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Tax-Favored Retirement Plans: SEP IRAs and Simple IRAS

Many small business owners tend to operate their companies with minimal expenses. As a result, they may opt out of providing standard fringe benefits, such as a retirement plan, to employees.

If this applies to your small business, consider the tax advantages to helping your employees save for retirement. When you're ready, there are a few account-based options that are relatively easy and affordable to set up and manage.


A Simplified Employee Pension IRA (SEP IRA) is a type of retirement plan designed for small business owners and self-employed individuals. Only an employer can make contributions to employees' SEP IRA accounts, up to 25% of each employee's salary per year. (For 2024, the limit is $69,000).

Employer contributions are tax-deductible, which resulting, lowers the business's taxable income. Funds in the SEP IRA grow tax-deferred until they are withdrawn at retirement.

SEP IRAs are relatively easy to set up and maintain, with fewer administrative burdens and lower costs compared to other retirement plans like 401(k)s. To be eligible for a SEP IRA, the employee must be at least 21 years old, have worked for the employer in at least three of the last five years, and have received at least $750 in compensation (as of 2023).

Key Points:

Flexible Contributions: Employers can vary contributions based on business performance.

Immediate Vesting: Employees are immediately 100% vested in all SEP IRA contributions.

Tax-Deferred Growth: Investments grow tax-deferred until retirement.

Simple IRAs

A SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees Individual Retirement Account) is a tax-advantaged retirement savings plan designed for small businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Different from a SEP IRA, both the employer and the employees can make contributions.

SIMPLE IRAs are indeed relatively simple to set up and administer. The IRS Form 5500 “Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan” is not required, nor must you submit the plan to nondiscrimination testing, which is generally required for 401(k)s.

Similar to the SEP IRA, contributions are tax-deductible for the employer. Employees’ contributions are made with pre-tax dollars, reducing their taxable income, and the investments grow tax-deferred until withdrawal.

Employees can contribute a portion of their salary, up to a certain limit. For 2024, the limit is $16,000, with an additional catch-up contribution of $3,500 for those aged 50 or older. Employers, on the other hand, are required to make contributions by matching contributions up to 3% of the employee’s salary, or through nonelective contributions of 2% of each eligible employee's salary.

To be eligible, employees must have earned at least $5,000 during any two preceding years and are expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year.

Key Points:

Flexible Employee Contributions: Employees can decide how much of their salary to contribute, up to the annual limit.

Employer Contributions: Mandatory employer contributions provide an incentive for employees to save for retirement.

Immediate Vesting: Employees are immediately 100% vested in all contributions, both their own and the employer’s.

Withdrawal Rules: Withdrawals made before age 59½ may be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty, in addition to regular income taxes. The penalty increases to 25% if the withdrawal occurs within the first two years of participation.


Overall, the job market remains fairly tight, and in certain industries, competition for skilled workers is intense. Offering one of these IRA options can help you attract and retain high-quality employees more effectively. Additionally, some small businesses might qualify for a tax credit when they establish a SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, or another eligible plan.

When you're ready, our Tax Consultants can assist you in determining if this is the right time to implement such a plan. Schedule a free one-on-one appointment to get started.


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