Qualified Retirement Plans
Retirement plans play a crucial role in providing a source of income in our later years. We’ve all seen or heard about “the three-legged stool” that shows Social Security, our personal lifetime savings, and company qualified retirement plans as the three fund sources from which we will draw money to pay for our expenses after we retire.
One type of employer sponsored plan is a qualified retirement plan. A qualified plan is established by an employer to provide retirement benefits for its employees and their beneficiaries.
A qualified plan may be a defined-benefit plan or a defined-contribution plan. Qualified plans allow the employer a tax deduction for contributions it makes to the plan, and employees typically do not pay taxes on plan assets until these assets are distributed; furthermore, earnings on qualified plan assets are tax deferred.
Why Establish a Qualified Plan?
For a business, choosing the right retirement plan is one of its most important financial decisions because the plan must suit not only the employer’s immediate needs but also its financial and business profile.
A qualified plan offers benefits to both employer and employees:
- Benefits for Employers:
- Employers may receive a tax deduction for plan contributions.
- Employers are able to attract and retain high-quality employees. A qualified plan may be the tiebreaker that wins over a skilled person who is offered relatively similar compensation packages from different potential employers.
- Benefits for Employees
- Employees are provided with some guarantee that their retirement years will be financially secure.
- For plans that provide salary-deferral features, employees are able to defer paying taxes on a portion of their compensation until their retirement years, when their tax bracket may be lower.
- Some plans allow employees to borrow from the plan. The interest paid on the loan amount is credited to the employee’s account, unlike interest on loans obtained from financial institutions, which is paid to the financial institution.
In order for a plan to maintain its qualified status, it must operate in accordance with requirements as provided by the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974.
A Qualified Retirement Plan falls into one of three general categories: A Defined Benefit Plan, a Defined Contribution Plan, or a Hybrid Plan. A Hybrid Plan is one that combines various attributes of the first two categories, which are discussed below.
Defined Benefit Plan
A defined benefit plan is the traditional company pension plan. It is so called because the ultimate retirement benefit is definite and determinable as a dollar amount or as a percentage of wages. To determine these amounts, defined benefit plans usually base the benefit calculation on a combination of years of employment, wages, and/or age. These plans are funded entirely by the employer, and the responsibility for the payment of the benefit and all risk on monies invested to fund that benefit rests with the employer.
Benefits typically are not payable until normal retirement age and usually are paid in the form of a lifetime annuity. Nevertheless, a large minority of plans permits lump sum payments at retirement. Monies received as a lifetime annuity will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates and are ineligible for rollover to an IRA. Lump sum payments may be transferred to an IRA to defer immediate taxation. On transfer to an IRA, the proceeds are subject to IRA rules and regulations.
Under normal circumstances you may not take money from a retirement plan free of an early withdrawal penalty unless you are age 59 1/2. But that’s not always true. If you leave your job in the year you reach age 55, you may take your qualified retirement plan benefits from that job free of any early withdrawal penalty. You must, though, pay ordinary income taxes on any money not transferred to a traditional IRA.
People younger than 55 who receive qualified retirement plan benefits as income in a form other than a lifetime annuity are subject to an excise tax based on a premature distribution from that plan. The excise tax will continue until the retiree reaches age 59 1/2.You will be taxed on that benefit at ordinary rates and will be assessed an additional 10% of that sum as an early distribution penalty as well.
Defined Contribution Plan
A defined contribution plan is a qualified retirement plan in which the contribution is defined, but the ultimate benefit to be paid is not. In such plans, each participant has an individual account. The benefit at retirement depends on the amounts contributed and on the investment performance of that account through the years. In such plans, the investment risk does not have to but usually rests solely with the employee because of the opportunity to choose from a number of investment options. These plans take many forms and are known by various names such as money purchase, profit sharing, 401(k), or 403(b) plans.
At retirement, defined contribution plan benefits are typically paid in installments or as a lump sum; however, they may also be paid as an annuity.
|Contribution Limits – 2019|
|Elective Deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)||$19,000|
|Catch-Up Deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)||$6,000|
|Defined Contribution Plan 415 Limit (total of all sources)||$56,000|
|Annual Compensation Limit||$280,000|
|Highly Compensated Employee (HCE)||$125,000|
|Defined Benefit Plans (annual benefit, not contribution)||$225,000|
|Catch-Up Deferrals to SIMPLE 401(k)/IRA||$3,000|
|Top Heavy Key Employee Compensation||$180,000|
|Social Security Wage Base||$132,900|
|IRA for individuals 49 and below||$6,000|
|IRA for individuals 50 and above||$7,000|
The most popular type of qualified defined contribution plan Originally designed to encourage productivity and to reward employees with part of a firm’s annual profits, today employers may make contributions even when the business earns no profits in the year; however, no contribution by the employer is required during a profitable year. These plans are often coupled with a 401(k) arrangement to allow voluntary pre-tax contributions by employees from their wages. Contributions and earnings accumulate tax free until withdrawn by the participant.
Also known as a cash or deferred arrangement (CODA) plan, a 401(k) is a qualified defined contribution plan that takes its name from the section of the Internal Revenue Code that prescribes the rules under which it operates. It is a retirement plan in which an employer permits an employee to defer receipt of part of his or her compensation by contributing that part to his or her account in the 401(k) plan. Deferred contributions are made on a pre-tax basis, and those contributions and all earnings remain untaxed until withdrawn from the plan. The 401(k) may permit voluntary, after-tax contributions by employees. Earnings on after-tax contributions accumulate tax free until withdrawn.
Many 401(k) plans include a matching contribution from the employer according to a set formula (e.g., 50% of the employee’s contribution up to a maximum of 6% of compensation). Employers may also make contributions to an employee’s account independent of the employee’s contribution, and these contributions may be part of a profit sharing plan
A 401(k) plan generally offers participants an opportunity to direct their account contributions to a broad range of investment options from conservative risk to aggressive risk. These options may include institutional or mutual funds investing in the money market, bond market, or stock market; annuities; guaranteed investment contracts (GICs); company stock; and self-directed brokerage accounts. A typical plan will offer a selection of a money market fund, a bond fund, and a stock fund, as well as managed lifestyle funds..
In general, a 401(k) plan limits withdrawals of assets to five occasions: Termination from employment, disability, reaching the age of 59 1/2, retirement, and death. Additionally, the plan may optionally include provisions for loans and/or hardship withdrawals.
Money Purchase Plan
Also a qualified defined contribution plan, a money purchase plan is one in which the employer is required to make an annual contribution to each employee’s account regardless of the firm’s profitability for the year. Contributions are usually specified as a percentage of annual compensation .
While technically a defined benefit plan, a cash balance plan is actually a hybrid plan. In such plans, the employer credits the participant’s account with a “pay credit” (such as 5% of compensation from his or her employer) and an “interest credit” (either a fixed rate or a variable rate that is linked to an index such as the one-year treasury bill rate). Increases and decreases in the value of the plan’s investments do not directly affect the benefit amounts promised to participants. Thus, the investment risks and rewards on plan assets are borne solely by the employer.
When a participant becomes entitled to receive benefits under a cash balance plan, the benefits that are received are defined in terms of an account balance. In addition to generally permitting participants to take their benefits as lump sum benefits at retirement, cash balance plans often permit vested participants to choose (with consent from their spouses) to receive their accrued benefits in lump sums if they terminate employment prior to retirement age.
Target Benefit Plan
While technically a defined contribution plan, a target benefit plan is actually a hybrid plan. In such plans, the employer sets a target benefit for employees. Each year contributions are made to the employee’s account based on actuarial assumptions that project the annual funding needed to reach that benefit. In that sense, the target benefit plan mimics a defined benefit plan. However, the actual earnings on the individual accounts may differ from the estimated earnings used in the assumptions. Thus, because the benefit actually received cannot be determined in advance, the target benefit plan is like a defined contribution plan. Regardless, contributions and earnings accumulate tax free until withdrawn by the participant.
Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)
An ESOP is a qualified defined contribution plan in which the assets are invested mostly in qualifying employer stock. Usually, purchases of this stock are funded by employer contributions made to the plan based on total employee compensation. The plan may permit purchase of stock by employees as a plan option. When combined with a 401(k) plan, an ESOP is sometimes called a KSOP. On leaving the firm through separation or retirement, the participant will receive all vested interests in the form of the actual shares in the account. Alternatively, he or she may demand a cash distribution in lieu of the shares.
A 403(b) plan is a defined contribution plan that takes its name from the section of the Internal Revenue Code that establishes the rules under which it operates. It is also known as and sometimes called a tax-sheltered or a tax-deferred annuity program. This plan is for educational, religious, and charitable (i.e. 501(c)(3)) organization employees. It operates under similar maximum contribution rules and withdrawal privileges as a 401(k) plan. Like the 401(k), pre-tax contributions and all earnings remain tax free until withdrawn.
A 457 plan is a nonqualified retirement plan established for the benefit of state and local government employees or the employees of tax-exempt organizations.
While governmental 457 plans have special catch-up provisions for those age 50 or older, they enjoy an even greater contribution amount in the three years before retirement. The catch-up provisions three years prior to retirement will amount to double the normal amount for allowable maximum contributions. Until withdrawn, 457 plan contributions and all earnings remain untaxed. The 457 plan assets of tax-exempt employers are subject to the claims of the employer’s creditors, but those of plans sponsored by governmental entities are not. Plan distributions may occur at retirement; on separation from employment; as the result of an unforeseeable emergency; and at death. Distributions may be taken as a lump sum, in annual installments, or as an annuity. In 2002 and later years, proceeds from a governmental 457 plan may be transferred to an IRA or a new employer’s 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan that accepts transfers from an old employer’s plan. On withdrawal from an IRA or from the new plan, the distribution will be subject to immediate taxation at ordinary income tax rates.
Keogh (HR-10) Plan
A Keogh plan is a qualified retirement plan established by the Self Employed Individuals Tax Retirement Act of 1962, otherwise known as the Keogh Act, or HR-10. Keogh plans may be set up by self-employed persons, partnerships, and owners of unincorporated businesses as either a defined benefit or defined contribution plan. As defined contribution plans, they may be structured as a profit sharing, a money purchase, or a combined profit sharing/money purchase plan.
Keogh plans may not authorize loans. Contributions and all earnings accumulate free of tax until withdrawn, generally at retirement. In general, withdrawals prior to age 59 1/2 are subject to a 10% premature distribution penalty in addition to ordinary income tax; however, distributions are eligible for transfer to an IRA.
Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)
A SEP is a retirement plan designed for self-employed persons, partnerships, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and owner-employees of an unincorporated trade or business; however, it may be set up by any type of business. A SEP is an easy method for a small employer to establish a retirement plan for employees without the complex administration and expense found in qualified retirement plans. In fact, an employer may establish a SEP only if that employer has no qualified retirement plan in effect.
Under a SEP, the employer may make a contribution of up to the lesser of 15% or $30,000 of compensation to IRAs established in each employee’s name. Hence, such an arrangement is known as a SEP-IRA. When made, these contributions are owned in their entirety by the employee, and they may be withdrawn and/or transferred by the employee at any time. Contributions to a SEP by the employer are discretionary, but must be deposited into each eligible employee’s IRA when made. Because these accounts are IRAs, the amounts therein are subject to all IRA rules regarding transfer, withdrawal and taxation.
Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE)
Established by the Small Business Protection Act of 1996, a SIMPLE may be set up by employers who have no other retirement plan and who have 100 or fewer employees with at least $5,000 in compensation for the previous year. They may be structured as an IRA or as a 401(k) plan. Employees may defer any percentage of compensation up to $6,500 per year to the SIMPLE, and the employer is required to make a matching contribution of up to 3% of the employee’s pay based on that election. The employer may reduce the maximum matching percentage in any two years out of five. Alternatively, the employer may establish a uniform 2% of salary contribution per year for all eligible employees regardless of whether they contribute to the SIMPLE or not.
Contributions are immediately vested with the employee, and deposits and earnings in the account will accumulate tax free until withdrawn. In general, distributions from a SIMPLE are taxed like those from an IRA. Withdrawals prior to age 59 1/2 are subject to the 10% early withdrawal excise tax in addition to ordinary income tax. Unlike an IRA or SEP, however, employees who withdraw money from a SIMPLE IRA within two years of their first participation in the plan will be assessed a 25% penalty tax on such withdrawals instead of 10%. This extra penalty does not apply to early withdrawals from a SIMPLE 401(k). Distributions from both types of SIMPLE may be transferred to another SIMPLE or to an IRA, but they are ineligible for transfer to a qualified retirement plan.
A Non-Qualified Retirement Plan is one that does not meet the requirements of the IRC or ERISA. These plans may be discriminatory in their application and are typically used to provide deferred compensation to key personnel. Because these plans allow a broader flexibility to the employer, they do not receive the same favorable tax treatment as that permitted qualified plans. Employers receive no tax deduction until the employee receives proceeds from the plan. Except for a governmental 457 plan as discussed later, on receipt, the proceeds of a non-qualified plan are taxed to the employees and are ineligible for transfer to an IRA. In some designs, the employee may face immediate taxation on the benefit even when the funds will not be received until much later in the future.
An Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA), commonly called an Individual Retirement Account, is a personal retirement savings plan available to anyone, regardless of age, who receives taxable compensation during the year. For IRA contribution purposes, compensation includes wages, salaries, fees, tips, bonuses, commissions, taxable alimony, and separate maintenance payments.
If you are interested in more information regarding Qualified Retirement Plans, please contact our office at (301) 590-0006.