However, there are also some important differences. While 401(k) plans are funded with pre-tax compensation from employees (sometimes supplemented with a full or partial match by the employer), all contributions made to a SEP must come from the employer on behalf of the employees. Although a SEP is funded with after tax dollars, employer contributions are a deductible business expense.
An employer could make an annual contribution of up to the lesser of 25%1 of each employee’s compensation2 or $66,000 (whichever is less) for 2023 and $69,000 for 2024.
Here are several other key facts to know about a SEP for small business owners:
- If the employer makes contributions on their own behalf, they must also make contributions on behalf of all eligible employees.
- Employees are always 100% vested in (or, have ownership of) all SEP-IRA money.
- The employer can adjust the contribution each year as the situation warrants.
- Any employees who are at least age 21 years old and worked for you at any time in three out of the prior five years must be included in the SEP plan.
- For instance, someone who worked for you in 2020, 2021, and 2022 would be eligible for your plan, and you would be required to make a contribution for him or her for the 2023 plan year.
- If you want to stash away 15% of your compensation for yourself, you must also contribute an amount equal to 15% of that employee’s compensation to his or her SEP IRA. Although the contribution comes directly from the company rather than from the employee’s wages, the employees own and control their own accounts.
- If you are an employee with a SEP IRA account, you can:
- Keep your money in the SEP IRA
- Transfer your money to a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA (this is a taxable event), or another SEP IRA
- Roll over your money to another SEP IRA, a 401(k), a 403(b), or 457(b) account in which you participate if the receiving plan accepts rollovers.
- Participants must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) in the year they turn 73.
- Employees who take a distribution before age 59½ would be required to pay income taxes and possibly a 10% early distribution penalty. The 10% penalty may not be imposed if certain conditions apply, such as a permanent disability. The money may also be used for a down payment for first-time home buyers or to help pay your children’s higher education costs. See the full list of exceptions.
Self-employed individuals can also open a SEP plan for their retirement savings. (See: Self-employed workers can also benefit from tax-deferred retirement plans)
How to set up a SEP for your business
Establishing a SEP for your business involves maintaining a plan document. The IRS provides a prototype document called the 5305-SEP, Simplified Employee Pension. That is a matter that you may choose to handle through your tax advisor or on your own. (For more details, see IRS article How do I establish a SEP?)
Once your business has completed the required IRS form, you and your employees will be able to open SEP IRA accounts with a qualified financial institution to receive the contributions and enable participants to invest their funds. While contributions come from the employer, each employee owns and controls their own SEP-IRA account.
Thrivent Mutual Funds offers a SEP-IRA that enables you to choose from all-in-one investments or build your allocations according to your specific objectives. Whether your goal is accumulation or distribution, Thrivent Mutual Funds offers simple solutions to diversify investments based on your risk tolerance. If you are offering or part of a SEP Plan, consider opening a SEP IRA through Thrivent Mutual Funds to save for your retirement.