ends the year with a US$100,000 bonus. They elect to defer getting US$70,000 of the total as immediate income instead of the full amount. A tax-favoured account, like a 401(k) plan or other investment vehicles, is used to hold the delayed funds after which they are invested.  

Due to the US$70,000 not being considered taxable income for the year, the CEO may be able to minimise their current tax obligation by postponing it. The executive can receive this additional income at retirement; the delayed money will rise over time. This case study demonstrates how deferred compensation enables people to manage their taxes proactively, accumulate funds for retirement, and safeguard their financial future. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Deferred compensation works by enabling employees to save aside a portion of their pay, frequently through salary withholdings, to be invested and paid out later, offering tax advantages and retirement benefits. 


  • Benefits from taxes that lower existing tax obligations. 
  • Enhanced security for retirement. 
  • Talent retention and performance incentives. 


  • Limited financial resources. 
  • Risk factors associated with investments. 
  • Prerequisites for vesting. 
  • Changes in regulations could have an effect. 

Employees looking for tax benefits and long-term financial security may find deferred pay a good decision. However, its suitability is determined by a person’s financial objectives, risk appetite, and the particular conditions of the deferred compensation plan the employer is providing. 

The tax treatment and eligibility are the key areas of variation. All employees can access 401(k)s, qualified retirement plans that permit pre-tax contributions. Deferred compensation plans are non-qualified, frequently only available to executives, and offer tax benefits on specific income amounts. 

According to the plan’s provisions, deferred compensation is normally paid out. It can be given to employees after retirement or upon hitting other predetermined milestones as a lump sum or periodic payments, such as annually or monthly, ensuring they receive the deferred money in a planned and tax-efficient

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