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What Is a SIMPLE IRA? Pros & Cons, Contribution Limits

Explore the SIMPLE IRA: how does it work, weigh its advantages, drawbacks, and contribution limits for informed retirement planning.
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: June 3, 2024
The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: June 3, 2024

The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.

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What Is a SIMPLE IRA?

A SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) is a retirement savings plan designed for small businesses with 100 or fewer employees and no existing retirement plan.

It allows both employers and employees to contribute to individual retirement accounts (IRAs) set up for each eligible employee.

Eligibility for a SIMPLE IRA typically includes:

  • Employees: Automatically eligible if they earned at least $5,000 from the employer in the previous two years and are expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year. Employers can choose less strict requirements.
  • Employers: Businesses with 100 or fewer employees and no other sponsored retirement plan.

Contribution limits for 2024 are $16,000 (or 100% of compensation, whichever is less), with a $19,500 catch-up contribution option for those 50 or older.

One of the main tax benefits of a SIMPLE IRA is the tax-deferred growth of contributions, as well as other tax benefits:

  • Tax-deferred contributions: Contributions grow tax-free until withdrawn in retirement, reducing your taxable income now.
  • Employer matching contributions: Employers are required to either match a certain percentage of employee contributions (up to 3%) or make a non-elective contribution (2% of all eligible employee compensation). This is essentially free money for employees.
  • Traditional IRA tax treatment: Similar to a traditional IRA, you pay taxes on contributions and earnings when withdrawn in retirement.

Pros and Cons

Similar to other self employed retirement accounts, the solo 401(k) has its own set of pros and cons:

Pros
Cons
Easy Administration
Contribution Limits
Mandatory employer contributions
Limited Investment Options
Employee Contributions
Early Withdrawal Penalties
Tax Benefits
Mandatory Employer Contributions

SIMPLE IRAs have minimal administrative requirements compared to other retirement plans, making them attractive to small businesses with limited resources.

Employers are required to make contributions either through matching contributions (up to 3% of employee's compensation) or non-elective contributions (2% of each eligible employee's compensation), which can serve as a valuable employee benefit.

Employees can contribute to their SIMPLE IRA through salary deferrals, allowing for tax-deferred growth of retirement savings.

Contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are tax-deductible for both employers and employees, and investment earnings grow tax-deferred until withdrawal during retirement.

The contribution limits for SIMPLE IRAs are lower compared to other retirement plans, limiting the amount employees can save for retirement.

SIMPLE IRAs typically offer a limited selection of investment options compared to other retirement plans, potentially restricting investment diversification.

Withdrawals from a SIMPLE IRA before age 59½ are subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty, in addition to ordinary income taxes, unless an exception applies.

Employers are required to make contributions to employees' accounts, which can be a financial burden for some businesses, particularly during economic downturns.

How To Open a SIMPLE IRA?

Opening a SIMPLE IRA involves several steps, but the process can be relatively straightforward.

1. Eligibility Check And Enrollment

Contact your employer to receive enrollment instructions and complete the necessary forms, which may include an Elective Deferral Agreement specifying your desired contribution amount.

If you're an employer, ensure your business meets the eligibility criteria for offering a SIMPLE IRA, which typically includes having fewer than 100 employees who earned at least $5,000 in the previous year.

2. Choose a Financial Institution

Research and select a reputable financial institution offering SIMPLE IRA plans. Banks, brokerage firms, and mutual fund companies commonly provide these services.

Compare their offerings, fees, and investment options to ensure they align with your business's needs and employee preferences.

3. Establish the Plan

Contact the chosen financial institution and complete the necessary paperwork to establish the SIMPLE IRA plan.

This typically involves completing paperwork, providing business information such as name and EIN, and discussing any specific requirements or preferences you may have for the plan.

If you're an employer, you may also want to consider the following steps:

  • Inform Employees: Notify eligible employees about the SIMPLE IRA plan, including how it works, contribution options, and any employer contributions. Provide them with the necessary forms to enroll in the plan and make contributions.

  • Set Up Payroll Deductions: Coordinate with your payroll provider or accounting department to set up payroll deductions for employee contributions to the SIMPLE IRA. Ensure that contributions are deducted from employees' paychecks and deposited into their respective accounts in a timely manner.

  • Make Employer Contributions: Determine whether you will make matching contributions or non-elective contributions to employees' SIMPLE IRAs. Ensure that employer contributions are made according to the plan's requirements and deadlines.

  • Educate Employees: Offer educational resources to help employees understand their investment options, retirement planning, and the benefits of participating in the SIMPLE IRA plan.

Investment Options Are Quite Limited

Unlike 401(k)s where individual employees have a wide range of investment choices, SIMPLE IRAs typically offer a more limited selection of investment options. This is because the plan is designed to be simple and low-cost for both employers and employees.

The specific investment options available in your SIMPLE IRA will depend on the financial institution chosen by your employer. Generally, you can expect to find options like:

  • Target-date funds: These all-in-one funds automatically adjust their asset allocation (mix of stocks, bonds, and other investments) based on your target retirement year, becoming more conservative as you get closer to retirement.
  • Mutual funds: These professionally managed funds pool investor money to invest in a variety of assets, offering diversification and potentially lower fees compared to individual stock picking.
  • Money market accounts: These low-risk accounts offer a safe place to park your contributions while earning some interest, suitable for those closer to retirement or seeking short-term stability.

While the selection may be limited, these options still allow you to invest for different risk tolerances and goals within your SIMPLE IRA.

Remember, even with fewer choices, you can still achieve a well-diversified portfolio by choosing a mix of asset classes within the available options.

SIMPLE IRA Rollover Rules and Options

Rolling over a SIMPLE IRA involves transferring funds from one SIMPLE IRA to another retirement account, such as a Traditional IRA or an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k). Here are the rules and options for SIMPLE IRA rollovers:

  • Eligible Rollover Period: After participating in a SIMPLE IRA for at least two years, you can generally roll over funds to another retirement account at any time.

  • Direct Rollover: The preferred method is a direct rollover, where funds are transferred directly from one financial institution to another to avoid tax consequences.

  • 60-Day Rollover: If funds are withdrawn directly and not rolled over within 60 days, they are subject to income tax and potentially a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you're under age 59½.

  • Rollover Options: You can roll over funds from a SIMPLE IRA to a Traditional IRA, another SIMPLE IRA, or an employer-sponsored retirement plan that accepts rollovers, such as a 401(k).

  • Taxes and Penalties: Rollovers from a SIMPLE IRA to a Traditional IRA or another qualified retirement plan are not subject to income tax or penalties. However, if funds are rolled over to a Roth IRA, they are taxed as ordinary income in the year of the rollover.

  • Limitations: If you've participated in a SIMPLE IRA plan within the past two years, special rules apply. Early withdrawals (before age 59½) from a SIMPLE IRA within the first two years of participation may result in a 25% early withdrawal penalty, increased from the standard 10%.

Before initiating a rollover, it's advisable to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional to understand the implications and ensure compliance with IRS regulations.

Solo 401(k) Alternatives For Small Business Owners

For small business owners or self-employed individuals who are considering retirement savings options beyond a SIMPLE IRA, several alternatives exist.

Each alternative offers unique features and benefits, catering to different needs and preferences.  Here are some common alternatives:

Similar to a SIMPLE IRA, a SEP IRA offers tax-deductible contributions for employers and tax-deferred growth for employees.

However, employers contribute to SEP IRAs only, with no employee salary deferrals.

Contribution limits may be higher than those of a SIMPLE IRA, making it attractive for businesses with fluctuating income or those looking to maximize contributions.

Designed for self-employed individuals or small business owners with no employees other than a spouse, an Individual 401(k) allows for higher contribution limits than a SIMPLE IRA.

It offers both employer and employee contributions, providing flexibility in retirement savings and potential tax benefits.

Combining features of both SIMPLE IRAs and Traditional 401(k)s, a SIMPLE 401(k) is an option for small businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

It offers employer matching contributions like a SIMPLE IRA but allows for higher contribution limits similar to a Traditional 401(k).

Administrative requirements and costs may be higher than those of a SIMPLE IRA.

FAQs

Yes, SIMPLE IRAs are eligible to accept rollovers from traditional IRAs, simplified employee pension (SEP) IRAs, and certain employer-sponsored retirement plans like 401(k), 403(b), or governmental 457(b) plans, provided that at least two years have passed since the individual initially joined the SIMPLE IRA plan.

You have options: keep the SIMPLE IRA with your current custodian, roll it over to another IRA or employer-sponsored plan (consult tax implications), or withdraw funds (beware of potential penalties and taxes).

Yes, you can have both a SIMPLE IRA and a Roth IRA, but contribution limits apply separately to each account.

Yes, but only after the initial 2-year period in the SIMPLE IRA. This conversion will have tax implications, so consult a tax advisor beforehand.

Yes, employer contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are tax-deductible for the business, and employee contributions are tax-deferred.

Yes, a single-member LLC can establish a SIMPLE IRA, as long as it meets the eligibility criteria (e.g., fewer than 100 employees, no existing retirement plan). Consult a tax professional for specific guidance.

Picture of Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
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