Retirement Plans for Small Businesses

retirement-plan

Retirement Plans for Small Businesses

As a business owner, you should carefully consider the advantages of establishing an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Generally, you’re allowed a deduction for contributions you make to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. In return, however, you’re required to include certain employees in the plan, and to give a portion of the contributions you make to those participating employees. Nevertheless, a retirement plan can provide you with a tax-advantaged method to save funds for your own retirement, while providing your employees with a powerful and appreciated benefit.

Types of plans

There are several types of retirement plans to choose from, and each type of plan has advantages and disadvantages. This discussion covers the most popular plans. You should also know that the law may permit you to have more than one retirement plan, and with sophisticated planning, a combination of plans might best suit your business’s needs.

Profit-sharing plans

Profit-sharing plans are among the most popular employer-sponsored retirement plans. These straightforward plans allow you, as an employer, to make a contribution that is spread among the plan participants. You are not required to make an annual contribution in any given year. However, contributions must be made on a regular basis. With a profit-sharing plan, a separate account is established for each plan participant, and contributions are allocated to each participant based on the plan’s formula (this formula can be amended from time to time). As with all retirement plans, the contributions must be prudently invested. Each participant’s account must also be credited with his or her share of investment income (or loss). For 2017, no individual is allowed to receive contributions for his or her account that exceed the lesser of 100% of his or her earnings for that year or $54,000 ($53,000 in 2016). Your total deductible contributions to a profit-sharing plan may not exceed 25% of the total compensation of all the plan participants in that year. So, if there were four plan participants each earning $50,000, your total deductible contribution to the plan could not exceed $50,000 ($50,000 x 4 = $200,000; $200,000 x 25% = $50,000). When calculating your deductible contribution, you can only count compensation up to $270,000 in 2017 ($265,000 in 2016) for any individual employee.

401(k) plans

A type of deferred compensation plan, and now the most popular type of plan by far, the 401(k) plan allows contributions to be funded by the participants themselves, rather than by the employer. Employees elect to forgo a portion of their salary and have it put in the plan instead. These plans can be expensive to administer, but the employer’s contribution cost is generally very small (employers often offer to match employee deferrals as an incentive for employees to participate). Thus, in the long run, 401(k) plans tend to be relatively inexpensive for the employer.
The requirements for 401(k) plans are complicated, and several tests must be met for the plan to remain in force. For example, the higher-paid employees’ deferral percentage cannot be disproportionate to the rank-and-file’s percentage of compensation deferred. However, you don’t have to perform discrimination testing if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan. With a safe harbor 401(k) plan, you generally have to either match your employees’ contributions (100% of employee deferrals up to 3% of compensation, and 50% of deferrals between 3% and 5% of compensation), or make a fixed contribution of 3% of compensation for all eligible employees, regardless of whether they contribute to the plan. Your contributions must be fully vested immediately. You can also avoid discrimination testing by adopting a qualified automatic contribution arrangement, or QACA. Under a QACA, an employee who fails to make an affirmative deferral election is automatically enrolled in the plan. An employee’s automatic contribution must be at least 3% for the first two calendar years of participation and then increase 1% each year until it reaches 6%. You can require an automatic contribution of as much as 10%. Employees can change their contribution rate, or stop contributing, at any time (and get a refund of their automatic contributions if they elect out within 90 days). As with safe harbor plans, you’re required to make an employer contribution: either 3% of pay to each eligible employee, or a matching contribution, but the match is a little different–dollar for dollar up to 1% of pay, and 50% on additional contributions up to 6% of pay. You can also require two years of service before your contributions vest (compared to immediate vesting in a safe harbor plan). Another way to avoid discrimination testing is by adopting a SIMPLE 401(k) plan. These plans are similar to SIMPLE IRAs (see below), but can also allow loans and Roth contributions. Because they’re still qualified plans (and therefore more complicated than SIMPLE IRAs), and allow less deferrals than traditional 401(k)s, SIMPLE 401(k)s haven’t become a popular option. If you don’t have any employees (or your spouse is your only employee) an “individual” or “solo” 401(k) plan may be especially attractive. Because you have no employees, you won’t need to perform discrimination testing, and your plan will be exempt from the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). You can make pretax contributions of up to $18,000 in 2017, plus an additional $6,000 of pre-tax catch-up contributions if you’re age 50 or older (unchanged from 2016). You can also make profit-sharing contributions; however, total annual additions to your account in 2017 can’t exceed $54,000 (plus any age-50 catch-up contributions). A 401(k) plan can let employees designate all or part of their elective deferrals as Roth 401(k) contributions. Roth 401(k) contributions are made on an after-tax basis, just like Roth IRA contributions. Unlike pretax contributions to a 401(k) plan, there’s no up-front tax benefit-contributions are deducted from pay and transferred to the plan after taxes are calculated. Because taxes have already been paid on these amounts, a distribution of Roth 401(k) contributions is always free from federal income tax. And all earnings on Roth 401(k) contributions are free from federal income tax if received in a “qualified distribution.” 401(k) plans are generally established as part of a profit-sharing plan.

Money purchase pension plans

Money purchase pension plans are similar to profit-sharing plans, but employers are required to make an annual contribution. Participants receive their respective share according to the plan document’s formula.
As with profit-sharing plans, money purchase pension plans cap individual contributions at 100% of earnings or $54,000 annually (in 2017; $53,000 in 2016), while employers are allowed to make deductible contributions up to 25% of the total compensation of all plan participants. (To go back to the previous example, the total deductible contribution would again be $50,000: ($50,000 x 4) x 25% = $50,000.) Like profit-sharing plans, money purchase pension plans are relatively straightforward and inexpensive to maintain. However, they are less popular than profit-sharing or 401(k) plans because of the annual contribution requirement.

Defined benefit plans

By far the most sophisticated type of retirement plan, a defined benefit program sets out a formula that defines how much each participant will receive annually after retirement if he or she works until retirement age. This is generally stated as a percentage of pay, and can be as much as 100% of final average pay at retirement. An actuary certifies how much will be required each year to fund the projected retirement payments for all employees. The employer then must make the contribution based on the actuarial determination. In 2017, the maximum annual retirement benefit an individual may receive is $215,000 ($210,000 in 2016) or 100% of final average pay at retirement. Unlike defined contribution plans, there is no limit on the contribution. The employer’s total contribution is based on the projected benefits. Therefore, defined benefit plans potentially offer the largest contribution deduction and the highest retirement benefits to business owners.

SIMPLE IRA retirement plans

Actually a sophisticated type of individual retirement account (IRA), the SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) IRA plan allows employees to defer up to $12,500 for 2017 (same limit as 2016) of annual compensation by contributing it to an IRA. In addition, employees age 50 and over may make an extra “catch-up” contribution of $3,000 for 2017 (same limit as 2016). Employers are required to match deferrals, up to 3% of the contributing employee’s wages (or make a fixed contribution of 2% to the accounts of all participating employees whether or not they defer to the SIMPLE plan). SIMPLE plans work much like 401(k) plans, but do not have all the testing requirements. So, they’re cheaper to maintain. There are several drawbacks, however. First, all contributions are immediately vested, meaning any money contributed by the employer immediately belongs to the employee (employer contributions are usually “earned” over a period of years in other retirement plans). Second, the amount of contributions the highly paid employees (usually the owners) can receive is severely limited compared to other plans. Finally, the employer cannot maintain any other retirement plans. SIMPLE plans cannot be utilized by employers with more than 100 employees. Other plans The above sections are not exhaustive, but represent the most popular plans in use today. Current tax laws give retirement plan professionals new and creative ways to write plan formulas and combine different types of plans, in order to maximize contributions and benefits for higher paid employees.

Finding a plan that’s right for you

If you are considering a retirement plan for your business, ask us to help you determine what works best for you and your business needs. The rules regarding employer-sponsored retirement plans are very complex and easy to misinterpret. In addition, even after you’ve decided on a specific type of plan, you will often have a number of options in terms of how the plan is designed and operated. These options can have a significant and direct impact on the number of employees that have to be covered, the amount of contributions that have to be made, and the way those contributions are allocated (for example, the amount that is allocated to you, as an owner).

Jose Cuevas
Vice President
Wisdom Investments
jose@wisdominvestments.com
http://www.wisdominvestments.com

 

A Client’s Question: “Where is the safest place for me to invest?”

safety

This question is power packed with many different potential answers.  At it’s core, this question is about risk. This question is “me” focused.  The safest place for me to invest might not be the safest place for you to invest. What does the word safe mean? Does it mean I don’t want to lose any money today? Or, does it mean “I want my future to be safe”.  At the root of most investor questions is some type of psychological unknown the client wants light shed upon. Since this question can cover both product and asset allocation, I will cover product for the moment.

In the financial world, there are many types of products you can purchase or invest in to achieve your goals. All of those products can be put into 5 buckets; stocks, bonds, cash, real estate & commodities.

The first product you can buy is an individual stock. Stocks represent ownership in a company and the return you receive is dependent upon the profit of the company you purchased.  If you buy stock in Microsoft, then you are an owner of Microsoft. If Microsoft goes out of business, you lose all of the money you invested in Microsoft. Out of the five buckets, of course a stock would fall into the Stock bucket.

Next you can buy a bond.  With bonds you are simply loaning your money to the government or to a corporation and they pay you interest in return.  With bonds, if the company goes out of business, you are at least higher on the priority list to get money back over other investors. However, when investing in an individual bond, you still run the risk of losing money. The individual bond goes into the bond bucket.

Savings Accounts: Savings accounts are a cash bucket product and are offered by banks, credit unions and savings & loan institutions. Savings accounts offer a high amount of liquidity. If you need your money withdrawn from a savings account, you are able to walk into the bank or go online and withdraw your money. Due to the high liquidity factor, savings accounts won’t pay you much interest. To see a few available rates for savings accounts, click here.

Money market mutual funds are similar to savings accounts, but the value of money market mutual funds can fluctuate. The price of the money market is targeted for $1, but moves slightly throughout the trading day. Money markets are pools of money brought together by fund companies for the benefit of the account holders to try and achieve a return slightly higher than that of a savings account.  A money market account offers liquidity, however you may have to wait a couple of days for money to transfer from your brokerage account to your bank account. Typically for our clients, the transfer is next day. The money market account goes into the cash bucket.

CD’s might be a bit trickier for most people. To many a cd is considered cash.  However, if you look back at the definition of a bond, you will see the cd is similar.  With a cd, you are loaning your money to the bank, the bank pays you interest, and when your cd expires you get your funds back. The only real difference between the bond and the cd is the cd is guaranteed. In most cases, the cd is FDIC insured. Wisdom Investments would categorize the cd to go into the bond bucket.

Next we have mutual funds. Mutual funds can be a bit tricky as there are many different types of mutual funds. For simplicity sake I will categorize the bond funds into four types: stock funds, bond funds, specialty funds & asset allocation funds. Stock funds would go into the stock bucket, bond funds would go into the bond bucket and allocation funds would hit all of the buckets. The specialty bonds would be focused on the commodities and Real Estate buckets. With most mutual fund portfolios you will have different types of funds that allow you to broadly diversify your money across the multiple markets available to you.  With a mutual fund portfolio, you purchase multiple different types of funds and these funds have underlying securities that make up the value of the mutual fund. For example, if you have a large cap blend fund in your portfolio, you are investing in many different large companies like Microsoft, Coca Cola, & Google. When you invest in a bond fund, you are buying a portfolio of bonds that might include treasury bonds, municipal bonds, & corporate bonds. Within the mutual fund space you can also buy REITS which allows you to invest in real estate and you can buy commodity funds that allow you to invest in the commodities market. Exchange traded funds are similar to mutual funds but offer a lower cost since they are not professionally managed.

Fixed annuities are put together by insurance companies utilizing a portfolio of bonds. The insurance company buys bonds using your money and pays you a fixed return far below what they expect to yield on the bond portfolio. The trick is the insurance company guarantees your return while they bear the risk of the bond portfolio. In today’s market fixed annuities do not typically pay a high enough interest rate to warrant the length of time you will commit to the product. Fixed annuities are also a great way to achieve tax deferral and can be helpful in estate planning. Fixed annuities are part of the bond bucket.

Variable annuities are annuities that have an underlying portfolio typically consisting of mutual funds. The variable annuity company charges the clients for death benefits and guarantees while the client has some peace of mind with their investment. In my view, most variable annuities are too expensive and unnecessary for most clients. If a variable annuity is needed, it’s typically to help transfer a client out of an overpriced annuity that was purchased in the past. These products do offer a death benefit which guarantees a beneficiary would not receive less than a specified amount, but you pay for this feature. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve seen clients paying almost 4% per year for one of these products! In the investment industry, there is a debate going on as to whether or not a portfolio can be sustained while distributing 4% of the portfolio every year. Imagine trying to withdraw 4% and pay 4% per year…..

At Wisdom Investments, we take a managed mutual fund approach utilizing a balance of conventional and academic based investment strategies. We believe having a diversified, low-cost, & changeable portfolio is in most investors best interests.  The safest place for you to invest is the product with the risk tolerance that helps you strive towards accomplishing your goals. If you’d like to learn more about how we help you “Make Smart Decisions With Your Money”, please call us at 847-290-0753 or email me at jose@wisdominvestments.com.

Jose Cuevas
Vice President
Director of Financial Planning
www.wisdominvestments.com
847-290-0753