A SEP allows you to set up an IRA (a "SEP-IRA") for yourself and each of your eligible employees. You contribute a uniform percentage of pay for each employee, although you don't have to make contributions every year, offering you some flexibility when business conditions vary. For 2012, your contributions for each employee are limited to the lesser of 25% of pay or $50,000. Most employers, including those who are self-employed, can establish a SEP.
SEPs have low start-up and operating costs and can be established using an easy two-page form. The plan must cover any employee aged 21 or older who has worked for you for three of the last five years and who earns $550 or more.
SIMPLE IRA plan
The SIMPLE IRA plan is available if you have 100 or fewer employees. Employees can elect to make pretax contributions in 2012 of up to $11,500 ($14,000 if age 50 or older). You must either match your employees' contributions dollar for dollar--up to 3% of each employee's compensation--or make a fixed contribution of 2% of compensation for each eligible employee. (The 3% match can be reduced to 1% in any two of five years.) Each employee who earned $5,000 or more in any two prior years, and who is expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year, must be allowed to participate in the plan.
SIMPLE IRA plans are easy to set up. You fill out a short form to establish a plan and ensure that SIMPLE IRAs are set up for each employee. A financial institution can do much of the paperwork. Additionally, administrative costs are low.
Typically, only you, not your employees, contribute to a qualified profit-sharing plan. Your contributions are discretionary--there's usually no set amount you need to contribute each year, and you have the flexibility to contribute nothing at all in a given year if you so choose (although your contributions must be nondiscriminatory, and "substantial and recurring," for your plan to remain qualified). The plan must contain a formula for determining how your contributions are allocated among plan participants. A separate account is established for each participant that holds your contributions and any investment gains or losses. Generally, each employee with a year of service is eligible to participate (although you can require two years of service if your contributions are immediately vested). Contributions for any employee in 2012 can't exceed the lesser of $50,000 or 100% of the employee's compensation.