It’s impossible to complete annual 401(k) plan testing accurately without a clear understanding of the plan sponsor’s ownership structure. This information is used to determine the company’s controlled or affiliated service group status as well as the Highly Compensated Employee (HCE) and key employee status of plan participants. To make these determinations properly, certain “family attribution” rules must be applied correctly. These IRS rules exist to thwart ownership structures that would otherwise permit a 401(k) plan to discriminate in favor of business owners.
The day-to-day operation of all 401(k) plans must be governed by a written plan document that meets Internal Revenue Code requirements. Occasionally, 401(k) plan documents will require an amendment to reflect law changes or employer intentions. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has strict rules for plan amendments. It’s important for employers to understand them. Otherwise, they could miss the chance to make discretionary plan changes, accidentally cut back protected benefits, or face punishment for document non-compliance.
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Safe harbor 401(k) plans are the most popular type of 401(k) used by small businesses today. Unlike a traditional 401(k) plan, they automatically pass the ADP/ACP and top heavy nondiscrimination tests when certain contribution and participant disclosure requirements are met. This trade-off is well worth the cost for many business owners, who often bear the brunt of the consequences when their 401(k) plan fails testing.
If your 401(k) provider is an insurance, mutual fund or payroll company, there is a good chance your 401(k) fees are too high. If you’re a business owner, you have the power to lower them, but you may need to switch 401(k) providers to do it. This move can seem daunting if you have never done it before.
One of my favorite Warren Buffet investing principles is “never invest in a business you cannot understand.” I think the rule of thumb is helpful in mitigating risk. If you’re a small business owner, I recommend you extend this principle to managing your 401(k) plan – never hire a 401(k) provider you cannot understand. What you don’t know about your provider can hurt plan participants and increase your fiduciary liability
To meet retirement goals as affordably as possible, 401(k) participants must do three basic things – save early and often, keep account fees to a minimum, and invest appropriately. To invest appropriately, participants must construct - and maintain – an investment portfolio that includes a diversified mix of investments based on their time horizon (time to retirement) and risk tolerance. An appropriate portfolio balances the participant’s growth potential with risk of losses. Striking this balance is important. Otherwise, a participant could miss out on returns by investing too conservatively when young or sustain unrecoverable losses by investing too aggressively when older.