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illustration of tiny people running off cliff trying to reach money dangling from zip line

The 401(k) retirement plan was authorized by the Revenue Act of 1978, which took effect in 1980, but its real genesis was in the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which fixed the problem of underfunded defined-benefit plans so thoroughly that private employers stopped offering them. Benefits consultant Ted Benna came up with a way to use the 1978 act to create a tax-deferred, defined-contribution plan—and the rest is history.

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