The creation of the Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and the Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) affords smaller businesses with a way to offer their employees retirement plans. The SEP and SIMPLE were designed for businesses with less than 100 employees and are less costly to administer than a 401(k). For the employees, they are both easy to understand, and, provide a convenient way to save for retirement.
As qualified retirement plans, SEPs and SIMPLEs enjoy the same tax treatment as other plans. Contributions by employees and employers are tax deductible or made on a pre-tax basis. The accumulation inside the accounts grows tax deferred. Many of the same restrictions apply as well. Withdrawals made prior to age 59 ½ may be subject to a penalty.
As with all defined contribution plans, the future retirement benefit is uncertain as it depends on the amount of contributions, how long they accumulate, and the rate of return on the account over that period of time. At the time of distribution, withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income with no allowance for 10-year averaging as is available through a 401(k).
Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)
An SEP is easy to setup and even easier to administer. Each employee establishes their own SEP-IRA to which the employer contributions are made. Although the employer is not required to contribute each year, when one is made it must be contributed to all employees over the age of 21, part-time included, based on 25% of covered compensation.1
Employees manage their own SEP-IRAs which can be invested in mutual funds, money market funds, or fixed investments. Funds are always 100% vested so they can be accessed immediately by the employee (subject to an early withdrawal penalty). Employees with SEP-IRAs can also invest in their own traditional or Roth IRA subject to some income limitations.
For employers, contributions must be made no later than their tax filing deadline. This is their only responsibility there is no administration of the accounts and there is no forfeiture provision to manage.
In a SIMPLE Plan, employees establish their own IRA and electively make tax deductible contributions. Employees who earn at least $5,000 during the two years prior, as well as the current year, are eligible to participate on a voluntary basis. The maximum amount that can be contributed is $11,500, or, 100% of their compensation – whichever is less. 2
Employee funds are 100% vested, however, in addition to the normal early withdrawal penalty of 10%, if a withdrawal is made within the first two years of participation, the penalty is 25% (exceptions may apply).
The employer must match the employee’s contributions up to 3% of their elective deferral, or, 2% of all compensation for all employees, whether they defer or not. 3
There is another version of a SIMPLE Plan called the 401(k) version that is structured similarly to the IRA version. The advantage of the 401(k) version to the employer is that it can establish stricter requirements for plan eligibility which could reduce the amount of matching contributions. The disadvantage is that the same ERISA reporting rules apply to a SIMPLE 401(k) as they do the regular 401(k), so it can be more costly to administer.
For additional information on small business retirement plans, contact us today.
1 Contributions are limited to 25% of a maximum of $245,000 in 2010 or $49,000.
2 $11,500 is the current maximum and the amount is indexed for inflation.
3 An employer may make less than the 3% contribution for two years out of five year period but it cannot be less than 1%