401(k) Plan Requirements
There are certain requirements of 401(k) plans that you should be aware of
when you consider offering one to your employees. The requirements listed below
are the major issues to address with your financial advisor when discussing
- There must be a written plan that is communicated to employees.
- The plan must be for the exclusive benefit of employees or their
- The plan may not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees. An
employee is considered a highly compensated employee for a given year if, at
any time in that year or the preceding year, the employee:
- was a five percent or more owner of the employer, or
- earned more than $90,000 for 2002 (the amount was $85,000 for 2001 and
is periodically adjusted for inflation) and was in the top 20 percent of
employees in terms of compensation
- The maximum amount that an employee may voluntarily defer into the plan is
$11,000 for 2002 ($10,500 for 2001; this amount may be adjusted periodically
for inflation). Those that are age 50 or over in 2002, can contribute an
additional $1,000 for the year.
- Minimum vesting rules must be met. When an employee becomes vested in a
retirement plan, it means that he or she has participated in a plan long
enough or has provided enough years of service to an employer such that the
employee becomes entitled not only to the contributions that the employee
might have made but also to the contributions made by the employer.
Generally speaking, employees must be completely vested after five years of
- An employee's entire interest in the plan must be paid out by April 1 of
the year after the employee retires or reaches 70 1/2 years of age,
whichever is later, or periodic payments must begin no later than April 1 of
the year after the employee retires or reaches age 70 1/2 and must generally
be paid over the lifetime of the employee.
- The plan must provide for a qualified joint and survivor annuity.
- The plan must contain a spendthrift provision.
- Reports must be filed with the IRS, the Department of Labor, and the
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, while other reports must be furnished
to plan participants and their beneficiaries, under ERISA,
the federal pension law.
- The plan will not qualify as a 401(k) plan if it requires that an employee
have more than one year of service with the employer or employers
maintaining the plan.
- The plan must provide a separate account for each participant and must
separately account for contributions that are subject to the special vesting
and distribution rules.
- Income, expenses, gains, losses, and forfeitures from other participants
must be properly allocated to each plan participant's account, using a
reasonable and consistent method of accounting.