NDA Member Presents: Dental Office Employee, Small Business Retirement Plan Options

Most business owners share a variety of critical priorities, such as cash flow, managing taxes, attracting and rewarding valued employees, and establishing a long-term strategy to ensure their own financial security. Fortunately, small-business owners also share an option that could help address all of those goals: Sponsoring a workplace retirement plan.

Among small employers (5 to 100 workers) who decided to sponsor a plan, the strategy is generally expected to enhance the overall business, according to one major survey. In fact, the most common motivations for employers to sponsor a plan were to increase their ability to attract and retain employees, and to improve employee morale. In addition, retirement plans offer valuable tax deductions and allow for tax-deferred compounding of investment earnings.

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.


A Simplified Employee Pension plan (SEP-IRA) may be ideal for a one-person business or a business with just a few employees. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to start and administer.

The employer — not the employees — contributes to a SEP-IRA. Employees are immediately vested, and each employee decides how his or her money is to be invested.

Although there are some exceptions, in general, a SEP-IRA must cover any employee who is 21 or older, earned at least $500 from the business, and has worked there during at least three of the preceding five years. In 2012, the annual contribution limit for each employee is 25% of compensation (or, for the self-employed, net earnings) or $50,000, whichever is less.

SEP-IRAs also offer small-business owners flexibility regarding both the amount and timing of contributions. As a result, a SEP-IRA may make sense for a business with profits that tend to fluctuate from year to year.


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 $11,500 (for 2012) of annual compensation by contributing it to an IRA. In addition, employees age 50 and over may make an extra “catch-up” contribution of $2,500 for 2012. Employers are required to match deferrals, up to 3 percent of the contributing employee’s wages (or make a fixed contribution of 2 percent 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.

401(k)/Profit Sharing 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.

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.

These plans can be extremely 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.

If you don’t have any employees (or your spouse is your only employee) a 401(k) plan (an “individual 401(k)” 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 a deductible profit-sharing contribution of up to 25% of pay (to $245,000) on your own behalf in 2012, and in addition you can make deductible pre-tax contributions of up to $17,000 in 2012 (plus an additional $5,500 of pre-tax catch-up contributions if you’re age 50 or older). However, total annual additions to your account in 2012 can’t exceed $50,000 (plus any age-50 catch-up contributions).

Note: Beginning in 2006, 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 pre-tax 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.”

Note: 401(k) plans are generally established as part of a profit-sharing plan which allows employer contributions.

Cash Balance Pension Plan

By far the most sophisticated type of retirement plan, a cash balance pension plan is a type of defined benefit program. A Cash Balance Plan operates much differently than other types of retirement plans.

Most of the Cash Balance Plans are established for the primary benefit of the owners or executives of a company. Therefore, the contributions for owners and executives are typically very large with a smaller contribution provided to staff to meet IRS requirements. Contributions to the owner can exceed $100,000 per year dependent on the age of the owner(s). During the plan design, the sponsoring company selects the amount of contribution for each owner and executive, up to the maximum amount permitted by law.

These are complicated plans with higher administrative expenses. An actuary is needed to determine funding requirements each year.

Other plans

The above sections are not exhaustive, but represent the most popular plans in use today. Recent tax law changes have given 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.

Small Business Retirement Plans

  • Group 401(k) and Roth 401(k)
  • Cash Balance Pension Plan
  To view Plans at a Glance/Comparison chart, click here. (near middle of page)

Contribution Limits Up to 25% of employee pay, not to exceed $50,000 Employees: $11,500 Catch-up contributions: $2,500 Employers: 1% to 3% of employee compensation Employees: $17,000 Catch-up contributions: $5,500 Employers: discretionary Combined total not to exceed $50,000 or 100% of employee pay Depends. An actuary has to calculate. Can exceed $100,000.

Making the Right Choice

As you review these retirement plan options, keep in mind there are many points to consider. With tax rates likely to rise in 2013, now is the time to be evaluate the business’ current plan and ensure it is meeting the needs of the business owner. Other considerations include evaluating your business’s unique needs and goals, protecting your plan from creditors, and limiting your own fiduciary responsibility. For these reasons, it is generally advisable to speak with a retirement plan expert before making any decisions.

Points to Remember 

1. By sponsoring a workplace retirement plan, business owners may be able to better pursue a wide range of important goals, such as managing taxes, attracting and retaining employees, and preparing for a financially secure future.

2. The vast majority of business owners who sponsor a retirement plan believe that it has a positive effect on their ability to retain employees and on workers attitudes and performance.

3. Of the three main types of retirement plans, SEP-IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs are the least expensive and most convenient to administer. Qualified plans are more complex, but 401(k) and Roth 401(k) plans are typically the most expensive and time consuming to manage.

4. Before deciding on a plan, small-business owners should reflect on the goals they hope to achieve and their financial and managerial ability to pursue those goals in light of each plans unique requirements.

5. It is also widely recommended that business owners consult an experienced retirement plan professional in order to arrive at and implement the right decision.

Sincerely, Rick Epple, CFP®

Rick Epple, CFP®, is the founder and president of Epple Financial Advisors (EFA). We at EFA work in our client’s (including dentists) best interest to understand their unique issues and create a flexible but clear and direct road map to achieve their goals. This consists of a comprehensive and integrated wealth management plan and corresponding unbiased custom solution. Our plan will continue to guide and protect our clients in the years ahead, regardless of the changing market and economic condition.

Epple Financial Advisors, LLC

1000 Twelve Oaks Center Dr. • Wayzata, MN 55391

Phone: 952-470-5049 Email:

Originally Posted on May 1, 2012, on by


My focus as a Certified Financial Planner is to help business owners reach their personal and financial goals, and this blog will provide objective information on a wide variety of related topics, from goal setting to estate planning.

Rick Epple is a Northern Dental Alliance Member and co-founder.

Also View Rick's Video on NicheDental2000 YouTube Channel

RePosted by Dick Chwalek

Dick is a Northern Dental Member, and co-founder.

No comments:

Post a Comment