401 (k) plan

Your small business or startup might be reaching new heights by hiring multiple employees. Whether your small business has started turning crazy profits, you are looking to attract top talent, or your state government requires it, creating a 401(k) plan for your small business can be a smart and positive move!

Small business owners face a variety of challenges. Running your small business is enough of a task on its own. Maintaining profitability, making sure everyone gets paid, managing inventory, ordering equipment, and keeping good customer relationships takes a lot of effort. Thinking about retirement plans for your small business can be a headache. At the same time, however, retirement plans can help your small business tremendously.

Even if your small business has less than ten employees, you can still set up and access many of the benefits of 401(k) plans available to larger small businesses and corporations. By investing the time and resources into setting up your plan correctly, you can attract great talent, improve your employee satisfaction, reduce your tax burden, and potentially comply with state regulations.

If you are lost as to what your small business needs to do next for setting up your small business 401(k) plan, though, there is no need to worry. You are in the right place to learn everything about the basics of a 401(k) plan, the benefits to your employees, your small business, the intricacies of 401(k) plans for your small business, the types of plans available to your small business, the process of setting the plans up, and 401(k) plan maintenance requirements. We’ll cover the following subjects in detail in this post:

What is a 401(k)

The most basic question of setting up a small business 401(k) plan is understanding what a 401(k) is. A 401(k) is a defined contribution plan. The name of the plan comes from the tax section code related to tax law in the United States. A 401(k) is a type of retirement plan for employees where employees can decide how much of their paycheck they want to contribute to their 401(k).

The money in their 401(k) account grows over time and can provide a substantial source of funds for the employee in retirement. The money which is deposited into a 401(k) account is managed and is usually put into investments that rise over time. This allows employees to enjoy compound interest on the money that they contribute to their 401(k).

Perhaps the most massive benefit to a 401(k) is the tax advantages it gives to employees. Essentially, employees choose an amount of their paycheck that they want to be sent to their 401(k) account. This occurs before a paycheck is sent to an employee, which means the money which is deposited into their 401(k) account is not taxed, unlike income. This money is instead taxed when an employee withdraws money from the account, where that money is taxed as income.

It is also important to note that there are conditions on the 401(k) plan in terms of how much you can deposit and when you can withdraw. For example, early withdrawals from a 401(k) plan will result in a penalty fee in addition to the taxation of income.

In all, a 401(k) plan is a great way to encourage retirement savings, from both a government, employer, and individual perspective. It also comes along with a host of other benefits.

Benefits of a 401(k) to Employees

As a small business owner, you might be interested in how a 401(k) plan benefits your employees.

First, setting up a 401(k) can help employees increase the amount of money they retain through tax regulations. If you are paid a large sum of money in your current employment and you defer that money to be taxed in retirement, you can lower your presumably higher tax burden in the present day. Then, in retirement, when your income is less, you can be taxed less overall on the money you withdraw from your 401(k). This means that employees can essentially keep more money in their own pockets.

Another advantage of 401(k) plan programs for employees is that employees can benefit from employer contributions. While it depends on the employer and the employer’s policies, your retirement plan options may include receiving matching contributions from your employer. Meaning, when you save into your 401(k), an employer might match your contributions up to a certain amount, allowing the employee to essentially get more money in their retirement account.

A third advantage of a 401(k) plan is that they are uniquely beneficial over IRA accounts. IRA accounts have smaller contribution limits that prevent people from having the same benefits in tax savings as they do with 401(k) plans. The tax benefits from a 401(k) outweigh many other forms of tax savings accounts for retirement. These employee accounts help to encourage employee saving efficiently.

While there are many benefits to employees, you might be able to see that employees at your small business would be happy to receive 401(k) plans. They certainly benefit financially compared to other plans. They are also a great employee benefit in helping employees save for retirement, rather than short-term gain.

Reasons to Set Up a 401(k) Plan for Your Small Business

401(k) plans certainly provide many benefits to a small business’s employees. However, they also can add additional costs to small businesses, such as through employer contribution or management costs. They can be a hassle to set up and maintain, and they can theoretically also expose you to liability based on the way you contribute to each employee’s plan. These constraints can make having a 401(k) plan for your small business unattractive. However, these perspectives might not be encompassing of the benefits these can bring to your small business.

A retirement savings plan such as a 401(k) plan is something that attracts top talent to work at a business. By having a 401(k) plan for your small business, you can make your small business a more attractive place to work for people seeking an employer offering one. This can also sweeten the deal you offer prospective employees on their salary. Since their overall earnings can be higher in the long run from a 401(k), this can be a great addition to a job offer. As a result, your small business can get better employees who can help grow your business faster and more effectively.

Another reason your small business might be interested in offering a 401(k) plan is a benefit to your already existing employees. If you have experienced a pretty profitable time in your small business or you want to extend additional benefits to your employees, setting up a 401(k) program can be a wonderful idea. Employees will appreciate the employer-sponsored program to help increase their retirement savings and the tax benefits they currently receive under their salary. This can be a great way to reward employees for their hard work and keep them happy. Both can be critical for running a small business well.

Compliance is another serious reason to consider starting your small business’s 401(k) plan or offering information on state or marketplace alternatives. Some states are requiring different plans related to automatic signing up of employees for state funds, providing them with information for plans, creating opt-in programs, or creating a marketplace for retirement plans funneled through your small business. These regulations can affect small businesses with as few as five employees. You should check your local state to ensure that you are compliant with current regulations.

In all, you can see that there are reasons your small business with below ten employees might be interested in setting up a 401(k) plan. Now that you have a background in the reasons some small business owners set up these plans, you can better understand the 401(k) plan options and the process for setting them up.

Understanding a 401(k) versus a Roth 401(k)

Before getting into the process of starting a 401(k) plan for your small business, you should understand the two major types of 401(k) plans and their respective tax benefits. This can help you determine what plan offerings will be best for your small business and employees.

A 401(k) plan, or traditional 401(k) plan, is as described, where contributions are deducted from your income pre-tax so you do not have to pay income tax on the money you deposit. This system is like a salary deferral. The distributions are then taxed in retirement.

However, there is a different type of 401(k) plan known as a Roth 401(k) plan. This plan allows employees to make contributions after they are taxed on their income. As a result, their distributions are tax-free.

The difference in models is based on the tax benefits. If you believe you will use more money in retirement than you are making now, a Roth 401(k) plan option is better for you as an employee. However, if you perceive that you will use less money than you are making now, a traditional 401(k) plan as an employee will be better.

Size of Your Small Business to Open a 401(k) Plan

As a small business owner with less than ten employees, you might be wondering if your small business is too small to open up a 401(k) plan for your employees. Even though your state government may require you to enroll employees in a state program or provide them with information on retirement options, you might still think that your own 401(k) plan for your small business may be unfeasible.

This is not the case. There is no limitation on size for opening up a 401(k) plan for your small business. This can be a great option for your small business to take advantage of wonderful employee benefits and top talent. Doing so earlier on can get your small business used to managing your 401(k) obligations, which would likely be something your small business would have to do anyway once it grows larger.

Since you have less than ten employees, however, you might also consider thinking about how to make the process easier and more simplified in the setup and maintenance of the plans and the providers that you select.

401(k) In the Context of an Employer

Shifting gears to discussing the plan design of a 401(k) for your small business, you will first need to consider the extent of the employer contributions or matching programs that your small business will take. A lot of employers make contributions to help their employees be further incentivized to save with a 401(k).

Figuring out the level of your contributions or your contributions is a great first step to understanding the cost involved in your 401(k) plan for your small business. It can also help you narrow down the type of contribution scheme you want to have when your 401(k) is set up. There are a few plan options you can choose from to style your employer contribution.

Traditional 401(k)

In a traditional 401(k), your small business is given flexibility in terms of how you want to contribute to employee 401(k) plans. You can choose to contribute the same amount to each account, match employee contributions to a certain extent, both, or neither. Traditional 401(k) plans allow for different vesting schedules. Vesting schedules allow for employer contributions to take place more fully as the employee continues to work at your small business.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gives your small business the choice between two vesting schedules for traditional 401(k) plans. These include 100% vested following three years or 20% vested following two years, with another 20% every following year until all is vested in the sixth year. This gives your 401(k) plan the flexibility to incentivize your employees to stay working for you longer.

It is also important to note that traditional 401(k) plans will be required to undergo testing each year to ensure that your plans do not pay too much to some of your employees as compared to others.

Safe Harbor 401(k)

If your business is concerned about complying with the annual testing of 401(k) plans, you might consider a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan instead. These plans allow you to get out of the annual testing of traditional 401(k) plans, but employers will have to contribute to employee plans. These contributions can either be made through non-elective contributions or employer matching. The other part of these plans which might be a downside to an employer is that the plans are fully vested immediately, so you cannot access the full benefits of a traditional 401(k) plan.

Automatic 401(k)

An automatic 401(k) is a slightly different type of 401(k) plan and procedure. This essentially means that your employees are simply automatically enrolled with a given contribution rate from their salary. If they decide that they do not like this automatic enrollment, they must change their rate of contribution.

Setting Up Your Small Business 401(k) Plan

Now that you have learned the background of 401(k) plan options for your small business, it is time to set up your small business 401(k) plan for your business of fewer than ten employees. If you follow these steps and initiate a contract with a plan provider, you are on the right track to being compliant with 401(k) plan regulations and will be able to access the benefits available to your small business.

Design Your Plan

The first step to setting up your small business 401(k) plan is to select the type of 401(k) plan for your employees. As you remember, there are three types of plans you can choose from. Each comes along with unique benefits and drawbacks. Your options are a traditional 401(k) plan, a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan, or an Automatic 401(k) plan. Once you have the type of plan in mind, it is time to proceed to the next step.

Consider Matching Employee Contributions

One of the ways to increase the upside in your 401(k) plan for both the employer and employee is to match employee contributions. Of course, matching contributions will help plan participants by getting more money for retirement off of what they choose to save. These tax-deductible contributions for employees give eligible employees to take advantage of an even bigger benefit of working at your small business.

Going along with some of the previous benefits toward your small business mentioned earlier is that top talent will be more likely to work at your company. The morale of your current employees will be increased and likely their productivity as well.

However, matching employee contributions is also a cost toward your small business. Pricing this cost is important. You might want to project out how much you think it will cost you. Capping the contributions from your small business might be a great way to manage the risk of an increasing cost as well.

Employer contributions are also tax-deductible to a corporate payroll tax deduction limit. This can allow your small business to access tax benefits in creating a 401(k) plan for your small business employees. There is also the need for your small business to decide on what kind of vesting schedule you are looking for. If you are interested in incentivizing employee retention, you can create a more elaborate vesting schedule.

Decide on 401(k) Profit Sharing

The next step in setting up a 401(k) plan for your small business is to decide on whether you want to profit share. Profit sharing is a unique type of 401(k) contribution that works like a bonus. If your small business is successful and you want to give your employees a bonus, you might consider doing so through profit sharing.

Instead of giving employees a bonus outright, profit sharing works by having you deposit money into your employees’ retirement accounts. Since these deposits occur before income taxes, you can be sure that your employees will not need to pay taxes on those deposits nor will you as a small business need to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes. As a result, a 401(k) plan can be a great advantage for both your small business and your employees.

Enlist a 401(k) Recordkeeper

Once you have thought about the type of plan, the level of your contributions, and whether you want to participate in profit-sharing, it is time to consider who your plan administrator will be for your small business 401(k) plan. 401(k) plans require a lot of documentation and management. It may be easiest for your small business to select a plan provider and administrator who is prepared to walk you through the process of starting and maintaining a 401(k) plan.

Some of these documentation requirements involve recordkeeping. Your 401(k) plan will need to keep track of documentation of employee and employer contributions, information on investments in the 401(k) accounts, being able to process 401(k) loans or withdrawals from the accounts, and support functions for employees and your accounts as a whole.

These functions can be cumbersome for a small business. There are also more documentation requirements. Finding a plan administrator can help your small business get rid of headaches associated with this process.

Choose between an Investment Advisor and an Investment Manager

Once you set up a 401(k) plan, there is a fiduciary duty to your employees that your small business has. You can pass off part of this responsibility to an investment advisor or investment manager for your accounts. These parties can help manage your retirement plans.

To be specific, there are two parties outlined in the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) that can help manage your retirement plan assets. One of the first options is an investment advisor. An investment or financial advisor is an accredited person who can help you select the retirement plans for your 401(k) accounts and help you maintain them. However, for a lot of the process, you will need to be making decisions about investments and have responsibility for the performance of the plans. This can be a lot of work for you, and if you are unsure of your likely success in doing so, this option may not be good for your small business.

The other option is an investment manager. Getting an investment manager allows them to take control of the mutual funds, plan investments, and other assets that the retirement fund will take care of. Other than generally monitoring what an investment manager does and the performance of the retirement fund, your fiduciary responsibilities and liabilities are limited. Since you are likely not an expert on retirement fund management, getting an investment manager for your small business is likely the best choice. Getting an investment manager as a service provider can be helpful, but make sure that you are getting a low-cost solution for your overall small business.

Get a 401(k) Administrator

As you are getting ready to start and set up your small business 401(k) plan, you should consider getting an administrator for your 401(k) plans. An administrator gives you several benefits, with the most important of which being that you can ensure compliance with 401(k) regulations. The obligations to manage a 401(k) plan can be plentiful.

These include monitoring the compliance of your accounts with state and federal regulations. This is important to reduce the liability to which your small business is exposed. Part of this compliance is wrapped up in annual tax forms. Having a plan administrator can help reduce the end-of-year headache involved in producing the appropriate tax forms. Regarding government regulations, your plans may need to undergo discrimination testing. A plan administrator can help ensure that your small business is compliant with these 401(k) plan regulations.

Moreover, there are also employee-facing sides of a 401(k) plan that an administrator can help you with. Some participants and beneficiaries will need to have access to documents related to the 401(k) plan. This hassle can be reduced with a 401(k) plan administrator ready to assist you. Moreover, certain types of distributions or loans that need to be made out of a 401(k) can sometimes be a difficult process to execute and document correctly. A 401(k) plan administrator can help your small business manage this burden.

Write a 401(k) Plan

Once you have thought about all aspects and potential parties to involve in the design of your 401(k) plan, and have involved parties such as recordkeepers, plan administrators, and investment managers, it is time to make your 401(k) plan official.

You will need to write and outline a plan document. There are several requirements to make these plans official, including the need to be specific about how the plan will operate. You need to make sure to include important details about the type of plan, eligibility of employees, employee and employer contribution matching, profit sharing, and more. The people involved in setting up your plan for your small business may be able to help you prepare this document. Especially since you are running a small business with less than ten employees, it may be beneficial to you to enlist their help in the drafting process of this plan document. They will also likely have helped their previous clients with doing so.

Distribute Your 401(k) Plan

Once your plan is written and your plan is set up with the various stakeholders in maintaining the 401(k) plan, it is time to distribute your plan and inform your employees. You can sign up your current employees and also include the benefit plan information in the documents that you provide to new hires. Make sure to provide these formal documents in writing to your employees so that you can avoid any issues.

While you should congratulate yourself on the steps taken toward establishing your 401(k) plan for your small business, you should also keep in mind that you will have to maintain the 401(k) plan to maintain compliance and support the benefits of the plan.

401(k) Plan Maintenance

While setting up a 401(k) plan for your small business is complicated, maintaining your plan can also be cumbersome. However, it is necessary to ensure the continued success of your 401(k) plan and the limitation of liability to which your small business may be exposed.

Keep Costs Low

If you go with a plan manager or plan administrator, they are likely to come with some cost. Different investment options in your retirement benefits 401(k) plan can vary in their relative costs and administration costs. The brokerage of investments can also charge fees toward the money kept in a 401(k) account. In any case, speaking with your plan administrator, investment manager, and the relevant parties involved can help protect your small business from any extraneous charges as well as protect the earnings of your employees.

Ensure Investment Alternatives and Monitor Your Plan

Similar to keeping costs low, it will be important for your small business to monitor the investments of your small business retirement plans for your employees. You want to ensure that whoever is managing their assets is doing so appropriately and relatively successfully.

Government Documentation

Your 401(k) plan will need to file a government document with the IRS each year detailing information about your 401(k) plans and participants. You need to make sure to be on time with filing and make sure that you are giving the IRS the necessary documentation.

Nondiscrimination Testing

Finally, nondiscrimination testing may be required with your 401(k) plans for your small business. To ensure compliance with your plan structure, it may be wise to work with a plan administrator.

Key Takeaways

Setting up a 401(k) plan can be an incredibly beneficial tool for your business to keep your employee retention high and show your employees that you genuinely care about them and their future. However, setting up a 401(k) plan is not easy and there are a lot of steps involved, so it is critical that you consider these steps carefully. While this article isn’t a comprehensive guide that tells you exactly what you need to do, it’s a great starting place for learning about the basic steps and starting the process. From here, the key is to do your research and be diligent about the plan you decide to implement. Setting up 401(k)s is a serious matter, as your employees will be investing their hard-earned money into them and counting on them for retirement. So, it’s not something you should take lightly.

Nowadays, there are a lot of different services that help small businesses set up high-quality 401(k) plans for their employees. These services may be of use to you and are definitely something you should consider researching. In the end, by staying diligent and doing your research, you can make sure that you navigate the process successfully and skillfully, maximizing the advantages a 401(k) plan will bring to your employees and your business. So, don’t wait to get started. Begin the research process today! The sooner you begin, the sooner you can implement the benefit!


At Biz2Credit, we pride ourselves on our dedication to small businesses and their owners across the nation. As part of this, we work hard to provide small businesses with the resources and tools they need to succeed. Our Biz2Credit Blog is one of these resources. We post brand-new content on our blog each weekday, covering all things small business. So, please continue to check back here for all the latest posts on trends, events, and news impacting small business communities.

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