Sometimes it seems as though everyone has a 401(k) plan these days. Did you ever consider getting one yourself but just don’t know how they work?

Have no fear. We’re with the government and we’re here to help you.


With a 401(k) plan, employees can choose to defer some of their salary.  So instead of receiving that amount in their paycheck, the employee defers, or delays, getting that money.  In this case, their deferred money is going into a 401(k) plan sponsored by their employer (that would be you).  This deferred money generally does not get taxed by the federal government or by most state governments until it is distributed.

If you establish a 401(k) plan, you:

  • Can have other retirement plans.
  • Can be a business of any size.
  • Need to annually file a Form 5500.

You can make a 401(k) plan as simple or as complex as you want to.  A pre-approved 401(k) plan might be just the thing here if you want to cut down on administrative headaches and expenses.

Information List:

Pros and Cons:

  • Greater flexibility in contributions.
  • Employees may contribute more to this plan than under IRA plans.
  • Good plan if cash flow is an issue.
  • Optional participant loans and hardship withdrawals add flexibility for employees.
  • Administrative costs may be higher than under more basic arrangements.
  • Need to test that benefits do not discriminate in favor of the highly compensated employees. This testing can be complicated.
  • Additional withdrawal and loan flexibility adds administrative burden for the employer.

Who Contributes:  Employee salary deferrals and/or Employer contributions.  Employees are always 100% vested in their salary deferrals. Employer contributions may be vested on a graduated vesting schedule.

Contribution Limits:
Employee – $16,500 in 2010 and 2011.  If the employee is aged 50 and over, an additional “catch-up” contribution is allowed.  The additional contribution amount is $5,500 in 2010 and 2011.

Employer/Employee – The lesser of 25% of compensation or $49,000 in 2010 and 2011.

Filing Requirements:  Annual filing of Form 5500 is required.

Participant Loans:  Permitted.

In-Service Withdrawals:  Yes, but subject to possible 10% additional tax if under age 59-1/2.

Choosing a Retirement Plan: 401(k) Plan

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