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Retirement Plans Blog

SIMPLE 401(k) Versus A Safe Harbor 401(k): The Pros And Cons For Your Small Business

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 29, 2015 9:00:00 AM / by Ken Ruthenberg

Ken Ruthenberg

A small employer may find that converting its 401(k) plan into a "SIMPLE" 401(k) plan is preferable to adopting a traditional safe harbor 401(k) plan. What is a SIMPLE 401(k) plan? It is a 401(k) plan under which the employer makes either (i) a nonelective contribution to the plan equal to 2% of compensation for each employee who was eligible to defer under the plan or (ii) a matching contribution equal to 100% of each employee's deferrals up to 3% of compensation. Such a plan is not necessarily as simple or attractive as it may sound, however, because of complexities and limits such as the following:

  • SIMPLE 401(k) plans are available only to employers with 100 or fewer employees who received at least $5,000 in compensation for the preceding year and that do not maintain another employer-sponsored retirement plan. If an employer adopts a SIMPLE 401(k) plan when it is small and then grows into being a large employer, the rules give the employer a 2-year transition period during which the employer will still be treated as eligible to have the plan.
  • Employee elective deferrals are limited to $10,000 per year (as adjusted for inflation – e.g., $11,500 for 2010), which is significantly less than the limit on deferrals under a safe harbor 401(k) plan (e.g., $16,500 for 2010).
  • Employee age 50 catch-up deferrals are limited to $2,500 per year (as adjusted for inflation – e.g., $2,500 for 2010), which is significantly less than the limit on age 50 catch-up deferrals under a safe harbor 401(k) plan (e.g., $5,500 for 2010).
  • The employer must give the required notice at least 60 days (not just 30 days) before the beginning of the plan year.
  • The employer cannot make a contribution other than the required nonelective or matching contribution.
Ken Ruthenberg

Written by Ken Ruthenberg