What Retirement Plans Can You Offer to Your Small Business Employees?

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Have you avoided retirement plans because of the large fees and time-consuming administration? If so, I’m happy to tell you that things have changed. There are more options than ever, including a plan that has no fees or record keeping requirements for employers. The DOL warns that shortly, you may no longer have a choice. Individual states are being encouraged to create retirement programs, and the plans include mandates for employers.

The focus on retirement plans might be because Social Security and small savings accounts do not provide adequate income. Retirees also need a pension or retirement plan to cover their expenses, yet 75% of workers do not have retirement savings plans.

Overview of retirement plans

Take a look at the different types of available retirement plans.

IRA (Individual Retirement Account)

An IRA is an investment with tax-free benefits and can be set up in a variety of accounts (e.g., CD, mutual fund). The earnings deposited in a traditional IRA are tax-free; deposits to a Roth IRA are made with earnings that have already been taxed. The withdrawals of principal or interest from a traditional IRA are taxed. Withdrawals of principal or interest from a Roth IRA are not taxed.

SIMPLE IRA Plans (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)

The SIMPLE IRA gives small businesses an easy way to offer their employees a retirement savings plan. You complete an IRS form, and setup can be free, depending on the institution you select.

Any advisor fees are charged to the employee, and larger contribution amounts are allowed on this type of IRA. However, there are large penalties for early withdrawal, and employers must pay a matching contribution (1-3%). Employer costs are tax deductible.

SEPs (Simplified Employee Pension)

The SEPs (Simplified Employee Pension) is another easy-to-set-up retirement plan through the IRS. However, it can be costly if you have more than a couple of employees. With SEPs, the employer makes all the contributions, which are tax deductions.

So, if your business is doing well, you can share the profits with your employees by adding to the SEPs account (which can be good motivation). It also is easy to dissolve when an employee leaves.

Solo (individual) 401(k)

The Solo 401(k) works best for a self-employed individual or very small business. There are some benefits if you want to make larger contributions, but there are penalties and requirements that can be challenging if you have a bad year. Also, there will be expenses for setup and administration; however, they are lower than the types of 401(k) plans set up for a larger workforce.

Defined benefit plans

Defined benefit plans are less common these days, but can be a good option for the self-employed or a small business with a lot of money to contribute each year. It can be combined with other plans for even greater contributions. Costs can be high, but so are the tax deductions.

When it comes to payout, there are restrictions. For example, you must offer the plan for all employees, so when someone leaves you lose part of your capital. For this reason, it is usually a sole proprietor who selects this retirement option.

Multiple Employer Plans (MEP)

Intended for small businesses, an MEP allows multiple small businesses to band together and offer a retirement plan to employees. This partnering enables the business owners to share the prohibitive costs and tedious administration of a retirement plan–making it affordable. It also helps the employer who is not knowledgeable about retirement plan options. Currently, MEPs are only allowed for trade associations and their members.

Less common retirement plans

With all the different types of investments and retirement accounts to choose from, this list could get very long and detailed. And new retirement options are cropping up all the time. In addition to the plans listed above, the IRS website also provides information about 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity plans, Designated Roth accounts, and SARSEPs.

The IRS publication Choosing a Retirement Solution for Your Small Business contains a table that compares the features of common retirement options.

Other retirement considerations

Before setting up a retirement plan, there are several considerations you should make.

Retirement options could improve employee retention

As a small business owner, your employee benefits package may not compete with those of larger businesses. Forbes (2013) reports that most large companies have retirement plans, but only 14% of small businesses with 10 or fewer employees, and 5% with up to 4 employees, offer any retirement options.

If you can offer a retirement plan to your employees, it could demonstrate that you care about their future, and encourage them to stay with you (turnover is expensive!). At a minimum, you could just share current information about retirement plans, the power of compound interest when you start saving in your 20s, etc.

Questions to ask yourself about offering retirement plans

When you look at retirement plans, you will want to consider several factors:

  • What are the contribution limits and deadlines?
  • Are contributions pre-tax or post-tax deductions from payroll?
  • What kind of tax break can your employees expect to get?
  • What fees or recordkeeping may be required for you as the employer?
  • What plans or mandates does your state currently have for employee retirement plans? (California, Illinois, Connecticut, and Oregon were the first to put plans in place.)
  • What happens to an employee’s retirement plan savings if he quits and moves on to a new employer?
  • What are the penalties if an employee withdraws their money and terminates their retirement plan? Can employees borrow funds from their retirement accounts?
  • Do you think you could offer a small percentage of matching funds to your employees’ contributions?

Retirement plan mandates

Some states have issued mandates already that require small businesses to establish retirement plans, and the state may have set up a retirement plan the employer can use. Nationally, the Social Security Administration has proposed its mandate.

According to the Social Security Administration, the proposed mandate requires two-year-old businesses (and older) with a minimum of 10 employees to automatically offer employees an IRA option, supported via payroll deductions. However, if you already have a retirement plan in place, the policy says you may be exempt.

Employee education about planning for retirement

Even your youngest, part-time, and seasonal workers need to understand the importance of planning for retirement. One of the employer mandates of the impending state programs is to educate your employees. Fortunately, there are plenty of online resources.

Resources for retirement options

You can check with your accountant or financial planner when looking for retirement options. If you prefer, you can always find up-to-date information for both you and your employees on several government websites.




Payroll deductions for employee retirement plans can be set up in your payroll software for easy computation and accurate reporting. Try Patriot’s online full-service payroll for free! Our payroll services will file and remit payroll taxes so you can focus on your business!

This article was updated from its original August 3, 2016 publication date.



Shumar, Mary. “What Retirement Plans Can You Offer to Your Small Business Employees?” Payroll, 14 July 2022, Patriot,