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Simple Pension Plans
There's a new type of retirement plan that's available for small businesses if they don't maintain any other retirement plan and have no more than 100 employees - the SIMPLE. That's short for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees.

A SIMPLE plan can be in the form of an IRA or 401(k) plan.

Simple Plan Features

The most important features of SIMPLE plans are as follows:

  • Non-discrimination rules that apply to other retirement plans do not apply to SIMPLE plans.
  • There's no requirement that a minimum number of employees elect to participate. Thus, the plan can be set up and an employer can make contributions even if no employees choose to participate.
  • Self-employed persons can participate in a SIMPLE plan.
  • There are simplified reporting requirements.
  • Contributions must be fully vested immediately.
  • Contributions are mandatory despite fluctuations in profits.
  • Employees may make elective contributions expressed as a percentage of compensation and not as a fixed dollar amount, up to a maximum of $6,000 per year.
  • All employees earning at least $5,000 per year must be eligible to participate in the plan.

Employees may make elective contributions of up to $6,000 per year. Employers must make matching or fixed contributions (even in years when the business has no profits) in accordance with the following formula:

Matching formula. Under the matching formula an employer is required to match an employee's elective contribution on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a maximum of 3% of an employee's compensation.

The maximum employer contributions under the matching formula is different for SIMPLE-IRAs and SIMPLE-401(k) plans because each type of plan uses different maximum employment compensation amounts to figure the maximum matching amount.

For SIMPLE-IRAs maximum employer contribution under the match formula is $6,000 (3% x $200,000 compensation).

For SIMPLE-401(k)s maximum employer contribution under the match formula is $3,200 (2% x $160,000 compensation).

LOOPHOLE. SIMPLE-IRA type plans allow an option to drop contributions to as low as 1% of compensation in up to 2 years in any 5 year period. This option is not available in 401(k) type SIMPLE plans.
Fixed contribution formula. In lieu of matching employees' contributions, an employer can choose to make a fixed contribution of 2% of the compensation of each eligible employee (regardless of whether the employees put any of their own money in the plan).

Under the fixed contribution formula the maximum compensation per employee is limited to $160,000, thus, limiting an employer's contribution, under both SIMPLE-IRAs and SIMPLE-401(k)s, for an employee to no more than $3,200 per year ($160,000 x 3% = $3,200).


1. Contributions. Employee and employer contributions to a SIMPLE account are excluded from the employee's income and are not subject to income tax withholding. However, the employee's (but not the employer's) contributions are subject to Social Security tax.

The employer's matching (or fixed) contributions are deductible as long as they are contributed to the employee's SIMPLE account by the due date for the employer's tax return. Employer's must deposit the employees' elective contributions to the SIMPLE account within 30 days after the end of the month in which they are deducted from the employees' pay.

2. SIMPLE accounts. SIMPLE accounts themselves, like IRAs, are not subject to tax. All earnings accumulate tax-free.

3. Distributions. Distributions from SIMPLE accounts are taxed in the same manner as distributions from IRAs. They are subject to tax at ordinary income tax rates as received.

CAUTION - TAX TRAP. There's a 25% penalty tax, in addition to the regular income tax, if an employee withdraws the money within the first two years of plan participation.

Early withdrawals, before age 59 1/2, after the two year period, are subject to a 10% penalty.

LOOPHOLE. SIMPLE plan money can be rolled over tax-free to a qualified employer pension plan.


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