What is a 401k plan?
In 1978, section 401k of the Internal Revenue Code authorized the use of a new type of defined contribution plan that allows for the employee to make pre-tax contributions to the plan.
How It Works
Employee 401k contributions are automatically deducted from their paycheck each pay period. This money is taken out before the employee’s paycheck is taxed. The contributions are invested at the employee’s direction into one or more funds provided in the plan. Employers often "match" employee contributions, but are not required to do so. While the investments grow in the employees 401k account, they do not pay any taxes on it.
Advantages and Benefits
401k plans offer many benefits including the following:
- Any business, whether a C Corporation, S Corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, self-employed can establish Plan.
- The company sets the eligibility requirements, within certain guidelines, at the time the plan is established.
- Employer can restrict individuals with less than 1 year service, union members, non US citizens, part-time workers, etc., from being eligible for the plan.
- Contributions to plan can come from voluntary employee salary reduction, from employer, or both.
- Each individual employee can defer in 2011 up to $16,500 or 100% of compensation, whichever is less.
- Participants age 50 and over can make additional "catch-up" contributions of $5,500 in 2010.
- Employees are immediately 100% vested with their own salary reduction tax deferred contributions.
- Employee withdrawals before age 59 1/2 may be subject to 10% penalty.
- Employees who retire any time during the calendar year in which they turn 55, or later, are not subject to the 10% penalty.
- Employers can establish a vesting schedule, within certain guidelines, for the contribution the company makes to the 401k.
- Employers are not required nor obligated to make any contribution to the 401k, although employer may have some obligation to contribute if plan is deemed top heavy.
- Turnkey and Internet based plans are available.
- Excellent range of investment options available for the plan sponsor to offer within the plan.
- The investment choices in most plans range from 8 to 20 options. The average plan has about 15.
- 401k plans may permit "self-directed investment accounts" and company stock purchase within the plan.
- Employee contributions to the plan are not subject to federal income taxes until a distribution from the plan is made. Any investment gains and earnings also enjoy tax deferral until distribution.
- This type of plan can permit loans and hardship withdrawals.
- Participants can start, stop contribution during course of year, as determined by the company.
- The employer can receive certain tax benefits for contributions.
- Plans are subject to top heavy and discrimination testing.
- Typically the amount the owners and highly compensated individuals can contribute to a 401k is a function of the contributions of the other employers.
- 401k plans can be subject to IRS 5500 filings.
- Generally, the vendor selected by the plan sponsor does all accounting, participant reporting, testing, and files 5500 reports with the IRS.
401k plans have proven to be popular with employees for several reasons. The tax deferral is obviously high on this list of reasons. Others include the increased portability of this plan, employer matching contributions, and the increased control associated with self-direction of investments.