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Simplified Employee Pensions (SEP)

Simplified Employee Pensions (SEP)

A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA is a retirement savings plan that can be beneficial for certain individuals and businesses. However, it may not be suitable for everyone. Here's a breakdown of who a SEP is good for and who it may not be the best fit for:

Who a SEP IRA Is Good For:

  1. Small Business Owners: SEP IRAs are especially well-suited for small business owners, including sole proprietors, partnerships, and corporations, who want to provide retirement benefits to themselves and their employees without the administrative complexity of a 401(k) plan.

  2. Self-Employed Individuals: SEP IRAs are a valuable option for self-employed individuals or freelancers who have variable income. Contributions can be adjusted each year based on income levels.

  3. Small Businesses with Few Employees: SEP IRAs are ideal for businesses with few employees, particularly those with no full-time employees other than the owner(s). This allows employers to make contributions primarily for themselves.

  4. Flexible Contribution Limits: SEP IRAs offer flexible contribution limits, allowing employers to contribute up to 25% of an eligible employee's compensation or $61,000 (for 2022), whichever is less. This flexibility can be beneficial in years when the business has higher profits.

  5. Ease of Setup: Setting up a SEP IRA is relatively simple and cost-effective compared to other retirement plans. There are no annual IRS filings or complex discrimination testing.

Who a SEP IRA May Not Be Good For:

  1. Businesses with Many Employees: SEP IRAs can become less cost-effective for businesses with many employees, as contributions must be made for all eligible employees, including part-time and seasonal workers. In such cases, a 401(k) plan might offer more flexibility in excluding certain employees.

  2. Desire for Employee Salary Deferrals: SEP IRAs do not allow employees to make salary deferrals (except for SAR SEPs, which have been discontinued). If employees want the option to contribute a portion of their salary to their retirement accounts, a 401(k) or SIMPLE IRA might be more suitable.

  3. Highly Variable Income: While SEP IRAs are flexible, they may not be the best choice for individuals with highly variable income. Annual contributions must be based on compensation, and high contributions in prosperous years might not be sustainable in lean years.

Establishing a SEP Plan:

  1. Employers, including self-employed individuals, can set up a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan, primarily designed for small businesses with 100 or fewer employees.
  2. To establish a SEP plan: Execute a formal written agreement to provide benefits to all eligible employees. This can be done by adopting an IRS model SEP using Form 5305-SEP. Ensure that each eligible employee receives specific information about the SEP. c. Establish a SEP-IRA for each eligible employee.

Eligible Employees:

  1. Employers can set participation requirements for employees in the plan. Eligible employees must meet criteria no more restrictive than a. Being 21 years old or older. b. Having worked for the employer for at least three out of the last five years. c. Having received a minimum of $650 in compensation from the employer in 2022.

How Contributions Are Made:

  1. Employees cannot make contributions to a SEP-IRA (except for SAR SEPs, which were discontinued in 1997).
  2. When the employer contributes, they must follow a written allocation formula and ensure contributions are not biased in favor of highly compensated employees.
  3. Contributions are based on a percentage of each employee's compensation, and this percentage must be uniform for all employees.

Annual Contribution Limit:

  1. SEP rules allow employers to contribute a limited amount each year to each employee's SEP-IRA. Self-employed individuals can also contribute to a SEP-IRA established on their behalf.
  2. Contributions must be in the form of money (cash, check, or money order) and not property.
  3. Employer contributions to an employee's SEP-IRA cannot exceed the lower of: a. 25% of the employee's compensation. b. $61,000 for 2022.
  4. Compensation for plan allocations includes various payments such as wages, salaries, fees for professional services, and more.
  5. Self-employed individuals determine their SEP-IRA contribution indirectly, considering net earnings from self-employment and the deduction for the deductible part of self-employment tax.

Employer/Employee Contribution Limits:

  1. Employers cannot consider the portion of an employee's compensation exceeding the 2022 annual compensation limit of $305,000 when determining the contribution limit.
  2. The 2022 annual contribution limit is $61,000 for an eligible employee under §415(c)(1)(A). Contributions exceeding these limits are included in the employee's income and treated as contributions by the employee to their SEP-IRA.
  3. SEP contributions are not included in an employee's Form W-2 unless made under a salary reduction arrangement.
  4. If the employer maintains another defined contribution plan for employees, annual additions to an account are limited to the lesser of $61,000 or 100% of the participant's compensation, taking into account contributions to all defined contribution plans.


  1. A Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension (SAR SEP) is a SEP established before 1997 that includes a salary reduction arrangement.
  2. Employees under a SAR SEP can choose to have the employer contribute a portion of their pay to their SEP-IRAs instead of receiving it in cash. These contributions are elective deferrals, with taxes deferred until distribution.
Here is a general comparison (not detailed) for year 2022:

Plan TypeSEP IRASimple IRA401(k)403(b)
Employee ContributionsNoYes (Including Roth)Yes (Including Roth)Yes (Including Roth)
Employer ContributionsMandatory up to 25% or $61,000Mandatory (either 2% or 3% match)Optional up to 100%Optional up to 100%
Maximum Employer Contribution (2022)Lesser of 25% of compensation or $61,0002% or 3% of employee's salaryVaries by PlanVaries by Plan
Maximum Employee Contribution (2022)N/A$14,000 ($17,000 for 50+)$20,500 ($27,000 for 50+)$20,500 ($27,000 for 50+)
Eligibility RequirementAge 21 or older, worked for employer in 3 of last 5 years, received at least $650 in compensationGenerally $5,000 in previous 2 years, expected $5,000 in current yearVaries by PlanVaries by Plan
Administrative ComplexityLowLow to ModerateModerate to HighModerate to High
Compliance TestingNoneNoneYesYes
Employee LoansNoOptionalOptionalOptional
Compliance Testing MeaningNo requirement for nondiscrimination or top-heavy testing.No requirement for nondiscrimination or top-heavy testing.Subject to annual ADP and ACP testing.Subject to annual ADP and ACP testing.
Tax Benefit for EmployeeTax-deferred growth.Tax-deferred growth.Tax-deferred growth, potential employer match.Tax-deferred growth, potential employer match.
Tax Benefit for EmployerTax deduction for contributions.Tax deduction for contributions.Tax deduction for contributions, potential match.Tax deduction for contributions, potential match.
Penalties for Non-ComplianceEarly withdrawal penalty: Up to 25% if within the first two years of participation, 10% thereafter. May face IRS penalties for not following contribution rules.Early withdrawal penalty: Up to 25% if within the first two years of participation, 10% thereafter. May face IRS penalties for not following contribution rules.IRS penalties for non-compliance, 10% penalty on early withdrawals (before 59½).IRS penalties for non-compliance, 10% penalty on early withdrawals (before 59½).
Reporting RequirementsAnnual IRS Form 5305-SEP or IRS Form 5305A-SEP for plan establishment. No annual reporting of contributions.Annual IRS Form 5304-SIMPLE or IRS Form 5305-SIMPLE for plan establishment. Annual IRS Form 5498 for contributions.Annual IRS Form 5500 for most plans (if plan assets exceed $250,000).Annual IRS Form 5500 for most plans (if plan assets exceed $250,000).
Annual Filing FormsForm 5305-SEP or 5305A-SEPForm 5304-SIMPLE or 5305-SIMPLE, Form 5498Form 5500Form 5500