- Qualified Retirement Plans
A qualified plan must meet a certain set of requirements set forth in the Internal Revenue Code such as minimum coverage, minimum participation, vesting and funding requirements. In return, the IRS provides tax advantages to encourage businesses to establish retirement plans including:
- Employer contributions to the plan are tax deductible.
- Earnings on investments accumulate tax-deferred, allowing contributions and earnings to compound at a faster rate.
- Employees are not taxed on the contributions and earnings until they receive the funds.
- Employees may make pretax contributions to certain types of plans.
- Ongoing plan expenses are tax deductible.
In addition, sponsoring a qualified retirement plan offers the following advantages:
- Attract experienced employees in a very competitive job market: Retirement plans have become a key part of the total compensation package.
- Retain and motivate good employees: A retirement plan can help you maintain key employees and reduce turnover.
- Help employees save for their future since Social Security retirement benefits alone will be an inadequate source to support a reasonable lifestyle for most retirees.
- Plan assets are protected from creditors.
Employers can choose between two basic types of retirement plans: defined contribution and defined benefit. Both a defined benefit and defined contribution plan may be sponsored to maximize benefits. Our consultants can help you choose the right plan for your company. Listed below is a description of the types of plans that are available.
- Defined Contribution Plans
Under a defined contribution plan, the contribution that the company will make to the plan and how the contribution will be allocated among the eligible employees is defined. Individual account balances are maintained for each employee. The employee's account grows through employer contributions, investment earnings and, in some cases, forfeitures (amounts from the non-vested accounts of terminated participants). Some plans may also permit employees to make contributions on a before-and/or after-tax basis.
Since the contributions, investment results and forfeiture allocations vary year by year, the future retirement benefit cannot be predicted. The employee's retirement, death or disability benefit is based upon the amount in his or her account at the time the distribution is payable.
Employer account balances may be subject to a vesting schedule. Non-vested account balances forfeited by former employees can be used to reduce employer contributions or be reallocated to active participants.
The maximum annual amount that may be credited to an employee's account (taking into consideration all defined contribution plans sponsored by the employer) is limited to the lesser of 100% of compensation or the defined contribution plan limit.
Tax deduction limits must also be taken into consideration. Employer contributions cannot exceed 25% of the total compensation of all eligible employees. For example, a company with only one employee earning $100,000 in 2018 would have a maximum deductible employer contribution of $25,000 (25% of $100,000). However, the employee could also make a $18,500 401(k) contribution to the plan. As a result the total amount credited to his account for the year would be $43,500 (42.5% of his compensation), and the contributions would meet the 2018 maximum annual limit since total contributions are less than $55,000.
- Profit Sharing Plans
The profit sharing plan is generally the most flexible qualified plan that is available. Company contributions to a profit sharing plan are usually made on a discretionary basis. Each year the employer decides the amount, if any, to be contributed to the plan. For tax deduction purposes, the company contribution cannot exceed 25% of the total compensation of all eligible employees.
The contribution is usually allocated to employees in proportion to compensation and may be allocated using a formula that is integrated with Social Security, resulting in larger contributions for higher paid employees.
Age-Weighted Profit Sharing Plans: Profit sharing plans may also use an age-weighted allocation formula that takes into account each employee's age and compensation. This formula results in a significantly larger allocation of the contribution to eligible employees who are closer to retirement age. Age-weighted profit sharing plans combine the flexibility of a profit sharing plan with the ability of a pension plan to skew benefits in favor of older employees.
- 401(k) Plans
More and more employees perceive 401(k) plans as a valuable benefit which have made them the most popular retirement plans today. Employees can benefit from a 401(k) plan even if the employer makes no contribution. Employees voluntarily elect to make pre-tax contributions through payroll deductions up to an annual maximum limit.
The plan may also permit employees age 50 and older to make additional "catch-up contributions" up to an annual maximum limit.
The employer will often match some portion of the amount deferred by the employee to encourage greater employee participation, i.e., 25% match on the first 4% deferred by the employee. Since a 401(k) plan is a type of profit sharing plan, profit sharing contributions may be made in addition to or instead of matching contributions. Many employers offer employees the opportunity to take hardship withdrawals or borrow from the plan.
Employee and employer matching contributions are subject to special nondiscrimination tests which limit how much the group of employees referred to as "Highly Compensated Employees" can defer based on the amounts deferred by the "Non-Highly Compensated Employees." In general, employees who fall into the following two categories are considered to be Highly Compensated Employees:
- An employee who owns more than 5% of the employer at any time during the current plan year or preceding plan year (stock attribution rules apply which treat an individual as owning stock owned by his or her spouse, children, grandchildren or parents); or
- An employee who received compensation in excess of the indexed limit in the preceding plan year. The employer may elect that this group be limited to the top 20% of employees based on compensation.
401(k) Safe Harbor Plans: The plan may be designed to satisfy "401(k) Safe Harbor" requirements which can eliminate nondiscrimination testing. The Safe Harbor requirements include certain minimum employer contributions and 100% vesting of employer contributions that are used to satisfy the Safe Harbor requirements. The benefit of eliminating the testing is that Highly Compensated Employees can defer up to the annual limit without concern for what the Non-Highly Compensated Employees defer.
- New Comparability Plans
New comparability plans, sometimes referred to as "cross-tested plans," are usually profit sharing plans that are tested for nondiscrimination as though they were defined benefit plans. By doing so, certain employees may receive much higher allocations than would be permitted by standard nondiscrimination testing. New comparability plans are generally utilized by small businesses who want to maximize contributions to owners and higher paid employees while minimizing those for all other eligible employees.
Employees are separated into two or more identifiable groups such as owners and non-owners. Each group may receive a different contribution percentage. For example, a higher contribution may be given to the owner group than the non-owner group, as long as the plan satisfies the nondiscrimination requirements.
- Defined Benefit Plans
Instead of accumulating contributions and earnings in an individual account like defined contribution plans (profit sharing, 401(k)), a defined benefit plan promises the employee a specific monthly benefit payable at the retirement age specified in the plan. Defined benefit plans are usually funded entirely by the employer. The employer is responsible for contributing enough funds to the plan to pay the promised benefits regardless of profits and earnings.
Employers who want to shelter more than the annual defined contribution limit, may want to consider a defined benefit plan since contributions can be substantially higher resulting in fast accumulation of retirement funds.
The plan has a specific formula for determining a fixed monthly retirement benefit. Benefits are usually based on the employee's compensation and years of service which rewards long term employees. Benefits may be integrated with Social Security which reduces the plan's benefit payments based upon the employee's Social Security benefits. The maximum benefit allowable is 100% of compensation (based on highest consecutive three-year average) to an indexed maximum annual benefit. Defined benefit plans may permit employees to elect to receive the benefit in a form other than monthly benefits, such as a lump sum payment.
An actuary determines yearly employer contributions based on each employee's projected retirement benefit and assumptions about investment performance, years until retirement, employee turnover and life expectancy at retirement. Employer contributions to fund the promised benefits are mandatory. Investment gains and losses decrease or increase the employer contributions. Non-vested accrued benefits forfeited by terminating employees are used to reduce employer contributions.