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Profit sharing plans have increased tax benefits for small business owners

Posted by Jamie Downey  March 11, 2013 09:30 AM

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Small business owners have many concerns, not least of which is retirement benefits for themselves and their employees. Many employers offer a 401(k) plan to their employees to help address retirement needs. While many small business owners take advantage of the deferred compensation available to them under the 401(k) plan, there are ways to increase the benefit and value of these plans.

While employee contributions are limited to $17,500 for 2013, the annual tax deferral limit is $51,000 ($56,500 for those over age 50). The tax deferral limit is the maximum amount that can be contributed to an individuals 401(k) account in a single year, it combines both the employee’s contribution as well as the employer’s contribution. As an example, a small business owner might contribute the full $17,500 deferral available to herself in a year under the 401(k) rules. In addition, the business makes a profit sharing contribution of $33,500 to the owners account, for a maximum contribution to the business owner of $51,000. This is obviously a tidy sum to receive.

For small business owners looking to maximize their savings and minimize their taxes, utilizing a profit sharing option in a 401(k) plan can be a very good decision. Here are some of the benefits for small business owners:

- Employee contributions to the plan are not taxed by the federal and most state governments until they are distributed (usually at retirement age).

- Employer profit sharing contributions are an allowable business deduction. Contributions to the plan are not taxed until they are distributed.

- The small business owner can defer up to $51,000 to his / her 401(k) account in a single year. Significantly more than if they just maximize the $17,500 employee contribution limit.

- Flexibility – The profit sharing contribution is discretionary and can vary by year. If the business has a difficult year, the profit sharing contribution can be reduced.

- Attract employees – A well designed and funded profit sharing plan can help attract great employees.

- Administration and costs are generally low.

There are several different types of profit sharing plans. The one I see the most is called a New Comparability Plan. A new comparability plan is a profit sharing plan that divides employees into groups. A simple division between groups might be an owner group and a non-owner group. Each group receives a profit sharing contribution match based on a percentage of compensation. However, the match percentage for each group does not have to be the same. As such, profit sharing contributions can be allocated significantly in favor of the small business owner.

As an example, the non-owner group might receive a contribution based on 1.5% of their salary and the owner group might receive a contribution based on 4.5% of their salary. If there is one employee in the non-owner group and their compensation is $40,000, the company will make a profit sharing contribution of $600 to the non-owner. If the owner’s compensation is $100,000, the company makes a profit sharing contribution of $4,500. So for a total cost of $5,100,which is fully tax deductible, the owner will receive $4,500 into her account. The goal for a small business owner might be to reach the annual tax deferral limit of $51,000 in a given year. Deferring this amount of income annually will save significant tax dollars and should create significant long term wealth for the small business owners.

There are some restrictions, including discrimination testing. However, most of these restrictions can be overcome by contributing 5% to the employees’ accounts, then the small business owner should be able to defer the full $51,000 for herself. Additionally, you will need to engage someone experienced in creating these types of plans, which has an administration cost. However, for many small business owners, the tax benefits can be substantial.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Local finance professionals share insights and advice on issues such as budgeting, managing debt, and retirement planning.

About the contributors

D. Abraham Ringer is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner and a Financial Adviser with Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management in Boston. He is registered in MA, NH, NY and several other states to which his articles are directed. For more information please visit
Financial Planning Association™ of Massachusetts has 900 members who specialize in the financial planning process. Many of its members engage in philanthropic pro bono work in their communities, recommend legislation, elevate public awareness, promote financial literacy, and advocate for sound economic and tax policies.
Odysseas Papadimitriou is the founder of, a credit card and gift card marketplace, and, a personal finance site. He has more than 13 years of experience in the personal finance industry, and previously served as senior director at Capital One.

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