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SIMPLE IRA

  • 3706. What is a SIMPLE IRA plan?

    • A SIMPLE (which stands for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) IRA plan is a simplified, tax-favored retirement plan offered by small employers that provides employees with a simplified method to contribute toward their retirement savings. Employees may choose to make salary reduction contributions (aka elective deferrals) and the employer is required to make either matching or nonelective contributions. Contributions are made to an IRA set up for each employee that meets certain vesting, participation, and administrative requirements described below.1

      A SIMPLE IRA plan may permit contributions only under a qualified salary reduction arrangement, which is defined as a written arrangement of an “eligible employer” (defined below) under which:

      (1) employees eligible to participate may elect to receive payments in cash or contribute them directly to a SIMPLE IRA per a salary deferral;

      (2) the amount to which such an election applies must be expressed as either a percentage of compensation or as a dollar amount, but in any case cannot exceed $14,000 (for 2022, up from $13,500 per year in 2020-20212 );

      (3) the employer must make matching contributions or nonelective contributions to the account according to one of the formulas described in Q 3707; and

      (4) no contributions other than those described in (1) and (3) may be made to the account.3

      Certain lower income taxpayers may be eligible to claim the saver’s credit for elective deferrals to a SIMPLE IRA (Q 3648).

      Elective Deferral and Catch-up Contributions

      The amount contributed via an elective deferral cannot exceed $14,000 for 2022.4 A SIMPLE IRA plan, however, may permit catch-up contributions by participants who reach age 50 (or over) by the end of the plan year.5 The limit on catch-up contributions to SIMPLE IRAs is the lesser of (a) a specified dollar limit, or (b) the excess (if any) of the participant’s compensation over any other elective deferrals for the year made without regard to the catchup limits.6 The dollar limit is $3,000 in 2016-20227 (see Appendix E for earlier years).

      A SIMPLE IRA will not be treated as violating any of the applicable limitations of Section 408(p) merely on account of the making of (or right to make) catch-up contributions, provided a universal availability requirement is met.8 See Q 3771 for details on the requirements for catch-up contributions.

      Elective contribution amounts made under a SIMPLE IRA plan are counted in the overall limit ($20,500 in 2022, $19,500 in 2020-2021, and $19,000 in 2019) on elective deferrals by any individual.9 See Q 3760 for the definition of “elective deferral.” Thus, for example, an individual under age 50 who defers the maximum of $13,500 to a SIMPLE IRA of one employer and participates in a 401(k) plan of another employer would be limited to an elective deferral of $6,500 in 2022 ($20,500 – $14,000) to the 401(k) plan.10 Catch-up contributions are not subject to the limits of IRC Section 402(g) and do not reduce an individual’s otherwise applicable deferral limit under any other plan.11

      Definitions

      An arrangement will not be treated as a qualified salary reduction arrangement if the employer, or a predecessor employer, maintained another qualified plan (including a 403(a) annuity, a 403(b) tax sheltered annuity, a SEP, or a governmental plan other than an IRC Section 457 plan) under which contributions were made or benefits accrued for service during any year in which the SIMPLE IRA plan was in effect. But if only employees other than those covered under a collectively bargained agreement are eligible to participate in the SIMPLE IRA plan, this rule will be applied without regard to a collectively bargained plan.12 Also, for purposes of this rule, transfers, rollovers, or forfeitures are disregarded except to the extent that forfeitures replace otherwise required contributions.13

      Only an eligible employer may adopt a SIMPLE IRA plan. An “eligible employer” is defined as an employer who employed no more than 100 employees earning at least $5,000 from the employer during the preceding year.14 For purposes of this limitation, all employees employed at any time during the calendar year are taken into account, even those who are excludable or are ineligible to participate. Furthermore, certain self-employed individuals who receive earned income from the employer during the year must be counted for purposes of the 100-employee limitation.15 An employer who maintains a plan in which only collectively bargained employees may participate is not precluded from offering a SIMPLE IRA to its noncollectively bargained employees.16

      Generally, an eligible employer who ceases to be eligible after having established and maintained a SIMPLE IRA plan for at least one year will, nonetheless, continue to be treated as eligible for the following two years.17 But special rules apply where a failure to remain eligible (or to meet any other requirement of IRC Section 408(p)) was due to an acquisition, disposition, or similar transaction involving another eligible employer.18

      Compensation, for purposes of most of the SIMPLE IRA provisions, includes wages (as defined for income tax withholding purposes), elective contributions made under a SIMPLE IRA plan, and elective deferrals, including compensation deferred under an IRC Section 457 plan.19 A self-employed individual who is treated as an employee may be a participant in a SIMPLE IRA plan; for this purpose, “compensation” means net earnings from self-employment, prior to subtracting the SIMPLE IRA plan contribution.20 An employee’s elective deferrals under a 401(k) plan, a SAR-SEP, and a Section 403(b) annuity contract are also included in the meaning of compensation for purposes of the 100-employee limitation (i.e., the $5,000 threshold) and the eligibility requirements.21


      1. IRC Sec. 408(p)(1); Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269; General Explanation of Tax Legislation Enacted in the 104th Congress (JCT-12-96), p. 140 (the “1996 Blue Book”).

      2. Notice 2019-59, Notice 2020-79, Notice 2021-61.

      3. IRC Sec. 408(p)(2); Notice 98-4; IR-2011-103, IR-2013-86, IR-2014-99, IR-2015-118.

      4. IRC Secs. 408(p)(2)(A)(ii), 408(p)(2)(E); Notice 2021-61.

      5. See IRC Sec. 414(v).

      6. IRC Sec. 414(v)(2)(A).

      7. IR-2015-118, Notice 2016-62, Notice 2017-64, Notice 2018-83, Notice 2019-59, Notice 2020-79, Notice 2021-61.

      8. IRC Sec. 414(v)(3); see Prop. Treas. Reg. §1.414(v)-1(d).

      9. IRC Sec. 402(g)(3)(D); Notice 2018-83, Notice 2019-59, Notice 2020-79, Notice 2021-61.

      10. Notice 2021-61.

      11. IRC Sec. 414(v)(3)(A).

      12. IRC Sec. 408(p)(2)(D).

      13. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

      14. IRC Sec. 408(p)(2)(C)(i).

      15. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

      16. IRC Sec. 408(p)(2)(D)(i).

      17. IRC Sec. 408(p)(2)(C)(i)(II).

      18. See IRC Sec. 408(p)(10).

      19. IRC Sec. 408(p)(6)(A).

      20. IRC Sec. 408(p)(6)(A)(ii).

      21. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

  • 3707. What requirements apply to employer contributions to a SIMPLE IRA plan?

    • An employer who has set up a SIMPLE IRA must make either a matching contribution or a nonelective contribution each year on behalf of all participating employees.

      Matching contribution: Under this option, the employer is generally required to match employee contributions dollar-for-dollar up to 3 percent of the employee’s compensation.1 (Matching of catch-up contributions is not required.2) The employer may elect to reduce the matching percentage in a calendar year for all eligible employees, but such reduced percentage cannot be below 1 percent. To get the lower percentage, the employer must notify the employees of the election within a reasonable period of time before the 60-day election period for electing to participate in the plan.3 Also, the employer may not use the lower percentage if the election would result in the percentage being lower than 3 percent in more than two out of the five years ending with the current year. If the employer (or a predecessor employer) has maintained the plan for less than five years, the employer will be treated as if the percentage was 3 percent in the prior years during which the arrangement was not in effect.4 Also, if the employer made nonelective contributions for a year (instead of matching contributions) under the formula described below, it will be treated as having a percentage of 3 percent in that year.5

      The compensation limits under IRC Section 401(a)(17) do not apply for purposes of the matching formula; thus, the 3 percent match would reach the maximum employer contribution limit of $14,000 (in 2022) for an employee with compensation of $466,666 in a year.6

      A matching contribution made to a SIMPLE IRA on behalf of a self-employed individual is not treated as an elective employer contribution for purposes of the limit on such contributions.7 The purpose of this provision is to treat self-employed individuals in the same manner as employees for purposes of the limit on elective contributions.

      Nonelective contribution formula: As an alternative to making a matching contribution, an employer can make a nonelective contribution equal to 2 percent of a participating employee’s compensation. If this option is chosen, the employer must make this 2 percent contribution for all eligible employees whether or not the employee has made a contribution to the SIMPLE IRA for the calendar year.

      Compensation for the purposes of this rule is capped at the annual limit of $305,000 for 2022. The employer may, but is not required to, limit nonelective contributions to eligible employees who have at least $5,000 (or some lower amount selected by the employer) of compensation for the year.

      If the employer chooses the nonelective option, it must notify the employees within a reasonable time before the 60-day election period for electing to participate in the plan or make elective deferrals.8 The compensation limit under IRC Section 401(a)(17) does apply for purposes of this formula; thus, the maximum amount that could be contributed in nonelective contributions for an employee would be $6,100 (i.e., 2 percent of $305,000 (in 2022)).9

      A SIMPLE IRA is not subject to the nondiscrimination or top-heavy rules associated with other plans, and the reporting requirements it must meet are simplified.10


      1. IRC Sec. 408(p)(2)(A)(iii).

      2. See REG-142499-01, 66 Fed. Reg. 53555 (Oct. 23, 2001).

      3. IRC Sec. 408(p)(5)(C).

      4. IRC Sec. 408(p)(2)(C)(ii).

      5. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

      6. See Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269; IRC Sec. 401(a)(17), Notice 2021-61.

      7. IRC Sec. 408(p)(9).

      8. IRC Sec. 408(p)(2)(B).

      9. See IRC Sec. 408(p)(2)(B)(ii), Notice 2021-61.

      10. See IRC Secs. 408(p)(1), 416(g)(4), 408(l)(2).

  • 3708. Do any special rules apply to a SIMPLE IRA plan?

    • Contributions under a SIMPLE IRA plan may be made only to a SIMPLE IRA. Prior to 2016, a SIMPLE IRA could receive only contributions under a SIMPLE IRA plan and rollovers or transfers from another SIMPLE IRA account.1 However, the Protecting Americans Against Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH) eliminated this prohibition, so that a SIMPLE IRA may now accept rollover contributions from traditional IRAs, SEP-IRAs, 401(k)s, 457(b) plans and 403(b) plans so long as the SIMPLE IRA has been open for at least two years.2

      All contributions to a SIMPLE IRA account must be fully vested and may not be subject to any prohibition on withdrawals, nor conditioned on their retention in the account.3 The early distribution penalty on withdrawals, however, is increased to 25 percent during the first two years of participation (see Q 3709).4

      The participation requirements for SIMPLE IRAs state that all nonexcludable employees who received at least $5,000 in compensation from the employer during any two preceding years and are reasonably expected to receive at least $5,000 in compensation during the year must be eligible to make the cash or deferred election (if the matching formula is used) or to receive nonelective contributions (if the nonelective formula is used).5 Of course, employers are free to impose less restrictive eligibility requirements, such as a $3,000 compensation threshold, but they may not impose more restrictive ones.6 The $5,000 threshold compensation amount is not indexed for inflation. Nonresident aliens who received no U.S. income and employees subject to a collective bargaining agreement generally are excludable employees for purposes of the participation requirement.7 An employee who participates in another plan of a different employer may participate in a SIMPLE IRA plan, but will be subject to the aggregate limit of $20,500 (in 2022) on elective deferrals.8 An employer who establishes a SIMPLE IRA plan is not responsible for monitoring compliance with this limitation.9

      Tax-exempt employers and governmental entities are permitted to maintain SIMPLE IRA plans. Excludable contributions may be made to the SIMPLE IRA of employees of tax-exempt employers and governmental entities on the same basis as contributions may be made to employees of other eligible employers.10 Related employers (i.e., controlled groups, partnerships or sole proprietorships under common control, and affiliated service groups) must be treated as a single employer for purposes of the SIMPLE IRA rules, and leased employees will be treated as employed by the employer. Consequently, all employees (and leased employees) of an employer who satisfy the eligibility requirements (see below) must be permitted to participate in the SIMPLE IRA of a related employer.11

      The administrative requirements for SIMPLE IRA plans state that an employer must deposit elective employee contributions (elective deferrals) within thirty days after the last day of the month in which the amounts would otherwise be payable to the employee in cash, and that employer’s matching and nonelective contributions must be made no later than the filing date for the return for the taxable year (including extensions).12

      Planning Point: While the IRS requires elective employer contributions within thirty days after the month with respect to which the contributions are made, the Department of Labor requires that employee deferrals be made as soon as practicable after the deferral, but in no event later than fifteen days after the deferral was made. Ward Anderson, CLU, ChFC, MassMutual Financial Group, Denver, Colorado.

      Employees must have the right to terminate participation at any time during the year; but the plan may preclude the employee from resuming participation thereafter until the beginning of the next year.13

      Generally, each employee must have sixty days before the first day of any year (and sixty days before the first day the employee is eligible to participate) to elect whether to participate in the plan, or to modify his deferral amount.14 A SIMPLE IRA plan must be maintained on a calendar year basis.15 The IRS apparently has adopted a requirement that a plan be adopted not later than October 1 of the year for which the plan is established, but states that the October 1 requirement “does not apply to a new employer that comes into existence after October 1 of the year the SIMPLE IRA Plan is established if the employer establishes the SIMPLE IRA Plan as soon as administratively feasible after the employer comes into existence.”16

      See Q 3709 regarding the tax treatment of SIMPLE IRA plan contributions, distributions, and rollovers. See Q 3778 regarding SIMPLE 401(k) plans.


      1. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269, A-2.

      2. P.L. 114-113; see IRC Sec. 408(p)(1)(B).

      3. IRC Secs. 408(p)(3), 408(k)(4).

      4. IRC Sec. 72(t)(6).

      5. IRC Sec. 408(p)(4)(A).

      6. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

      7. IRC Sec. 408(p)(4)(B).

      8. Notice 2021-61.

      9. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

      10. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

      11. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

      12. IRC Secs. 408(p)(5)(A), 404(m)(2)(B).

      13. IRC Sec. 408(p)(5)(B).

      14. IRC Sec. 408(p)(5)(C).

      15. See Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

      16. See Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269, at K-1.

  • 3709. How are SIMPLE IRA plan contributions taxed?

    • There are four permissible types of contributions to a SIMPLE IRA plan:

      (1) Salary reduction contributions

      (2) Catch-up contributions

      (3) Matching contributions

      (4) Nonelective contributions1

      Salary reduction and catch-up contributions are made by the employee, and the employer is responsible for making either a matching or nonelective contribution.

      Catch-up contributions are additional elective deferrals for individuals age 50 or over, which are not subject to the general contribution ceiling of $14,000 in 2022 (Q 3706, Q 3761). All SIMPLE IRA contributions are excludable from the employee’s income, provided they meet certain design requirements set forth in the IRC.2 Moreover, certain lower income taxpayers may be eligible to claim the saver’s credit for salary reduction contributions to a SIMPLE IRA (Q 3648).

      Contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are not subject to income tax withholding, but salary reduction contributions are included in wages for purposes of the Social Security and federal unemployment taxes (i.e., FICA and FUTA). Consequently, salary deferrals are subject to FICA and FUTA withholding. It appears that “salary deferrals,” for this purpose, would include catch-up contributions.3 By contrast, matching contributions and nonelective contributions made by the employer are excluded from wages for purposes of Social Security tax and federal unemployment tax; they are not subject to FICA or FUTA withholding.4

      Employer contributions to a SIMPLE IRA generally are deductible by the employer.5 Matching and nonelective contributions can be made after the close of the tax year to which they are attributable, provided they are made before the due date for filing the employer’s federal income tax return for the taxable year (including extensions).6 Contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are not subject to the annual dollar limit for traditional or Roth IRAs.7 Nondeductible contributions are subject to a 10 percent penalty.8

      SIMPLE IRA accounts themselves are not subject to tax. The taxation of distributions from a SIMPLE IRA is the same as under a traditional IRA; thus, contributions generally are not taxable until withdrawn.9 The early distribution penalty (Q 3677) is increased to 25 percent during the first two years of participation in a SIMPLE IRA; after the two year period has elapsed, the penalty is 10 percent.10

      A SIMPLE IRA may not be designated as a Roth IRA.11


      1. See IRC Secs. 408(p)(2), 414(v).

      2. See IRC Secs. 402(k), 402(h)(1), 402(e)(3); see IRC Sec. 414(v); Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 25.

      3. See IRC Secs. 414(v)(1), 414(v)(6)(B).

      4. See IRC Secs. 3121(a), 3306(a), 3401(a)(12); Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 25.

      5. IRC Sec. 404(m)(1).

      6. IRC Sec. 404(m)(2)(B).

      7. IRC Sec. 408(p)(8).

      8. IRC Sec. 4972(d)(1)(A)(iv).

      9. IRC Secs. 402(k), 402(h)(3); General Explanation of Tax Legislation Enacted in the 104th Congress (JCT-12-96), p. 141 (the 1996 Blue Book).

      10. IRC Sec. 72(t)(6).

      11. IRC Sec. 408A(f)(1).

  • 3710. Are rollovers permitted from SIMPLE IRA plans?

    • Tax-free rollovers (Q 4008) may be made from one SIMPLE IRA to another SIMPLE IRA at any time, but a rollover from a SIMPLE IRA to a traditional IRA is permitted only in the case of distributions to which the 25 percent early distribution penalty does not apply (Q 3709).1 During the two year period that the 25 percent penalty is imposed, such a transfer would be treated as a distribution from the SIMPLE IRA and a contribution to the other IRA that does not qualify as a rollover contribution.2 To the extent that an employee is no longer participating in a SIMPLE IRA plan and two years have expired since the employee first participated in the plan, the employee may treat the SIMPLE IRA account as a traditional IRA.3


      1. IRC Sec. 408(d)(3)(G).

      2. Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 25.

      3 G eneral Explanation of Tax Legislation Enacted in the 104th Congress (JCT-12-96), p. 141 (the 1996 Blue Book).

  • 3711. What are the differences between a simplified employee pension (SEP) and a SIMPLE IRA?

    • Simplified employee pensions (SEP) and SIMPLE IRAs are both types of retirement accounts designed to help small business owners offer retirement benefits to employees (as well as to provide for themselves). Contributions to both types of accounts are (within limits) tax deductible by the employer and earnings accumulate on a tax-deferred basis, but permitted contribution levels vary based on the type of account chosen (see below). Penalties on early withdrawals also vary as discussed below.

      Both SEP IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs must meet certain vesting, participation, nondiscrimination and other administrative requirements (see Q 3701 and Q 3706).

      Generally, a SEP IRA is a traditional individual retirement account or individual retirement annuity that is adopted by a business to provide retirement benefits for the business owners and employees and may accept a higher rate of contributions than traditional IRAs.1 The SEP IRA is owned by the employee. The SEP rules permit an employer to contribute a limited amount of money each year on behalf of its employees. A self-employed individual may contribute to his or her own SEP. All contributions must be in the form of money; property cannot be contributed. Although contributions are not required every year, any contributions made by an employer in a given year must be based on a written formula and must not discriminate in favor of highly-compensated employees.

      A SIMPLE (which stands for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) IRA plan is a simplified, tax-favored retirement plan offered by small employers that provides employees with a simplified method to contribute toward their retirement savings. Employees may choose to make salary reduction contributions (aka elective deferrals) and the employer is required to make either matching or nonelective contributions.2 A SIMPLE IRA plan may permit contributions only under a qualified salary reduction arrangement (see Q 3706).

      Both SEP IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs are attractive retirement savings vehicles for small businesses, but SIMPLE IRA sponsors should keep in mind that the accounts must be funded each year (i.e., a contribution must always be made for employees who earn $5,000 or more per year, see Q 3708). SIMPLE IRAs have lower contribution limits than SEP IRAs, as discussed below.

      SEP IRAs tend to be more popular among self-employed individuals because there is no annual funding requirement. However, if a SEP IRA is funded in any year, contributions must be made to the accounts of certain employees (i.e., those who are twenty-one, have at least $600 in compensation and performed services for the employer during the year in question, see Q 3701).

      Contributions

      SEPs are treated as defined contribution plans for purposes of the overall limits on employer contributions (see Q 3868).3 For plan years beginning in 2022, the annual additions limit for defined contribution plans as a whole is the lesser of $61,0004 ($58,000 for 2021, $57,000 for 2020) or 100 percent of compensation.5 Any contribution by an employer to a SEP must be aggregated with all other employer contributions by that employer to defined contribution plans for purposes of the Section 415(c) limit on annual additions. Catch-up contributions to a SEP IRA are only permitted in grandfathered plans established prior to 1997.

      Contributions to a SIMPLE IRA cannot exceed $14,000 per year in 2022 ($13,500 per year in 2020-2021), but may provide for catch-up contributions in the amount of $3,000 per year (as indexed) for participants who have reached age 50 by the end of the plan year.6 Elective contribution amounts made under a SIMPLE IRA plan are counted in the overall limit ($20,500 in 2022) on elective deferrals by any individual.7

      Early Withdrawals

      Early withdrawals (prior to age 59½) from a SEP IRA may subject the participant to an additional 10 percent penalty tax (plus ordinary income tax). Participants in a SIMPLE IRA will be subject to a 25 percent tax on early withdrawals if the withdrawal is made within two years of participating in a SIMPLE IRA. After the two-year period has expired, a 10 percent additional penalty tax will apply to early withdrawals.8


      1. IRC Sec. 408(k).

      2. IRC Sec. 408(p)(1); Notice 98-4, 1998-1 CB 269.

      3. IRC Sec. 415(a)(2)(C).

      4. Notice 2019-59, Notice 2020-79, Notice 2021-61.

      5. IRC Sec. 415(c)(2).

      6. IRC Sec. 414(v).

      7. IRC Sec. 402(g)(3)(D); Notice 2019-59, Notice 2020-79, Notice 2021-61.

      8. IRC Sec. 72(t)(6).