What Is a Simple IRA?

What Is a Simple IRA?

One of the benefits of being employed, even in a small company, is the chance to set up an effective retirement plan that will take care of you in your twilight years.

As a retiree, the last thing you want is to still be living from paycheck to paycheck, worrying about the bills, and not being able to do all the things you have always wanted.

By agreeing to a limited salary reduction to fund monthly SIMPLE IRA contributions towards your retirement, you can safeguard your financial future.

A SIMPLE IRA is one of the most popular ways for eligible employees and small business owners to ensure that their retirement savings plan is in good hands.

There are many key attributes of this employer-sponsored retirement plan that make it a favorable option for people in this financial demographic.

If you are considering making important decisions regarding your retirement plans, this savings incentive match plan for employees and small business owners may be a good fit for you.

Read on to find out more about SIMPLE IRAs and why they need to be a big part of your 2024 plans.

What Will I Learn?

Understanding SIMPLE IRA

When it comes to saving for your retirement, individuals opt for an IRA. There are many different options to consider, which can lead to some confusion regarding the best one for your needs. You will often hear talk of traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, mutual funds, stocks, and EFTs.

However, for most employees and small business owners, the best decision they can make is to establish a SIMPLE IRA retirement plan.

Consider the following regarding a SIMPLE IRA:

Definition and Purpose of a SIMPLE IRA

A Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE IRA) can be described as a tax-deferred retirement plan or employer-sponsored retirement plan that relies on a combination of employer contributions and an employee salary reduction to fund the account.

simple ira is great for employees in a small size company

It is designed to benefit employees and small employers whose businesses have 100 or fewer employees.

In terms of rollover rules, distributions, and investment growth, SIMPLE IRAs are more similar to traditional IRAs than other types of retirement plans.

When it comes to SIMPLE IRAs, employer contributions to the plan are mandatory, and this employer match makes it a favorable option for eligible employees.

However, they will also have to contend with the absence of Roth contributions to the plan and the fact that SIMPLE IRA contributions are much less than those allowed in a 401(K).

Historical Context of SIMPLE IRA

Retirement accounts have been around for many years, and they have undergone many transformations during that period.

However, the implementation of the Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE IRA) can be traced back to the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996.

This Act allowed equal employer contributions to the plan, which was a major shift from how 401(K) plans worked.

The same Act also significantly increases spousal IRA contribution limits from $250 to $2,000 (a limit that has continued to increase over the years).

In light of these and other benefits of this employer-sponsored retirement plan, a 2021 report by the Investment Company Institute indicated that at least 37% of all American households have some kind of IRA account. A huge portion of these rely on SIMPLE IRA contributions for their retirement plans.

Eligibility for a SIMPLE IRA

Only eligible employees can contribute towards their retirement plan using a SIMPLE IRA. It is important to carefully consider the eligibility requirements before you decide to set up a SIMPLE IRA account.

In that regard, these are the important SIMPLE IRA rules on eligibility:

  • A SIMPLE IRA has no age restrictions, meaning any eligible employees can contribute.
  • Eligible employees need to have earned at least $5,000 in compensation in the two preceding calendar years and expect to earn another $5,000 in the current year.
  • The employer must have 100 or fewer employees to be eligible for a SIMPLE IRA.
  • While making SIMPLE IRA contributions, small employers are not allowed to have any other type of employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Key Features and Characteristics of a SIMPLE IRA

Understanding the features and characteristics of a SIMPLE IRA is important when choosing the best retirement plan for your needs.

In that regard, one of the attributes you need to know is that both employer and employee can make contributions towards the retirement plan.

These employee and employer contributions are tax-deferred, meaning you will not be asked to pay taxes until a withdrawal occurs.

As such, you can allow your investment growth to happen without worry and only pay income taxes when you finally decide to take out the money. These distributions will be possible after the age of 59 ½.

Any matching contributions made by the employer will immediately belong to the employee, meaning they can take them whenever they decide to leave the company, regardless of how long they have worked there.

Compared to many other types of retirement plans, going for a simple salary reduction and matching employer contributions is the simplest way to set up a retirement savings account. This is another reason why SIMPLE IRAs are better suited for small businesses.

The Mechanism of a SIMPLE IRA

How does a SIMPLE IRA work and how can an eligible employee set it up? Well, SIMPLE IRA accounts are relatively easy to establish and manage.

All that is required is for eligible employees, employers, or self-employed individuals to understand the rules regarding eligibility requirements, compensation limits, and how to set up a SIMPLE IRA.

Consider the following mechanisms of a SIMPLE IRA plan:

paperwork process of simple ira

Process of Establishing a SIMPLE IRA

The first step to establishing a SIMPLE IRA is to choose the financial institution that will be responsible for holding and managing the employee’s retirement assets.

There are many such institutions available, so it is important to do your research before choosing one that best suits your needs.

Next, three simple steps will need to be followed, which are:

  • Signing a written agreement regarding the benefits that the eligible employee will get.
  • Giving all eligible employees the information they need about the agreement.
  • Taking steps to set up a SIMPLE IRA for each eligible employee.

When executing the written agreement, employers and employees can use either Form 5304-SIMPLE or Form 5305-SIMPLE.

Once the form is signed by the participating employee, employer, and designated financial institutions (if any), the SIMPLE IRA will become effective.

Participation and Qualification Criteria

To participate in a SIMPLE IRA, you need to set up the account any time between January 1 and October 1 of the current year, unless you were already participating in such a plan in the previous year.

Besides that, the SIMPLE IRA qualification goes back to the same eligibility requirements discussed earlier regarding compensation and the size of the company.

It is important to note that an employer can choose to use less restrictive rules for eligibility to benefit a larger selection of employees.

However, the employer is not allowed to exclude any participants by adopting more restrictive participation requirements than those recommended by the IRS.

An example of more lenient eligibility requirements is allowing employees who earn $3,000 in compensation to take part in a SIMPLE IRA. This minimum requirement cannot, however, be increased to any amount more than $5,000.

Some employees can be excluded from participating in a SIMPLE IRA based on other eligibility criteria. Common exceptions include:

  • Alien employees who are not residents of the US and do not have wages or other personal services compensation from the business owner.
  • Employees who are part of a union that is responsible for bargaining for their retirement plans in good faith with the employer.

Understanding Contribution Rules and Limits

In 2023, the contribution limits for employees were set at a maximum of $15,500. This means the employer contributions to the SIMPLE IRA are also limited to the same amount.

However, there is an exception in cases where the employee is over the age of 50. In such cases, a catch-up contribution of $3,500 is allowed to be added to the SIMPLE IRA contributions per calendar year.

In some cases, employees may also be taking a salary reduction to fund other retirement savings plans. This would mean they may need to make contributions that exceed the limits set for SIMPLE IRAs.

Here, the IRS allows the total employee contributions to all retirement savings plans to be increased to $22,500.

On the other hand, the employer has two options when choosing how to match employee contributions to the SIMPLE IRA.

They must inform the employees during each election period which of the following methods they will be subscribing to in the next calendar year:

  • A 3% matching contribution that allows a dollar-for-dollar match plan for employees’ elective deferrals not exceeding 3% of the annual compensation.
  • A 2% non-elective contribution that takes into account the annual compensation regardless of whether the employee deferred or not.

Employees have the power to terminate their salary reduction at any time. However, if they do so, they should note that it may not be possible to resume these contributions until the following calendar year.

All the contribution limits stated above were effective for the 2023 calendar year. The IRS may choose to adjust these limits for 2024, which is something you will have to keep an eye out for when contributing to your SIMPLE IRA plan.

Stock Funds

Operation, Maintenance, and Annual Review of a SIMPLE IRA

With the right financial institution managing the SIMPLE IRA, participants do not have to spend any time worrying about employee and employer contributions.

This is a very easy retirement plan to manage which can be made even simpler by using the automatic enrolment feature.

Here, the salary reduction percentage is automatic unless the employee chooses not to make contributions or to contribute a different amount.

Alternatively, employees can choose to adjust their contribution limits during each election period depending on various factors, such as their goals and financial situation.

All SIMPLE IRA contributions are deposited to the financial institution that maintains the retirement plan. Participants can move their SIMPLE IRA retirement funds from one financial institution to another at any time.

Once deposited, the financial institution can invest the assets in mutual funds, stocks, or any other forms of investments as long as the employee is aware and has agreed to make these investment decisions.

The IRS requires all salary reduction contributions to be made within 30 days from the end of the month in which the employee received their compensation.

The employer matching contributions must be made by the due date for filing their income taxes each year.

Once both sets of contributions have been made, the assets will belong to the employee. An annual review of the contribution limits is possible if the employee wishes to contribute a different amount as long as it does not exceed the contribution limits set by the SIMPLE IRA rules and regulations.

Retirement Plans: A Comparative Analysis

A SIMPLE IRA is but one of many possible retirement plans that employees can contribute to.

While it is very popular among employees of small businesses and self-employed individuals, you may also want to consider other retirement savings plans that may be better suited to your goals and financial situations.

Besides a SIMPLE IRA, other retirement savings plans that are popular are the 401(K), traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP IRA accounts.

The following is a brief look at how they compare to SIMPLE IRA retirement plans:

SIMPLE IRA vs. Traditional IRA: A Comparison

Even though there are a few differences between the two, a traditional IRA account has a lot of similarities with a SIMPLE IRA.

In both cases, the contributions are tax-deferred, which is a good thing in terms of not having to worry about paying taxes each time you contribute. All income taxes will be payable when the employee makes withdrawals from the account.

Also, the minimum age for making distributions from either a SIMPLE IRA or traditional IRA is 59 ½. Withdrawals made before that age may result in incurring severe penalties.

However, unlike traditional IRAs which are set up by an individual, it is the small business owner who is responsible for setting up a SIMPLE IRA.

Also, the SIMPLE IRA will benefit from contributions from both the eligible employee and their employer. This allows it to grow faster than traditional IRAs which rely solely on employee contributions.

employer benefits of simple ira

Evaluating SIMPLE IRA and 401(k)

A SIMPLE IRA is also very similar to a 401(K) in many ways, especially considering how, in each case, the employee can determine how much of a salary reduction they want to contribute towards their retirement plan.

However, the biggest difference between these two is regarding the contribution limits for each retirement plan.

As mentioned earlier, the contribution limits for a SIMPLE IRA in 2023 were $15,500 per calendar year. If you choose a 401(K) plan, on the other hand, the contribution limits increase to $22,500.

Considering that this is also an employer-sponsored retirement plan in which the employer can match the employee contributions, a 401(K) can allow much faster growth of your retirement savings account compared to a SIMPLE IRA.

However, not many employees of small businesses will be able to contribute so much towards their retirement each year, which is why many of them will opt for a SIMPLE IRA rather than a 401(K).

SIMPLE IRA vs. Roth IRA: Key Differences

A SIMPLE IRA is a tax-deferred retirement plan that allows you to make contributions without paying any taxes.

Roth contributions, however, are taxed. Individuals can make these contributions and look forward to tax-free earnings and withdrawals.

In terms of eligibility, Roth contributions are reserved for individuals who meet the required income threshold, while a SIMPLE IRA can be used by any employee earning at least $5,000 in a business with 100 or fewer employees.

Roth contributions in 2023 were limited to just $6,500 (with additional contributions of $1,000 allowed for individuals aged 50 and older). This is much less than the $15,500 limit allowed for SIMPLE IRA contributions.

Both Roth and SIMPLE IRA contributions can be invested in a wide range of mutual funds, stocks, bonds, and ETFs.

SIMPLE IRA and SEP IRA: A Comparative Study

A SIMPLE IRA is a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees while a SEP IRA is a Simplified Employee Pension. The major difference between the two is that while both employer and employee contributions are allowed in a SIMPLE IRA, only employer contributions can be added to a SEP IRA.

The SEP IRA is more beneficial to the employer because it allows them to easily adjust the annual contribution limits according to the cash flow the business is enjoying. This is not possible with a SIMPLE IRA where the business owner is forced to match employee contributions regardless of business performance.

In terms of 2023 contribution limits for SEP IRAs, the employer contributions must not exceed 25% of the annual compensation limit or $66,000, whichever is smaller.

Assets in both SIMPLE IRAs and SEP IRAs can be reinvested in stocks, bonds, ETFs, or mutual funds. The decision is usually based on the age of the participant, risk tolerance, and their financial goals.

There are a few downsides to setting up a SEP IRA account such as:

  • No Roth version for SEP IRAs that will allow individuals to enjoy tax-free distributions.
  • Some businesses may not be eligible for SEP IRA accounts.
  • No catch-up contribution for those older than 50 years.

Advantages of a SIMPLE IRA

With so many types of retirement accounts that you can open, what makes a SIMPLE IRA the stand-out pick? Well, if you choose to go this route for your retirement savings plan, a SIMPLE IRA will allow you to enjoy the following benefits:

Employer Benefits of a SIMPLE IRA

The biggest advantage of having a SIMPLE IRA instead of, say, a 401(K) is that the operating costs and start-up expenses are usually a lot cheaper than the latter. This is something that will appeal to small businesses that are still trying to make their mark and only have a few employees on their payroll.

When employers provide a SIMPLE IRA for their employees, they are also rewarded with a tax deduction that can go a long way in cushioning their finances when trying to make the business profitable.

Being able to offer a SIMPLE IRA to employees is also a big advantage when trying to compete for the best human resources in the market. Without such incentives, small businesses would regularly miss out on the best job candidates who would prefer joining larger companies that offer retirement plans such as 401(K)s.

employees become immediate owners of simple iras

Employee Advantages of a SIMPLE IRA

The way a SIMPLE IRA is structured makes it a lot more beneficial to the employee rather than the business owner.

The eligibility requirements are very low, meaning most employees would be able to set up a SIMPLE IRA just a couple of years after they start working. If they are lucky enough to work for business owners who are willing to offer better terms, they may even be eligible for a SIMPLE IRA even if they do not earn $5,000 per year.

Another important point to remember is that all employer contributions to a SIMPLE IRA will vest immediately and become the assets of the employee. This means even if the employee changes jobs soon after getting their contributions, they will be able to walk away with the full amount in their SIMPLE IRA.

In cases where the employee feels that the contribution limits for their SIMPLE IRA are not enough for their long-term goals, they are allowed to make contributions to other retirement savings plans at the same time. The only rule is that the total contribution limits must not exceed $22,500.

The employee can also have a larger pool of investment choices compared to what they would have when using a 401(K). This means they can boost their investment growth by transferring their assets to mutual funds, stocks, bonds, and EFTs. However, this depends on the financial institution that they choose for their SIMPLE IRA.

tax implications in a gold individual retirement account

Financial Advisor Perspective on SIMPLE IRA Benefits

When choosing a retirement plan, it is always a good idea to seek advice from an experienced financial planner. If the financial institution that is managing your SIMPLE IRA does not provide this, you can seek it elsewhere.

However, many advisors will be quick to highlight the benefits of having a SIMPLE IRA, especially for employees who are just starting at small companies. The simplicity and tax benefits that are offered by SIMPLE IRA accounts make this the better choice from a financial advisor’s perspective.

As the business grows and the employee progresses in their career, they can always switch to a more robust savings plan or make contributions to other workplace retirement plans. The fact that all contributions made to a SIMPLE IRA are vested immediately makes such choices much easier.

Limitations and Challenges of SIMPLE IRA Plans

As with all types of retirement plans, a SIMPLE IRA has its limitations and challenges that you need to understand before you start making contributions. It is a retirement plan that is under the control of the IRS, meaning any missteps can result in severe penalties.

However, with a reliable financial institution managing the portfolio, SIMPLE IRAs do not usually provide many complications. Consider the following:

Understanding Contribution Limits

The one thing you have to be careful about is understanding the contribution limits of SIMPLE IRAs. This is a fixed amount that you are not allowed to exceed at any cost. It also changes annually, so you need to keep a look out for the latest contribution limits for the current year.

Contribution limits can usually become complicated if you are also contributing a part of your salary to other workplace retirement plans. This will make it difficult to determine just how much you are not allowed to exceed. A good financial advisor will be able to help you avoid breaching the contribution limit for your SIMPLE IRA account.

Withdrawal Rules and Associated Penalties

The most important rule regarding SIMPLE IRA withdrawals is that you have to wait until at least age 59½ before you consider withdrawing any funds from the account. If you do this, you will only have to pay the required income taxes on your withdrawals without incurring any penalties.

However, if, for any reason, you decide to make distributions before you reach the age of 59½, you may be slapped with additional taxes of 10% or even 25%.

A 10% tax penalty is applicable for any withdrawals you make before reaching the required age of retirement. If you take out any funds from your SIMPLE IRA within two years of joining the retirement plan, you will be penalized anywhere between 10% and 25% of your withdrawals.

However, certain exceptions do exist that may allow you to breach the SIMPLE IRA withdrawal rules without being penalized, such as:

  • Withdrawals made as a result of an IRS levy.
  • If a disabled account holder makes withdrawals.
  • Withdrawals made by the beneficiary of a deceased SIMPLE IRA holder.
  • Any withdrawals that are in the form of annuities or qualify as reservist distributions.
  • Withdrawals that are less than the cost of medical insurance for unemployed individuals.

Employer Contributions, Responsibilities, and Obligations

The greater part of the responsibility for setting up a SIMPLE IRA falls on the shoulders of the business owner. This is because, unlike other retirement plans, only an employer can create a SIMPLE IRA account for their employee.

As such, the only obligation that employees have is to sign the SIMPLE IRA documentation that confirms the contribution limit they will be offering each year. The employer will then be responsible for making the necessary salary reduction and matching contributions made by their worker.

In terms of obligations, the rules of SIMPLE IRAs state that employer contributions must match those made by the employee as long as they do not exceed the current year’s contribution limit. The employer is also responsible for making sure that the employee contributions are added within 30 days from the end of the month in which the employee was compensated.

Gold ETF for individual retirement account

Investment Options and Limitations in a SIMPLE IRA

The biggest limitation of SIMPLE IRAs when it comes to investment growth has to do with the financial institution that the employer/employee chooses. If the institution can offer a wide range of mutual funds, stocks, ETFs, and bonds for the employee to consider, a SIMPLE IRA account can grow significantly over a certain period.

As long as you make the right investment choices, your only limitations will be the contribution limit that is set for SIMPLE IRAs. This will prevent you from investing more than the required $15,500 unless you make contributions to other workplace retirement plans using the same financial institution.

When deciding how much to re-invest in other assets, such as mutual funds, it is best to carefully consider your age, risk tolerance, and overall investment objectives so that you can make the best decision for your current situation.

Tax Implications of a SIMPLE IRA

The following are some of the implications you have to remember when it comes to how you will pay income taxes on your SIMPLE IRA:

Exploring Tax Deferral Benefits

To fully understand the tax benefits of this type of retirement plan, you will have to go back to the question “What is a SIMPLE IRA?” It is a tax-deferred retirement savings plan that allows you to make contributions without worrying about income taxes.

Contributions will be made from the eligible employee’s compensation up to the annual compensation limit for many years until the employee reaches the age of retirement.

Tax Consequences of Withdrawals

As mentioned earlier, there are penalties for making withdrawals before the age of 59½. If you withdraw your funds before this age, you may face up to 10% in penalties unless you fall under one of the exceptions that apply to SIMPLE IRAs.

Tax Deduction Benefits of SIMPLE IRA

The employer has a chance of enjoying tax deductions if they provide benefits such as SIMPLE IRAs for their employees. This incentive will encourage more small employers to offer good retirement packages to their employees even if they only have less than 100 workers at a time.

Terminating a SIMPLE IRA Plan

An employee has the option of terminating their SIMPLE IRA contributions at any time. However, this needs to be done in the right way to avoid future complications when managing other retirement accounts.

Steps to Terminate a SIMPLE IRA Plan

The good news is that terminating your SIMPLE IRA is a simple two-step process that requires:

  1. Notifying the financial institution of your intention to cease further contributions the following calendar year period.
  2. Notifying your employer that the SIMPLE IRA plan will be discontinued.

Implications and Consequences of Terminating a SIMPLE IRA

One thing that you must be aware of is that if your SIMPLE IRA retirement accounts are terminated you may not be able to reopen it again until the following calendar year. This may cause you to miss out on many months of contributions towards your retirement if you are not careful.

Also, if your money has been sitting in your SIMPLE IRA for two or more years, a 10% tax penalty may be applicable. This penalty may rise to 25% if the SIMPLE IRA was active for less than two years.

Navigating SIMPLE IRA: From IRS Perspective

The IRS closely monitors all activities related to retirement accounts such as SIMPLE IRAs. As such, you need to understand how best to navigate its rules and regulations to avoid any unnecessary penalties.

IRS Guidelines for SIMPLE IRA

The IRS guidelines state that:

  • A SIMPLE IRA has no age restrictions.
  • The employer must have 100 or fewer employees to be eligible for a SIMPLE IRA.
  • Eligible employees need to have earned at least $5,000 in compensation in the two preceding calendar years and expect to earn another $5,000 in the current year.
  • Small employers are not allowed to have any other type of employer-sponsored retirement plan if they opt for a SIMPLE IRA.

IRS rules and regulations for individual retirement account

IRS Role in Regulating SIMPLE IRA

The role of the IRS when it comes to SIMPLE IRAs is mainly to ensure that the contribution limits for each calendar year are published and adhered to by all participants. It also monitors all distributions to ensure that no account holders make withdrawals before they reach the required age of retirement.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Contribution Limits for a SIMPLE IRA?

In 2023, the contribution limits for employees were set at a maximum of $15,500, with the employer being obligated to contribute the same amount.

In cases where the employee is over the age of 50, a catch-up contribution of $3,500 can be added to the SIMPLE IRA contributions per calendar year.

How Does a SIMPLE IRA Differ From a Traditional IRA or a 401(K)?

A SIMPLE IRA differs from traditional IRAs in that both the employee and employer will make contributions to the SIMPLE IRA whereas only the individual will contribute towards a traditional IRA. The employer is also responsible for setting up a SIMPLE IRA but anyone can set up a traditional IRA if they wish.

With regards to a 401(K), it differs from a SIMPLE IRA in terms of contribution limits for 2023. A 401(K) can allow up to $22,5000 to be contributed by the employees, whereas only $15,500 is allowed for a SIMPLE IRA.

What Are the Tax Benefits of a SIMPLE IRA?

A SIMPLE IRA is a tax-deferred retirement savings plan. This means its benefits include not being required to pay any taxes on the account until the holder decides to make withdrawals. The employer will also enjoy tax deductions if they provide benefits to their employees by opening SIMPLE IRA accounts for them.

What Are the Penalties for Early Withdrawal From a SIMPLE IRA?

Early withdrawals from SIMPLE IRA accounts carry a tax penalty of 10%. However, if these withdrawals are made before the SIMPLE IRA account has been active for at least two years, the penalty can increase to as much as 25%.

Can I Terminate or Amend My SIMPLE IRA Plan in the Middle of the Year?

Yes, the employee is allowed to terminate or amend their SIMPLE IRA at any time. However, you need to be aware of the implications of doing so, including the possibility of not being able to open another SIMPLE IRA account before the end of the current calendar year.

Conclusion: Crucial Aspects of a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees

The most important aspects of a SIMPLE IRA are the tax benefits that employees will get, the rules concerning eligibility, the contribution limits set by the IRS, and the penalties for breaching rules on contributions and distributions.

In general, if you are a small business owner or employee of a company that has 100 or fewer employees, a SIMPLE IRA can be a good fit for you. With the right financial institution managing the SIMPLE IRA account, you can start making huge strides toward achieving your retirement goals.

Arthur Karter


Hi, I’m Arthur, and nobody wants to wake up in their 50s like me that they are in serious debt with minimal assets. This wake-up call forced me to reevaluate everything. After going through the school of Hard Knocks, I’m ready to help you by sharing the best retirement choices and how they differ from all the same-old, same-old options that financial advisors sell. These alternatives will help you build and protect your wealth.

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