Most people have never heard of a SIMPLE IRA before, and are curious to know how it differs from a 401(k). A SIMPLE IRA stands for Savings Investment Match PLan for Employees.
One of the key differences of why your employer may have a SIMPLE IRA versus a 401(k), is that SIMPLE IRAs are geared for employers with less than a 100 employees. In addition to that, the administrative cost of a SIMPLE IRA for your employer is considerably much less than what a 401(k) would be. (It’s shortened to SIMPLE because it’s…..SIMPLE for small businesses.)
1. Your Employer’s Contributions Are 100% Vested
With some 401(k)s you need to have worked for the employer for a certain number of years to be vested. That means that if you were to leave that employer you could take that employer’s matching contribution. With 401(k)s, you have anywhere from three to five years to where you’re 100% vested. Anything you put in is yours, but anything which they put in may be subject to a vesting schedule. With a SIMPLE IRA, you are 100% vested whenever the employer deposits that into your account. There is no vesting schedule at all.
2. Employers Have To Match In A SIMPLE IRA
Each year, the employer is required to make a contribution to your SIMPLE IRA account whether it be in the form of a match or what’s called a non-elected contribution. Matching contribution states that the employer has to match at least what you match. So, if you’re matching 3%, the employer has to match 3% as well. Note that 3% is the most that the employer has to match, which could be considerably different than compared to a 401(k).
If the employer chooses to not do a match, then they may do what is called a non-elect contribution and what that means is that they will contribute 2% of your salary no matter what. Even if you are contributing 3% of your salary, they will only contribute the 2%.
To sum this up, the employer can choose:
* Match contributions up to 3% of salaries for any employees who choose to participate in the
* Contribute 2% of salaries for ALL employees, whether or not they participate.
The decision should be based on which option provides the most benefits and tax savings to the employer.
3. Employees Control The Investments
With most 401(k)s, you are limited to the investment options that you have. This is considerably different when compared to the SIMPLE IRA. Being a self-directed retirement plan, the SIMPLE IRA gives you the discretion of what exactly you want your money invested into. That means that if you want to buy individual stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, or CDs, you are allowed.
To keep things “simple”, it is most common to work with an established family of mutual funds which offers a wide variety of investments.
4. Employees Can Contribute 100% Of Income Into A
As of 2010, you are allowed to contribute up to $11,500 per year in a SIMPLE IRA. For those who are age 50 and older, you are allowed a catch-up contribution, which is currently $2,500, for a maximum total of $14,000 in 2010. To do this, you must have at least $14,000 in earned income. Currently, the maximum contribution for a 401(k) is $16,500 with a catch-up of $5,500 for ages 50 and up. The SIMPLE IRA is tax-deferred similar to a 401(k).
5. SIMPLE IRAs Do Not Allow Loans
A lot of 401(k)s have loan provisions that allow the employee to borrow against their money if need be. With SIMPLE IRAs, this is not the case. For employers who are weighing their options on retirement savings plans, that may be a consideration. No matter which type of plan you have - Loans are NOT advised. Money which is contributed to retirement savings is to be used for exactly that - retirement! The drawback to using a loan in a 401(k) is that when you leave the company, the loan is immediately due, and then treated as a withdrawal. The withdrawal is then counted as income, and taxed and penalized accordingly.
6. The SIMPLE IRA Two-Year Rule
This is something that should be definitely different from a traditional IRA within the SIMPLE IRA. Most retirement plans — 401(k)s, IRAs, or Roth IRAs — have the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you take money out and you are under the age of 59.5. The SIMPLE IRA goes one step further. If the SIMPLE IRA that you’ve started is less than two years old, and you cash that out, you will be subject to a 25% penalty in addition to ordinary income tax. That is a huge item to not be overlooked. Again, we do not recommend withdrawing money from a retirement savings account before retirement.
If you were attempting to roll over your SIMPLE IRA into a rollover IRA, the 25% penalty would apply as well if the SIMPLE is less than two years old. Once the two year period has passed, a SIMPLE IRA can be easily rolled over into a traditional IRA with no tax consequence. Cashing it out would then incur the same 10 % penalty and taxation as any other account.
7. Which Businesses Use SIMPLE IRAs
Any business which has less than 100 employees may consider using a SIMPLE IRA. The main benefits are:
* SIMPLE to set up and maintain.
* Variety of investment choices available.
* Employer contributions are tax-deductible.
A SIMPLE IRA may be established prior to October 1 to be recognized for that year.
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