401k Cash Balance Plan Combo: The Little-Known Structure

A cash balance plan is a defined benefit plan but heavily resembles a defined contribution plan with hypothetical individual employee accounts. An employee’s account earns a pay credit, normally 5% of their salary each year, plus an interest credit, at a fixed rate or variable rate on your account balance.

An investment manager does the investing for the beneficiaries, and a statement is sent to the beneficiaries with the hypothetical value of the account they are eligible to receive at retirement. 401k plan, on the other hand, is a qualified employer-sponsored retirement plan that allows eligible employees to make salary-deferral contributions on a post-tax and/or pretax basis.

What is a 401k?

General Requirements:

  • Used for a company with no employees. The spouse of the business owner can be included in the plan
  • Two types of contributions – salary deferral and profit sharing
  • Maximum tax-free contribution of $58,000 per year ($64,500 if aged 50 or over)
  • Easy to set up. Filing Form 5500-SF is not required until plan assets reach $250,000
  • If employees are hired in the future who qualify for a 401(k) plan, contribution levels and filing requirements can change..
  • Must be formally elected before December 31, but contribution can be made by the tax filing date of April 15, or October 15 if an extension is filed
  • Can be combined with other plans, such as IRA or defined benefit plan. Salary deferral restrictions are $19,500 per individual, but profit sharing and a defined benefit plan can further increase amounts to be contributed to retirement savings.

If you operate your business as a sole proprietor, partnership or corporation with no employees, you can choose to open a one-participant 401(k). This is a great way to save money towards retirement with significant tax advantages.

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For 2021, the individual can contribute up to $58,000 (or $64,400 if aged 50 or over). Contributions are based on two types. The investor should think of themselves as both an employee and an employer when making the contributions. Type one contributions are employee elective deferrals and are subject to a $19,500 limit ($26,000 if age 50 or older). Type two contributions are limited to $58,000 in 2021 ($64,500 if age 50 or older). These contributions are referred to as profit-sharing.

It is important to note that both types of contributions may be used, but the total contribution to the plan cannot be greater than $58,000 ($64,500 if age 50 or older) for 2021. If both types of contributions are used, $19,500 is the limit of the salary deferral ($26,000 if age 50 or older) and $38,000 is the limit for profit sharing. Make sure you run your own calculation.

One-participant 401(k)s have few disadvantages. There is not much paperwork that needs to be filed, and Form 5500-SF is not required until plan assets reach $250,000. However, it is important to note that if employees are ever hired who meet plan eligibility requirements, a 401(k) plan must be offered to them and the plan must be changed for tax purposes. This will affect annual contribution limits and tax-filing requirements.

401k Cash Balance Plan Combo

In 2021, IRS put a contribution limit of $58,000 on all defined contribution retirement accounts. However, you have a chance to exceed this limit by having a cash balance plan combined with your 401k. The contributions to a 401k cash balance plan are based on a set interest rate tied to the U.S. 30-year Treasury bond rate and a percentage of salary.

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These contributions are put into an account and saved for a participant’s retirement, but plan rules must be followed. A good example of a 401k cash balance plan is shown below.

Assume a 45 year old employee:

$19,500 (401k) + $38,000 (Profit Sharing) + $133,100 (Cash Balance) = $188,100 (Total Tax Deferred Savings)

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 Benefits of a 401k Cash Balance Plan

  1. Higher Contributions – 401k cash balance plan allows for a higher contribution towards retirement. The more the contribution, the more retirement benefit will be.
  2. Almost Guaranteed Rate of Return – The contributions towards the plan is made by the employer or the company you own based on a set interest rate and a percentage of your salary, account balance will grow without much of your involvement.
  3. No Involvement – 401k cash balance plan is managed by an investment management company, all decisions are made by them and the employer does the contributions.
  4. Portability – In case one leaves the company, they can take the 401k cash balance plan to another pension plan or roll it to an IRA.
  5. Partially insured by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation – Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation underwrites a portion of the account. This prevents the risk of losing full amount in the account.
  6. Tax Advantages – Employers enjoy tax deductions and deferral from the contributions towards a 401k cash balance plan for their employees.

Disadvantages of a 401k Cash Balance Plan

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  1. Only benefits business owners and key employees – All companies do not enjoy the 401k cash balance plans. Limitations that hinder cash balance plans, like consistent profitability also affects 401k cash balance plan. Those with high compensations like business owners and key employees are the ones who can gain the most from 401k cash balance plan.
  2. Extra Approvals Required – IRS will need a company to meet some requirements before setting up a 401k cash balance plan.

How to do a 401k cash balance plan combo?

  • Run an illustration. Make sure to get an illustration that shows you how much you can contribute to a 401k and how much to a cash balance balance plan.
  • Identify the profit sharing limitation. When doing a combo plan, the profit sharing is limited to 6%. Make sure that your illustration is adjusted accordingly.
  • Establish the plans before the 12/31 deadline. Both plans must be established by Dec 31st to be effective for the current. The good news is that you can fund them up to the date the taxes are filed (including extensions).
  • Determine if a safe harbor 401k is needed. If you have employees who work over 1,000 hours a year and are at least 21 years of age then you will likely want a safe harbor plan.
  • Fund the plan. The good news is that you can fund the plan in the subsequent year as long as funding occurs before the tax return is filed (including extensions). This is a nice benefit.

Conclusion

401k cash balance plans have several advantages as compared to solo 401k or just cash balance plans. An individual can maximize privileges provided by both plans and save more towards their retirement. Consult and do research before trying to adopt this plan in your company, you may need an actuary to certify that the company can generate enough income to make the increased contributions.

Paul Sundin

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