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Retirement Planning:

SEP Plans and SIMPLE Plans

If you work for a small business that offers a retirement plan, your employer may offer a SEP, SIMPLE or qualified retirement plan. Small businesses are those that generally have less than 100 employees. Business owners can also participate in these plans to provide for personal retirement benefits.

These small-business retirement plans offer the same advantages of tax-deferred growth as 401(k) and other defined-contribution plans. Your contributions, or elective deferrals, are tax-deductible. Here are the basic features of each plan:

SEP plans. Employers with any number of employees can use a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan. The employer opens a SEP-IRA for each eligible employee and makes contributions to the account.

Your employer may be using a SARSEP. A SARSEP is a SEP plan set up before 1997 that includes elective contributions. SARSEPs allow you to make tax-deductible contributions to your SEP-IRA. For 2004, the most an employee can contribute in elective deferrals is the lesser amount of $13,000 or 25% of their compensation ($16,000 if age 50 or older). The employer can make matching contributions up to the lesser amount of $41,000 or 100% of the employee's compensation.

SIMPLE plans. Employers with 100 or fewer employees can use a SIMPLE plan. SIMPLEs are set up as either SIMPLE-IRA or SIMPLE 401(k) plan. With a SIMPLE-IRA, your employer opens an account for each eligible employee. For 2004, you can make up to $9,000 in elective deferrals ($10,500 if age 50 or older).

Your employer may match your contributions for up to 3% of your compensation. Alternatively, your employer may choose to make non-elective contributions equal to 2% of your compensation. Non-elective contributions are made whether or not you contribute to a SIMPLE-IRA.

Qualified plans. The smallest of small businesses, including partnerships and sole proprietorships, can use a qualified retirement plan for their owners and employees. One type of qualified plan is called a Keogh plan.

A qualified plan can be either a defined-benefit or defined-contribution plan. Defined-benefit plans pay a fixed benefit that is based on your years of service and salary history. Defined-contribution plans depend on your contributions and can be either a profit-sharing or money-purchase pension plan.

For 2004, the most an employee may receive in annual benefits with a defined-benefit plan is the lesser of $165,000 or 100% of the largest average salary that they earned over a consecutive three-year period. With a defined-contribution plan, the maximum allowable contribution is the lesser of $41,000 or 25% of compensation.

(The much-higher limit for defined-benefit plans allows employers to fund a pension that may pay benefits for the remainder of the retired employee's life.)

These are some of the basic features of the main types of small-business retirement plans. For more information, see IRS Pub. 560.

The above information is educational and should not be interpreted as financial advice. For advice that is specific to your circumstances, you should consult a financial or tax adviser.

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