4030 Smith Rd., Suite 200, Cincinnati, OH 45209

What is a Safe Harbor 401(k) Plan?

Multi Picture Template-11

A 401(k) plan is a popular retirement savings vehicle, but many employers encounter challenges related to nondiscrimination testing and the administrative burdens it entails. To address these issues, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) established safe harbor 401(k) plans.

This type of plan offers advantages for both employers and employees by eliminating the need for annual testing and providing greater flexibility in contributions. In this blog post, we will explore what a safe harbor 401(k) plan is and the benefits it offers.

  • Simplified Nondiscrimination Testing: One of the main advantages is the elimination of certain nondiscrimination tests that are typically required for traditional 401(k) plans. Nondiscrimination testing ensures that plans do not disproportionately favor highly compensated employees. By adopting a safe harbor plan, employers are exempted from conducting annual tests such as the Actual Deferral Percentage (ADP) and Actual Contribution Percentage (ACP) tests. This streamlines plan administration and alleviates the burden of compliance for employers.
  • Employer Contributions: To qualify, employers must make contributions to their employees’ accounts. There are two types of safe harbor contributions: a matching contribution or a non-elective contribution. The matching contribution option entails matching 100% of the employee’s elective deferrals up to a certain percentage of their compensation (typically 3-4%). The non-elective contribution option involves contributing a fixed percentage (usually 3%) of each eligible employee’s compensation, regardless of whether the employee makes elective deferrals. These employer contributions benefit employees by boosting their retirement savings and providing additional incentives to participate in the plan.
  • Higher Employee Contribution Limits: Safe Harbor 401(k) plans allow participants to contribute more to their retirement accounts compared to traditional 401(k) plans. The contribution limits for safe harbor plans are the same as those for regular 401(k) plans, allowing employees to maximize their retirement savings potential. In 2023, the elective deferral limit for 401(k) plans is $22,500, with an additional catch-up contribution of $7,500 for participants aged 50 or older. This higher contribution limit enables employees to accelerate their retirement savings and take advantage of tax benefits.
  • Improved Employee Participation: These plans often see higher employee participation rates compared to traditional plans. By implementing safe harbor provisions, employers provide a greater sense of security and predictability for employees, making them more likely to contribute to the plan. The mandatory employer contributions and exemption from nondiscrimination testing serve as incentives, encouraging employees to participate and take advantage of the retirement savings opportunity. Increased employee participation leads to greater overall retirement preparedness among the workforce.
  • Enhanced Retirement Plan Flexibility: Safe harbor 401(k) plans offer employers greater flexibility in plan design. For instance, employers can choose to vest employer contributions immediately or implement a graded vesting schedule. This flexibility allows employers to tailor the plan to their specific needs and goals, making it more attractive to both existing and potential employees. Additionally, this type of plan can be combined with other plan features, such as profit-sharing contributions or Roth 401(k) options, to provide even more retirement savings options and customization.

A safe harbor 401(k) plan provides employers with a streamlined and less burdensome approach to retirement plan administration while offering employees valuable benefits. By eliminating nondiscrimination testing, providing mandatory employer contributions, and allowing for increased employee contribution limits, safe harbor plans enhance retirement plan participation and provide peace of mind for both employers and employees.

Employers considering a safe harbor 401(k) plan should consult with a retirement plan advisor or a qualified third-party administrator to ensure compliance with IRS regulations and make the most of this retirement plan option.


Click here to learn more.

To schedule a call to review your financial plan and investments  Click Here


This content not reviewed by FINRA

Related Posts