Category: Safe Harbor

Find information relating to Safe Harbor Plans and from Ubiquity Retirement + Savings. Find easy to understand rules and regulations, along with tips and advice from our team of Retirement Planning experts. Call Ubiquity today for a Free Consultation at 855.466.5825.

As a small business owner, you’re well aware of the importance of offering competitive benefits to attract and retain top talent. A compelling benefits package can often be the tipping point that convinces a candidate to join your team or an existing employee to stay. One of the most valuable assets you can offer is a robust 401(k) retirement plan. Incorporating a Safe Harbor provision into this plan can be an excellent strategy to ensure long-term financial security for both you and your employees.

Why a Safe Harbor Plan Matters

A Safe Harbor 401(k) is not just a 401(k) with another retirement plan feature. It’s a regulatory safeguard designed to ensure that your 401(k) plan is compliant with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules and regulations.

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A small business Safe Harbor plan offers multiple advantages that benefit both the employer and the employees, making it a truly win-win proposition. Here are several compelling reasons to consider adding a Safe Harbor provision to your 401(k) plan:

1. Reduce Compliance Concerns

  • Complex Regulatory Environment: Retirement plans are governed by intricate and often cumbersome laws. A lack of compliance can result in hefty penalties and administrative headaches.
  • Simplification Through Automation: With a Safe Harbor provision, your plan automatically satisfies certain IRS non-discrimination tests. This not only ensures compliance but also eliminates the need for complicated end-of-year testing, saving you both time and money.

2. Boost Employee Participation and Attract Top Talent

  • Commitment to Employee Welfare: Offering a retirement plan with a Safe Harbor provision sends a clear message that you are committed to your employees’ long-term financial health.
  • Competitive Edge: In a crowded job market, a comprehensive 401(k) plan can set your business apart, attracting more qualified and committed candidates.
  • Employer Matching: The Safe Harbor provision often includes employer matching contributions, which further amplifies the appeal of your benefits package and aids in employee retention.

3. Minimize Discrimination Testing

  • The Challenge of Traditional Plans: Conventional 401(k) plans undergo rigorous annual testing from the IRS to ensure they do not favor highly compensated employees over lower-income workers.
  • Administrative Relief: Safe Harbor plans are exempt from many of these discriminatory tests, thereby reducing the administrative burdens and complexities associated with compliance.

4. Maximize Your Own Contributions

  • Mandatory Employer Contributions: The Safe Harbor provision usually mandates that employers make contributions to their employees’ retirement accounts.
  • Tax Benefits: These mandatory contributions are tax-deductible, thereby lowering your taxable income while simultaneously investing in your employees’ futures.

5. Ease of Administration

  • Predictable Contributions: Safe Harbor plans offer a level of predictability in terms of both employer and employee contributions.
  • Reduced Complexity: This stability simplifies the administrative process, making it easier to manage the plan and reducing the likelihood of unforeseen complications.

A Strategic Choice for Business Growth

Small business owners have the advantage of being able to create a benefits package that is designed to bolster the financial security of your team. Adding a Safe Harbor provision to your 401(k) plan does more than satisfy regulatory requirements. It also serves as a testament to your commitment to your team’s financial future. Moreover, it can substantially improve your business’s competitive edge.

By embracing features like Safe Harbor, you’re not just ticking off a compliance checkbox. You’re actively contributing to employee satisfaction, reducing administrative hassle, and promoting a culture that could very well translate into business success. Remember, adding a Safe Harbor provision to your 401(k) plan isn’t a requirement. But it’s a strategic choice that offers long-lasting benefits and contributes positively to your company’s growth and reputation.


Please refer to Important Information for details.

Safe Harbor 401(k)s are a popular choice for small business owners who are looking to reward employees with higher retirement contributions, while also maximizing their own retirement funds. With mandatory employer contributions, Safe Harbor 401(k) plans exempt employers from the hassle of certain annual IRS auditing and most nondiscrimination testing. Below are our tips on how to get the most out of Safe Harbor retirement plans.

Safe Harbor 401(k) Quick Facts

  • Employees can contribute up to $22,500 of their annual salary, which can reduce their taxable income.
  • The maximum combined employer/employee contribution limit for 2023 is up to $66,000.
  • Employees age 50 and older can put in an extra $7,500 in catch-up contributions on top of the maximum limits.
  • Taxes are due when employees take the money out at retirement as early as 55 years of age.
  • Employers must contribute at least 3% of each employee’s salary or match up to 4% of contributions.
  • All employer contributions are immediately 100% vested.

How to Save the Most for Your Retirement As a Small Business Owner

There are several reasons Safe Harbor plans are excellent small business retirement plans, allowing company owners to save more for retirement:

  • No annual nondiscrimination testing: Administrative costs include statement mailing, completing IRS Form 5500, approving loans and distributions, and plan participant support. These costs can range from $750 to $3,000 a year, but tend to be on the higher side if annual nondiscrimination testing is required, too. Unlike most 401(k) administrators, Ubiquity does not charge AUM or per-person fees.
  • No corrective refunds: In a traditional 401(k), the average amount business owners and highly compensated employees contribute to the plan generally cannot exceed 2% higher than the average amount regular employees contribute.

If the 401(k) plan has low enrollment or modest participation, those with the means to fund their retirement would be unable to do so. By agreeing to contribute at least 3% to all staff members, you maximize the freedom to fund your retirement to the limit and generously reward key employees as well.

  • Lower tax burden: Contributions made to your own plan lower your personal taxable income for the year. Contributions made to your employees lower your taxable business income for the year.
  • Higher profitability: According to T. Rowe Price, companies with great 401(k) plans have 20-80% higher profits than companies with poor 401(k)s. The research suggests that well-compensated employees are more satisfied and productive. Lower turnover means lower training costs, which allows you to save more money for retirement and reinvest more into the business.

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What Safe Harbor 401(k) Formulas Are Available?

With a 3% nonelective contribution, employers simply fund each employee’s plan to the tune of 3% of the employee’s annual salary up to the maximum employer/employee limit, regardless of what the employee contributes.

Other options for a Safe Harbor 401(k) employer matching formula include:

  • Basic: A 100% match on the first 3% of employee contributions and 50% match on the next 3-5%.
  • Enhanced: A 100% match on the first 4-6% of employee contributions.

As a small business employer, any of these match formulas will satisfy the Safe Harbor requirements and allow you to contribute up to $61,000 to your own retirement fund, acting as both “employee” and “employer.”

Considering the Transition to a Safe Harbor 401(k)?

Whether you’re starting a brand-new Safe Harbor or converting an existing small business 401(k) by adding an amendment, Ubiquity can help. Our small business focus and flexible plans allow us to serve our clients at a lower cost without AUM or per-enrollee fees, which means your plan can grow without penalty. Contact us for details.


Please refer to Important Information for details.

As a small business owner, you have a lot on your plate. From being the CEO to handling HR matters and everything in-between, the last thing you need to add to your busy days is managing compliance and deadlines for a small business 401(k) plan.

Enter the Safe Harbor 401(k) plan – a solution that not only helps you and your employees lower taxable income while saving for retirement but also ensures automatic compliance with certain nondiscrimination testing requirements, creating a win-win situation for everyone involved.

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What is a Safe Harbor Plan?

Although commonly referred to as a Safe Harbor plan, it is, in fact, an optional provision added to a 401(k) plan. This provision is designed to automatically pass certain nondiscrimination testing requirements set by the IRS. The primary goal is to ensure that the plan doesn’t favor highly compensated employees when it comes to contributions and benefits.

Under a Safe Harbor provision in your small business 401(k) plan, you agree to make certain contributions on your employees’ behalf. In return, the plan is exempt from certain nondiscrimination testing, simplifying compliance and ensuring fairness in benefit distribution.

Safe Harbor Plan Design Benefits

Simplified Compliance:

The Safe Harbor plan design exempts you from performing annual nondiscrimination testing, which can be a complex and time-consuming process. By adhering to the Safe Harbor provisions, you receive clear guidelines to follow, ensuring you avoid potential penalties and regulatory challenges. This leads to a smooth and worry-free experience in managing your retirement plan.

High Contribution Limits:

One of the significant advantages of the Safe Harbor provision is the ability to contribute more towards retirement accounts. In 2023, you can contribute up to $22,500, with an additional $7,500 per year in catch-up contributions if you’re over 50.

By offering a Safe Harbor match or a non-elective contribution, your small business can motivate employees to save more for their golden years, fostering a financially secure workforce.

Increased Employee Participation:

A Safe Harbor provision demonstrates your commitment to your employees’ future financial security. When employees see that the employer is willing to make a guaranteed contribution, it encourages them to actively engage in retirement planning. This leads to a sense of loyalty and dedication among your workforce, as they feel valued and supported by the company.

Attract and Retain Top Talent:

In the competitive small business landscape, attracting and retaining talented employees is crucial for success. A Safe Harbor provision in your retirement plan can be a powerful tool for recruitment and retention, setting your business apart from others that lack robust retirement benefits. Skilled professionals value the security and growth potential offered by a safe harbor plan, making your company an attractive choice for employment.

Tax Advantages:

Contributions made by your business to a safe harbor plan are typically tax-deductible, providing a financial advantage. This deduction allows you to reduce your taxable income and retain more funds within the business. Additionally, both you and your employees can benefit from tax-deferred growth on retirement savings, allowing funds to accumulate and grow over time, maximizing the potential for long-term financial security.


By embracing a Safe Harbor plan, you can navigate the complexities of retirement planning with confidence. From simplified compliance and increased employee participation to attractive tax advantages, this plan offers numerous benefits for your small business. It enables you to provide your employees with a stable and secure retirement future while positioning your business as an appealing choice for top talent in the market. As you invest in your employees’ well-being and financial health, your business stands to prosper with a motivated, loyal, and dedicated workforce.

As a small business owner, you’re responsible for encouraging your employees to plan for their retirement. That can sound like a lot to handle, but don’t worry! With proper education and incentives, it’s easy to help your employees start saving for the future.

1. Educate Your Employees about Retirement Savings

Many employees don’t understand the benefits of saving for retirement (or the consequences of not saving). The easiest way to get your employees involved is to get them learning. We have two favorite ways to do this:

Holding Retirement Planning Workshops

Invite a financial advisor or retirement planner to speak to your small business’s employees about retirement planning, investment strategies, and the various retirement savings plans available. (We suggest doing so during work hours… and with snacks.)

Providing Resources

Another way to educate your employees about retirement savings is to provide them with accessible information like brochures, websites, FAQs, and videos. One great resource is the Ubiquity blog, which is full of easy-to-understand articles about 401(k) plans and other retirement topics. You can also give your employees access to financial calculators to help them determine how much they need to save for retirement.

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2. Offer Retirement Savings Plans

Offering a small business 401(k) plan is an effective way to encourage your employees to start saving for retirement. By offering a plan, you can provide your employees with a convenient and cost-effective way to save for retirement. There are many options and provisions you can add to a 401(k) plan.

Traditional 401(k) Plan

The classic retirement savings plan for a reason, a 401(k) plan allows your employees to contribute a portion of their salary to a tax-deferred investment account. You can set up a 401(k) plan for your employees and offer them a matching contribution to encourage them to save more.

Safe Harbor 401(k) Plan

This type of plan includes a “safe harbor” provision. It allows small business owners to avoid certain annual IRS tests. This can be a great relief.

In exchange for this, employees receive mandatory contributions to their 401(k)s from the employer. There are some more details and options to this type of plan – read more here.

3. Incentivize Retirement Saving

The best way to inspire your small business’s employees to participate in the 401(k) plan is to offer them something in return. This could be a bonus or additional incentive for those who join the plan, such as a match on their contributions or a one-time bonus.

Additionally, you could provide employees with educational materials to help them understand the benefits of the 401(k) plan, as well as regular updates on their progress and performance. By making the 401(k) plan attractive and accessible, you can inspire your employees to take control of their financial future and save for retirement.

Matching Contributions

One of the most effective ways to encourage your employees to participate in their retirement savings is to offer matching contributions. This means that you contribute a certain amount of money to your employee’s retirement accounts based on their contributions. It’s basically free money for them, but you get to claim these contributions1 as a tax deduction for your small business.

Offer Bonuses

You can also offer bonuses to employees who save a certain amount of money in their retirement accounts. This can be a one-time bonus or an ongoing incentive to encourage your employees to continue saving for retirement.



1 Ubiquity is not a registered investment advisor, and the information provided herein should not be considered legal or tax advice. We recommend consulting with your financial planner, attorney, and/or tax advisor for personalized advice. Employers with 50 or fewer employees can receive a tax credit for contributing to their employees’ retirement plans. The credit is a percentage of the amount contributed by the employer, up to a per-employee cap of $1,000. The credit percentage is reduced over five years, with 100% in the first and second years, 75% in the third year, 50% in the fourth year, and 25% in the fifth year. No credit for subsequent tax years, thereafter. 

Setting up a small business retirement plan can seem like a daunting task, but with the right guidance, it can be done efficiently and affordably. These five steps can help you establish a 401(k) plan for your small business as quickly and easily as possible (because we know you don’t have time to waste).

Step 1: Choose a Plan Provider

The first step in establishing a small business retirement plan is to choose a plan provider. We suggest working with a low-fee, transparent 401(k) provider (like Ubiquity!) to help you find the plan that’s right for your small business and your employees’ needs – especially one that charges only flat fees. This type of fee remains steady over time so you can accurately predict plan costs. Many providers charge a percentage, or assets under management (AUM) fee, which fluctuates as your balance changes. Over time, the percentage fees can erode your savings significantly.

Learn more about flat fees versus percentage fees here.

Step 2: Determine an Appropriate Plan Type

The first step in setting up a 401(k) plan for your small business is making sure the plan meets your company’s unique needs. There are several plan types to consider when picking a 401(k) plan for your small business, including:

  • Solo 401(k): A solo 401(k) plan is designed for small business owners who have no employees other than their spouse. With a solo 401(k), small business owners can make contributions as both an employer and an employee.
  • Traditional 401(k): Business owners, including those who are self-employed, can start a 401(k) plan for themselves and their employees, if applicable. A 401(k) plan enables businesses to meet retirement planning and saving goals while taking advantage of business and personal tax benefits. With a Ubiquity 401(k) plan, retirement contributions can be either pre- or post-tax (Roth), with funds being deposited directly from an employee’s paycheck each pay period. Many companies also match a part of their employees’ contributions.
  • Roth 401(k): A hybrid between a Roth IRA and a 401(k) plan, earnings on after-tax contributions grow tax-free. However, the contribution limits in a Roth 401(k) are significantly higher than a Roth IRA — $22,500 ($30,000 if age 50 or older) in 2023, compared to $6,500 for a Roth IRA (plus an additional $1,000 if age 50 or older).
  • Safe Harbor 401(k): A Safe Harbor provision is added to 401(k) plan to make it easy to avoid some of the IRS tests that traditional 401(k) plans are subject to. Safe Harbor 401(k)s are exempt from nondiscrimination testing, significantly reducing your administrative burden. Just remember that with a Safe Harbor plan, employers are required to contribute to the plan by matching a portion of their employees’ contributions or by making a fixed contribution each year.
  • New Comparability 401(k): If you want to reward or particularly motivate certain employees, a New Comparability provision can be added to a traditional 401(k) plan. It enables customized retirement plan contributions for different groups of employees. This allows you to reward select groups with higher contributions while still offering healthy employer contributions to others. Known as a qualified defined contribution plan, the profit-sharing formula works by projecting out an employee’s current contribution to a future retirement-age benefit.

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Step 3: Set Up Your Plan

After you’ve chosen a provider, it’s time to set up your plan. Work with your chosen provider to get all the provisions set up and all information uploaded properly. Make sure you have the information you’ll need, including:

  • Employee information such as dates of employment and birth, email addresses, SSNs, etc.
  • Select plan features and provisions, such as eligibility, contributions limits, and vesting schedules.
  • Decide who will be the company’s primary contact, This could be the company owner, the human resources representative, or another trustee.

Step 4: Educate Your Employees

Your employees are more likely to participate in your plan if they understand the benefits! We recommend holding informational meetings to explain the plan’s features and benefits, then providing additional resources to help your employees make informed investment decisions.

Step 5: Manage and Monitor Your Plan

A 401(k) plan for your small business isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it type of thing. You’ll need to submit your employee and employer contributions on time every time. Integrating your plan with your payroll provider is a great way to streamline this process.

It’s important to review your plan’s fees and investment options periodically and make changes annually or as your business, headcount, or finances change.

Looking for ways to attract top talent to your small business while also saving for your retirement? You’re in the right place. A popular option for accomplishing both goals is to offer your employees a 401(k) plan. Not only does it incentivize them, it also provides you with tax savings. We’re breaking down how.

Tax Advantages for Small Business Owners

Tax deductions

Small business owners who offer their employees a 401(k) plan may be eligible for a few different types of tax deductions.

First, when you open a new plan, you can qualify for up to $5,000 per year for the first three years1. Why? Because the government is very enthusiastic about supporting Americans’ retirement!

Second, if that plan has automatic enrollment, you can qualify for another $500 per year for those same three years1. If you all that all up, it’s a potential $16,500 in tax credits. You can use these credits to cover the cost of plan setup and administration.

Finally, any employer contributions you make to your employees (hint: you’re also considered an employee!) are tax-deductible2 for your business, meaning you can reduce the amount of taxable income reported on your business tax return.

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Tax deferral

Both you and your employees can benefit from the tax deferral offered by a traditional small business 401(k) plan. Employee contributions are made on a pre-tax basis, meaning they are deducted from their taxable income for the year. This can lower tax liability and increase take-home pay. Taxes on contributions are not due until the funds are withdrawn from the plan.

Tax-free growth

401(k) plan funds grow tax-free until they are withdrawn in retirement. This means that any investment gains or dividends earned on the funds are not subject to income tax, which can help the funds in the account to grow more quickly over time.

Types of small business 401(k) plans

Let’s briefly review the various types of 401(k) plans that are available to small businesses. These include:

Traditional 401(k)

This is the most common type of 401(k) plan. It allows employees to make pre-tax contributions to the plan, and employers can choose to make matching contributions. The funds in the account grow tax-free until they are withdrawn in retirement.

Safe Harbor 401(k)

Looking for a plan that makes it easier for you to pass the annual nondiscrimination tests required by the IRS? A Safe Harbor provision added to your 401(k) could be right for you. Under this plan, employers are required to make contributions to the plan on behalf of their employees, either in the form of a matching contribution or a non-elective contribution.

New Comparability 401(k)

When you add a new comparability provision to your 401(k), this give you as the business owner and your highly compensated employees the flexibility to receive higher percentages of employer profit-sharing contributions than other eligible staff. It’s a great way to reward high-performing employees.

Sole-Provider 401(k) plan

This is a plan designed for self-employed individuals and small business owners with no employees (other than a spouse working for them). It allows for higher contribution limits than traditional 401(k) plans, and can be a powerful retirement savings tool for those who qualify.



1 Eligible employers may be able to claim a tax credit of up to $5,000, for three years, for ordinary and necessary costs of starting a 401(k) plan. IRS’ qualifying factors are: 100% for those with 50 or fewer employees, 50% for those with 100 – 50 employees who received at least $5,000 in compensation from you in the preceding year, you had at least one participant who was a non-highly compensated employee (NHCE) and in the three tax years before the first year you’re eligible for the credit, your employees were substantially the same employees who received contributions or accrued benefits in another plan sponsored by you, a member of a controlled group that includes you, or a predecessor of either. Those plans with automatic enrollment can claim a tax credit of $500 per year for a 3 year taxable period.

2 This credit will generally be a percentage of the amount contributed by the employer on behalf of employees, up to a per-employee cap of $1,000. This full additional credit is limited to employers with 50 or fewer employees and phased out for employers with between 51 and 100 employees. The applicable percentage is 100 percent in the first and second years, 75 percent in the third year, 50 percent in the fourth year, 25 percent in the fifth year – and no credit for tax years thereafter.

As a small business owner, you may not be intimately familiar with the details of your 401(k) plan. That’s pretty normal, but it’s important to know what your options are, how they can help you save on taxes, and even potentially help you grow your business.

It’s smart to review your plan document annually, but more frequently if your business changes throughout the year. For example, if your business expands significantly, or if you hire a new employee who will be working part-time instead of full-time, you should revisit your eligibility and contribution requirements. You may also want to start or update employer contributions to employees’ accounts.

Why is Regularly Reviewing and Updating Your 401(k) Plan Important?

  • Changes in business size can necessitate changes to your plan. When you start out as a one-person shop, it makes sense for your retirement savings account to be a solo 401(k) plan such as a Ubiquity Single(k)®. But as your company grows and hires more employees, you may find that you need to upgrade to a plan that covers all your employees, such as a Ubiquity Custom(k)®. To ensure that your plan passes most mandatory IRS testing, consider adding a Safe Harbor provision to your existing 401(k) plan. This enables your company to actually bypass certain compliance tests because you’re required to make minimum contributions to all employees at a pre-approved rate to ensure all employees are being treated fairly.
  • Regulations change. Keeping up with these changes is crucial if you want to avoid penalties or fines from the government. And don’t forget that sometimes these changes are to your benefit! For example, annual contribution limits rise, meaning that you and your employees can all put more money in your 401(k)s each year. For 2023, anyone under age 50 can save up to $22,500, and those age 50 and older can save up to $30,000.
  • Improve your own retirement readiness. By regularly reviewing and updating your 401(k) plan, you’ll be able to ensure that you and all of your employees are saving for retirement on schedule. Are you taking advantage of all the tax savings opportunities your plan provides? Are you maxing out your contributions to your own retirement?
  • Increase employee satisfaction. Employees who feel valued by their employers are more likely to stay with them longer than those who don’t feel valued, which means regular reviews and updated benefits could help keep turnover low.
  • Improve employee participation. The more employees participate in their own 401(k)s, the better set up they will be in the future.

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How many employees do you have?
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How to Review Your 401(k) Plan

There are several steps you can take to help your employees get the most out of their retirement plans.

First and foremost, review the plan documents for accuracy and completeness. Make sure that all information in the document and with your provider are is current and accurate, including:

  • Name and address of your company.
  • Designated plan sponsor, trustee(s), and financial advisor, if applicable.
  • Designated investment options available within the plan.

The plan should:

  • Cover the appropriate employees.
  • Provide employees required disclosures.
  • Deposit employee deferrals on time.
  • Make employer contributions on time.
  • Follow the terms of the plan document.
  • Limit employee deferrals and employer contributions to the proper maximum limits.

Reviewing your small business 401(k) plan doesn’t just mean looking at it and then forgetting about it again. It means making sure that any necessary updates are made as soon as possible so that no one gets left out or misses out on benefits they could otherwise receive from participating in the program – including you.


Ubiquity is not a registered investment advisor and no portion of the material herein should be construed as legal or tax advice. Please consult with your financial planner, attorney and/or tax advisor for advice.

Stay Ahead of 401(k) Plan Compliance Changes

Karen Benewith, QKA, QPFC, AIF® / 7 Apr 2023 / 401(k) Plan Information, Safe Harbor

Keeping up with your small business 401(k) can seem a daunting task–and that’s before you factor in any regulatory changes. But paying close attention to your small business’s 401(k) plan compliance is imperative because you have a legal obligation to ensure your 401(k) plans comply with all relevant regulations.

Failure to comply can result in hefty fines. Noncompliance can also harm the reputation of your business and erode trust among employees. But don’t worry – we make it easy to stay on top of the ever-changing regulatory landscape.

Common 401(k) Plan Compliance Issues

There are several common compliance issues that small business owners should be aware of, including:

  • Failure to deposit employee contributions on time
  • Exceeding contribution limits
  • Discrimination in favor of highly compensated employees
  • Inaccurate plan documentation
  • New legislation mandating certain provisions, such as automatic enrollment
  • Updated contribution limits

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Stay Compliant with 401(k) Plan Regulations

To start, sit down with a compliance calendar and map out all the deadlines you need to meet this year to keep your 401(k) plan in compliance.

The 800 pound gorilla to pay attention to is end-of-year IRS testing. Every plan sponsor must pass these tests to ensure your plan treats all employees fairly.

Called nondiscrimination tests, they are designed to determine if highly compensated employees are able to save money for retirement at a rate that is disproportionately favorable compared to the rate at which rank-and-file employees can save.

Small business owners can stay compliant with 401(k) nondiscrimination testing rules by:

  • Understanding what a highly compensated employee is.
  • Encouraging rank-and-file employee participation.
  • Designing a plan with employer contributions that automatically passes IRS testing by choosing a Safe Harbor plan.
  • Keeping up with annual IRS changes.

If you’re running a small business, working with an experienced retirement plan administrator for your 401(k) planning needs is another great way to set your plan up for success.

Consider Outsourcing 401(k) Plan Administration

One way for small businesses to stay compliant with 401(k) plan regulations is to outsource plan administration to a reputable provider (hi, we’re Ubiquity). Some of the benefits of outsourcing include:

  • Expertise: We have a team of small business 401(k) experts who know the ins and outs of 401(k) plan regulations and can help ensure that plans remain in compliance.
  • Time savings: Plan administration can be time-consuming, particularly for small businesses with limited resources.
  • Reduced risk: By outsourcing plan administration, you can reduce your risk of noncompliance and the associated fines and other unpleasant consequences.

These issues can be challenging for small business owners to navigate, particularly if you do not have an in-house HR or compliance team. Get in touch with us today–we’ll help make sure your small business stays on the right path.


Ubiquity is not a registered investment advisor and no portion of the material herein should be construed as legal or tax advice. Please consult with your financial planner, attorney and/or tax advisor for advice.

If you are a small business owner, you may have considered offering your employees a 401(k) plan to help them save for their future (and reduce their taxable income in the process).

However, setting up and maintaining a 401(k) plan can be complex, and failure to comply with the regulations could result in corrections and even have large penalties. One way to make the process easier (and safer) is by offering a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan.

What is Safe Harbor?

Although most people refer to this as a Safe Harbor plan, Safe Harbor is actually just an optional provision to a 401(k) plan. This provision is designed to automatically pass certain nondiscrimination testing requirements set by the IRS. These requirements ensure that the plan does not favor highly compensated employees over non-highly compensated employees when it comes to contributions and benefits.

With a Safe Harbor provision in your 401(k) plan, you agree to make certain contributions on your employees’ behalf; in return, the plan is exempt from certain non-discrimination testing requirements.

How much will you pay for 401(k)? Get an instant quote.

How many employees do you have?
I am a sole proprietor
(just me/or my business partner/spouse)

Or schedule a free consultation with a retirement specialist.

The Benefits of a Safe Harbor 401(k) Plan

Reduced Administrative Burden

One of the main benefits of offering a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan at your small business is that it can greatly reduce the administrative burden on you as the employer. Non-Safe Harbor plans require annual deferral and match testing, which can be complex and time-consuming.

With a Safe Harbor plan, those testing requirements are waived, allowing the employer to spend less time and resources on plan administration.

Increased Employee Participation

Another advantage of a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan is that it can increase employee participation. By offering a safe, simple, and automatic plan, employees are more likely to enroll and contribute to the plan. This can help employees save for their future while also helping you attract and retain top talent.

Avoiding Corrections

Non-compliance with non-discrimination testing can result in corrections, which could mean you have to return contributions to highly compensated employees and pay taxes and penalties. Safe harbor plans are exempt.

Higher Contribution Limits Annually

All 401(k) plans, including those with a Safe Harbor provision, have higher contribution limits each year per the IRS. In 2023, employees can contribute up to $22,500 to their 401(k) plan, with an additional $7,500 catch-up contribution for those over age 50. This can help employees save more for their retirement. While the increased limit isn’t unique to Safe Harbor plans, it’s certainly a nice expansion of the benefit. A Safe Harbor provision does allow highly compensated employees to contribute up to the limits without worry of any corrective refunds.

How to Set Up a Safe Harbor 401(k) Plan

If you are interested in setting up a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan for your small business, there are a few things you need to know.

Contribution Types

To be eligible for a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan, you as the employer must make certain contributions to your employees’ retirement accounts. There are two types of Safe Harbor contributions: a non-elective contribution or a matching contribution.

  • The non-elective contribution requires employers to contribute a percentage of each eligible employee’s compensation, regardless of whether the employee contributes to the plan.
  • The matching contribution requires the employer to match 100% of each eligible employee’s contributions up to a certain percentage (usually 4%) of their compensation.

Funding Requirements

To maintain Safe Harbor status, employers must make the required contributions on time each year. Both contribution types must be funded by the end of the next plan year and generally, to take as a deduction, they must fund prior to their tax return including extensions. However, some documents require that the match be funded each pay period, which means they are required to fund no less than a quarterly basis to avoid late penalties.

Notice Requirements

To offer a small business 401(k) plan with a Safe Harbor provision, you must also provide certain information to employees. This includes notification explaining the plan’s provisions and informing employees of their right to make contributions to the plan. This notice must be provided at least 30 days before the beginning of each plan year.

While avoiding certain IRS non-discrimination testing is usually the main reason small businesses switch over to a Safe Harbor 401(k), these plans offer additional benefits to employers. Three reasons Safe Harbors are among the best 401(k) plans for small businesses include:

  • Compliance
  • Flexibility
  • Attracting and retaining top talent

As a business owner, implementing a 401(k) plan is perhaps the most popular and effective way to ensure your employees are in a position to retire at a reasonable age.

However, the Internal Revenue Service requires employers who offer 401(k) plans to jump through several hoops, which can make it difficult for business owners (particularly owners of small businesses) to provide the benefit. One of the biggest obstacles in the way of offering a 401(k) plan is the IRS’s annual non-discrimination testing. During this test, the IRS checks to ensure that employers are not unfairly favoring certain employees. If a business fails this test, it can face severe punitive consequences.

As a result, many small businesses are better served by offering a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan, which makes them exempt from certain non-discrimination testing. These plans require mandatory employer contributions, as well as immediate vesting for employees.

#1. Helps Ensure Compliance

When a business offers a 401(k) plan, the IRS ensures the business does not unfairly favor highly-compensated employees (HCEs) through non-discrimination testing, performed annually. To do this, the IRS compares plan participation and contributions of every employee in the business, from entry-level employees to the owner.

According to the IRS, traditional 401(k) plans must follow these three rules to avoid failing the non-discrimination testing:

  • HCEs cannot contribute greater than 2% of the average contribution of all other eligible employees. For example, if the average employee is contributing 4% of their income to the 401(k) plan, HCEs may not exceed 6%.
  • HCEs cannot receive more than 2% in contributions compared to the average employee. For example, if the average employee is receiving 2% of their income in contributions to their 401(k) plan, HCEs may not exceed 4%.
  • The combined assets of key employees’ (owners and officers) retirement accounts cannot exceed 60% of the employer’s entire 401(k) plan.

If a business’ plan fails these tests, it may be costly to correct. While larger businesses may have the ability to balance these requirements, it can be difficult for smaller businesses with limited manpower to stay in compliance.

A Safe Harbor 401(k) plan is designed to meet these requirements without any extra effort. And since Safe Harbor 401(k)s offer the same contribution maximums as traditional plans, HCEs can maximize their contributions without the plan failing the non-discrimination testing.

#2. Provides Flexibility

For small businesses, flexibility is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a retirement plan. Safe Harbor 401(k) plans provide this flexibility with three different options:

  • Basic Matching:

The Safe Harbor is a tiered match where the employer matches 100% of the contributions up to 3% of the employee’s compensation, and 50% of the employee’s deferrals up to the next 2% of compensation.

  • Enhanced Matching:

If the business chooses an enhanced matching plan, it will match 100% of an employee’s contributions, up to a certain percentage of compensation (minimum of 4%).

  • Nonelective Contributions:

Under a nonelective contribution plan, the employer contributes 3% of compensation to the employee’s 401(k) account, whether they choose to participate in the plan or not.

These percentages are minimums – if the business wishes to contribute more to its employee’s plans, they are free to do so.

#3. Helps Attract and Retain Talent

Another reason businesses choose to offer Safe Harbor 401(k) plans is to improve their ability to attract and retain top talent. In a competitive market, benefit plans allow employers to differentiate themselves from other employers. With a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan, employees are guaranteed an employer-contributed retirement account, which can greatly assist in the hiring process.

Moreover, top talent is more likely to be retained with a Safe Harbor 401(k) because the plans allow highly compensated employees to maximize their contributions without the fear of refunds or corrections that usually are associated with 401(k)s. Combined, these factors give small businesses a leg-up on their competition.

Contact Ubiquity for a free Safe Harbor consultation and learn how a Safe Harbor 401(k) can help your business.




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© 2023 Ubiquity Retirement + Savings
Privacy Policy
Do not sell my info
44 Montgomery Street, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94104
Support: 855.401.4357

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