Picking Your Retirement Plan

Choosing the right retirement plan can help you and your employees make a worthwhile investment in your own financial futures.

Jeff BradleyYou probably didn’t launch your company thinking about retirement. Nor is diving into the intricacies of the tax code likely to be at the top of your priority list. Still, that effort could pay dividends in more ways than one. Selecting a solid retirement savings plan for yourself and your employees is in everyone’s best interest, and it can help you attract, motivate and retain the people who make your business thrive.

What kind of retirement plan? While the contribution limits, costs and other aspects of retirement plans can be daunting, you don’t have to get mired in the particulars right away, says Jeffery G. Bradley, South Regional Executive for Regions Institutional Services in Birmingham, Alabama. “Start with what you want to achieve,” says Bradley, who suggests asking yourself several questions. Are you looking to lead by example, contributing on behalf of your employees, or do you want to motivate them to save? How fast is your company growing? Account for the answers, along with other variables, as you weigh the crucial differences among plans.

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA

If your business is small or you’re the only employee, a SEP allows you to contribute as much as 25% of compensation annually up to a yearly maximum—$53,000 in 2016. You can vary the percentage from year to year or skip a year if funds are tight. “You have until the extended due date of your tax return to set up a plan and make contributions,” says attorney Barbara Weltman, author of J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes 2017. “That lets you calculate your profits before you decide how much to contribute.”

On the other hand, a SEP doesn’t allow your employees to put in their money, and you generally have to contribute the same percentage of everyone’s salary, including yours.

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA

SIMPLE IRAs generally are a good fit for a business with 100 employees or fewer. With a SIMPLE IRA, your employees annually can opt to make their own contributions—as much as $12,500 in pre-tax earnings (plus a $3,000 catch-up if they’re 50 or older) in 2016.

But there’s not as much wiggle room with this type of retirement plan. You’re going to have to make an employer contribution every year—either pay a flat 2% of an employee’s compensation or match an employee’s contribution, up to 3% of compensation. If there’s a lull in your business, however, you are allowed to reduce your matching contribution to 1% as often as twice in five years.

Individual 401(k)

If you, or you and your spouse, are your only employees, an individual 401(k) lets you set aside as much as $18,000 in pre-tax earnings ($24,000 if 50 or older) plus 25% of compensation up to a total maximum of $53,000 ($59,000 if 50 or older) for 2016. And you decide how much to contribute. “The only downside is that once assets in the plan exceed $250,000, you’ll need to file an annual report with the IRS,” says Bradley.

Employer-sponsored 401(k)

Companies with any number of employees might consider this option, which uses the same contribution limits as those for individual 401(k)s. Your employees decide how much salary to defer, and you can choose to contribute an additional amount on their behalf, which could match a portion of their contributions.

Due to the costs and complexity of setting up and administering an employer-sponsored 401(k), consider working with your Wealth Advisor and a benefits consultant, who can help you make sure this plan is your best option and meets your goals, says Bradley.

Cash Balance Pension Plan

This plan turns the usual retirement savings process on its head. Rather than looking at how much you and your employees contribute, it starts with the amount of the retirement benefit you want and then calculates what it will take to get there. That goal determines how much your company must contribute—and those amounts, likely to exceed contribution limits for other plans by a hefty margin—can turbocharge savings for owners and their employees.

You’ll need an actuary to generate annual participant statements and to file detailed reports with the IRS. The very generous contribution limits increase with age, and someone 60 or older can put away more than $200,000 in tax-deferred income every year. Your company, or an investment manager of your choice, is charged with generating sufficient funds to provide the guaranteed benefit amount.

This retirement plan can be a good fit for companies with high-income owners who want to beef up retirement savings quickly. “It’s ideal for physicians, attorneys, engineers or architects—private groups looking to maximize their tax-deferred savings,” says Bradley, who notes that a cash balance pension plan can be paired with an employer-sponsored 401(k) to allow even greater savings.

Whatever type of plan you choose now, expect to revisit your options within a few years, says Bradley. “You may outgrow your plan and need to step up to something more comprehensive,” he says. “Then, as now, this process is about defining your goals and identifying the best way to reach them.”

Pick Your Plan Infographic


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This information is general in nature and is provided for educational purposes only. Information provided and statements made by employees of Regions should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal, or tax advice. Regions encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation. Information provided and statements made by individuals who are not employees of Regions are the views, opinions, or positions of the individual who made the statement and do not necessarily reflect the policies, views, opinions, and positions of Regions. Regions makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information presented.

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