RETIREMENT BENEFIT PLANS
A financially secure retirement is a goal of all Americans. Since
many of us will spend one-fourth to one-fifth of our lives in
retirement, it is more essential than ever to begin preparations
at an early age. Most financial planners report that an
individual requires about 75 percent of his or her pre-retirement
income to maintain the same standard of living enjoyed during
one's working years.
Social Security, employer-sponsored retirement programs and
personal savings are the three sources of postretirement income.
Social Security Benefits
Social Security provides retirement benefits for most persons
employed or self-employed for a set period of time (currently
40 quarters; about 10 years). Benefits paid at retirement,
traditionally age 65, are based on a person's earnings history.
Payments may begin at age 62 at a reduced rate or, if delayed
until age 70, at an increased rate.
For a person with earnings equal to the U.S. average, the benefit
will be about 40 percent of pay. For someone with maximum
earnings, the benefit would be about 25 percent of the portion of
pay subject to Social Security tax.
Every worker should understand Social Security retirement
benefits. By completing Form SSA-7004, "Request for Social
Security Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement," you can receive
a projection of benefits. Forms can be obtained through local
Social Security offices or by calling 1-800-772-1213.
Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans
A retirement plan makes good sense and can attract and reward key
employees. The benefits and tax advantages of supplementing
Social Security with a qualified retirement plan are significant.
A qualified plan is one meeting Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
specifications. Currently, such contributions are tax deductible
and earnings accumulate on a tax-deferred basis. In addition,
benefits earned are not part of the participant's taxable income
until received, and certain distributions are eligible for
special tax treatment.
Whether you are a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a
corporation (employing many people or only yourself as the
owner/employee), there are a wide range of options available.
These can range from simple plans, which you establish and
maintain, to complex versions, which require an actuary, attorney
or employee benefits consultant. Accountants, banks, insurance
and investment professionals, as well as other financial
institutions, can provide information on pension plan products. A
plan need not be complex or costly to establish. In fact, there
are several versions that you can establish without any outside
Depending on whether you are self-employed, a partnership or a
small corporation, the following plans are available:
* Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) -- The simplest plan; for the
self-employed or for select employees.
* Keogh -- A plan for partnerships or sole proprietors, offering
greater contribution limits than other types of plans.
* Simplified employee pension (SEP) -- A plan for sole proprietors and
small businesses, offering flexibility and easy self-administration.
* Defined benefit -- A retirement plan for businesses with older, more
highly paid employees.
* Profit sharing -- A flexible plan based on profits and contributions
that can be discretionary from year to year.
* Money purchase -- A method for companies employing a high percentage
of younger workers and desiring to make steady plan contributions.
* 401(k) -- The most popular plan today, providing employees with the
ability to save for their retirement with pre-tax dollars. Offers
maximum flexibility for employers at minimal cost.
Individual Retirement Accounts
The simplest of all retirement plans is the individual retirement
account (IRA), authorized by Congress in 1974. An IRA is a
tax-favored savings plan that allows eligible participants to
make contributions with pre-tax dollars and defer taxation on
earnings until retirement.
There are several limitations to IRAs:
* Contributions cannot exceed the lesser of $2,000 per year or
100 percent of compensation ($2,250 for a spousal IRA).
* Contributions may be made only up to age 70 and deposits must be
made before filing individual taxes (April 15).
* The account holder may not use funds to purchase life insurance
or collectibles (except gold or silver coins issued by the U.S.
* If a person (or his or her spouse) is an active participant in an
employer-maintained retirement plan with income exceeding certain
levels ($25,000 for single persons or $40,000 for married
couples), the IRA contribution may be partially or totally
Businesses may sponsor IRA savings programs for employees.
Through payroll deduction, employees set aside small amounts for
deposit into an IRA contract. An employer can make IRA
contributions for all or select employees. In such instances, the
recipient's reported annual taxable salary will include the IRA
contribution, although this amount would then be deducted
(conditions permitting) by the employee on his or her year-end
A Keogh (occasionally called "H.R. 10") plan affords a
self-employed person -- either a sole proprietor or a partner -- most
of the retirement funding benefits available to the working owners
of a corporation. A self-employed person may take a tax deduction
for annual contributions to the plan on his or her behalf and on
behalf of any eligible employees.
Although the laws governing Keoghs once varied widely from the
retirement plan options for corporations, recent changes have
left only minor distinctions. Keogh plans follow rules basic to
either defined benefit or defined contribution corporate plans.
There are limits, but generous ones. For example, you cannot fund
a retirement payout that is greater than your self-employment
income or that tops a $112,221 annual cap (a figure adjusted
yearly for inflation).
You must establish plans by the end of the year (December 31) for
which you are making the contribution. Once established, you have
until the tax return filing date -- including extensions -- to make
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