Establishing a SIMPLE IRA plan for a company with only a few employees

Editor: Trenda B. Hackett, CPA

A SIMPLE IRA plan can be adopted by employers that maintain no other qualified retirement plans and that generally have no more than 100 employees with compensation of $5,000 or more per year. A SIMPLE IRA plan allows employees to make elective salary-deferral contributions to an individual retirement account (IRA), expressed as a percentage of compensation, up to $15,500 per year for 2023 (Secs. 408(p)(2)(A)(i), (ii), and (E); Notice 2022-55). Compensation includes amounts that must be reported by the employer on Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, plus any elective contributions from the employee. SIMPLE IRA plans may allow individuals who have attained at least age 50 by the calendar year end to make additional catch-up contributions (Sec. 414(v)(5)(A)). For 2023, the maximum allowable catch-up contribution is $3,500 (Sec. 414(v) (2)(B)(ii); Notice 2022-55).

Each employee who receives at least $5,000 in compensation from the employer during any two prior years and who is reasonably expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year must be eligible to participate in the SIMPLE IRA plan (Sec. 408(p) (4)(A)). Self-employed individuals are treated as employees for this purpose. Also, leased employees are required to be included if they meet the salary requirements (Sec. 414(n)). Each eligible employee may elect, during the 60-day period before the beginning of any year, to make elective salary-deferral contributions under the SIMPLE IRA plan for such year and to modify any previous elections (Sec. 408(p)(5)(C)). Employees must be allowed to stop making elective contributions at any time during the year. The plan may provide that employees who do so cannot resume them until the beginning of the next year.

Making mandatory employer contributions under a SIMPLE IRA

The employer is required to make payments to each employee’s SIMPLE IRA under one of the following formulas:

Matching contribution formula: The employer generally is required to match each employee’s elective contributions dollar for dollar, up to 3% of the employee’s compensation (Sec. 408(p)(2)(A)(iii)). A special rule allows the employer, in no more than two out of any five years, to elect a lower rate (but not less than 1%) for all employees. The employer must notify employees of the intended match rate within a reasonable time before the 60-day election period for the year.

Nonelective contribution formula: The employer is required to make a contribution equal to 2% of compensation on behalf of each eligible employee (regardless of the employee’s salary-deferral contribution, if any). For this purpose, compensation of each eligible employee is limited to $330,000 for 2023 (Sec. 401(a)(17); Notice 2022-55), thus limiting the contribution to $6,600 per employee ($330,000 × 2%). The employer must notify eligible employees of its intention to use this formula within a reasonable time before the 60-day election period for the year (Sec. 408(p)(2)(B)(i)).

Planning tip: In some cases, a matching contribution can be less expensive for the employer than a nonelective contribution. For example, an employer that has numerous employees who are eligible to participate in its SIMPLE IRA plan but has experienced a low participation rate in prior years will contribute less using the matching formula. If the employer’s principal goal is to maximize contributions to key employees, a matching contribution is also a better choice, regardless of participation rates by lower-paid employees, because more can be contributed to the targeted participants.

No other contributions can be made to the SIMPLE IRA plan. Employers must make their matching contributions by the due date (including extensions) of the tax return for the year to which the contributions relate.

Contributions to a SIMPLE IRA plan are deductible by the employer and excluded from the employee’s income (Secs. 402(k) and 404(m)). An employee’s elective salary-deferral contributions are wages for Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax purposes, but employer matching contributions are not. Both employee and employer contributions are fully vested when made.

Dealing with administrative requirements for SIMPLE IRAs

An employer maintaining a SIMPLE IRA plan is not required to file an annual Form 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan, with the IRS or the U.S. Department of Labor. The employer must indicate on Forms W-2 that eligible employees are participants in the plan and indicate the amount of their elective salary-deferral contributions (Sec. 408(l)(2)(A)). The employer is permitted to designate a SIMPLE IRA plan trustee who is required to (1) provide the employer with a summary description of the plan; (2) provide an account statement to each employee who has a SIMPLE IRA; and (3) file Form 5498, IRA Contribution Information, with the IRS (Secs. 408(i) and (l)(2)(B)).

An employer must notify each employee eligible to participate of the procedures for electing to participate in the plan. This notification must be made before the 60th day before the beginning of the year. An employee who first becomes eligible must be notified within a reasonable time before the 60th day before the first day the employee is eligible to participate (Sec. 401(k)(11) (B) (iii)(II)).

Employers may establish a SIMPLE IRA plan with various financial institutions, mutual fund sponsors, or insurance companies. SIMPLE IRA plans must operate on a calendar year, with a 60-day enrollment period before the beginning of the year. An existing employer may set up a SIMPLE IRA plan between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1 if it did not previously have a SIMPLE IRA plan. If the employer previously maintained a SIMPLE IRA plan, a new plan can only be effective on Jan. 1. A new employer that comes into existence after Oct. 1 of the year the SIMPLE IRA plan is established may establish a SIMPLE IRA plan as soon as administratively feasible after starting the business (Notice 98-4).

The IRS provides two model forms for employers to use to set up a SIMPLE IRA plan: Form 5304-SIMPLE, Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE) — Not for Use With a Designated Financial Institution, and Form 5305-SIMPLE, Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE) — for Use With a Designated Financial Institution. An employer should use Form 5304-SIMPLE if it allows each plan participant to select the financial institution for receiving the participant’s SIMPLE IRA plan contributions. An employer should use Form 5305-SIMPLE if it will deposit all SIMPLE IRA plan contributions at an employer-designated financial institution. The IRS provides substantial guidance for establishing a SIMPLE IRA plan in Notice 98-4 (see also webpage SIMPLE IRA Plan).

Example. Using a SIMPLE IRA plan to maximize benefits for owners: F Inc. is a calendar-year C corporation owned equally by A and B. Besides the two shareholder-employees, F has three other employees. F normally has low net earnings and is unable to pay a large amount into a retirement plan or be obligated to make a substantial contribution to the plan. The owners have considered adopting a simplified employee pension (SEP) plan, but they want to contribute a higher percentage of their own salaries than that contributed for the other three employees.

F can adopt a SIMPLE IRA plan. Under the plan, employees can elect to make salary-deferral contributions of up to $14,000 for 2022 and $15,500 for 2023 (before considering allowable catch-up contributions for employees aged 50 and over). F must either (1) match each employee’s contribution up to 3% of the employee’s compensation or (2) make a contribution equal to 2% of each eligible employee’s compensation (regardless of whether the employee made any salary-deferral contribution).

The table “SIMPLE IRA with 3% Matching Contributions” (below) shows the results if F adopts a SIMPLE IRA plan for 2022 (exclusive of catch-up contributions). It assumes the company chooses to make 3% matching contributions (which would maximize contributions for the two shareholder-employees) and that two of the three other employees contribute the amounts shown.


Under these assumptions, total retirement plan contributions going to the owners amount to $32,200 ($14,000 + $14,000 + $2,400 + $1,800). Employer contributions for the three other employees are only $2,000 (the matching contributions for C and D). If the corporation adopts a SEP with a 10% contribution rate, the total cost to the company is $23,500, with only $14,000 going to the owners and $9,500 going to the other three employees. There is a distinct advantage to adopting a SIMPLE IRA plan for a small corporation, particularly when many of the rank-and-file employees elect to make lower salary-deferral contributions than the shareholder-employees.

The primary disadvantage of a SIMPLE IRA is the lack of flexibility. If the sponsor has an especially profitable year, no more may be contributed to the plan. A plan allowing a larger contribution may not be established because a SIMPLE IRA can only be used when there are no other plans.

This case study has been adapted from Checkpoint Tax Planning and Advisory Guide’s Closely Held C Corporations topic. Published by Thomson Reuters, Carrollton, Texas, 2023 (800-431-9025;


Trenda B. Hackett, CPA, is an executive editor with Thomson Reuters Checkpoint. For more information about this column, contact

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