What is a 401(k) Plan?

A 401(k) plan is a tax-advantaged retirement savings plan offered by employers. Employees can make pre-tax contributions, which grow tax-deferred until withdrawn in retirement. Employers may also contribute to the plan through matching or non-elective contributions, enhancing the employees' savings potential.
Author: Penelope Team

As a business owner, you know how important it is to plan for the future. One of the best ways to do this is by establishing a 401(k) retirement plan for yourself and your employees. 401(k) plans are employer-sponsored retirement savings benefits that allow employees to set aside money from their paychecks, pre-tax, and invest the funds for their future.

This type of account has many benefits, such as providing flexibility in saving and investing options, helping with long-term financial security, and offering tax advantages. In this article, we'll discuss what a 401(k) plan is and why it's beneficial for business owners to implement one.

What is a 401(k) Plan?

A 401(k) plan is a tax-advantaged retirement savings program that allows individuals to save money on taxes while building wealth for their future. 

New call-to-action

How does a 401(k) Plan Work?

Contributions are made directly from the employee's pay, reducing their taxable income and providing a tax incentive. Employees can decide how much of their income they want to contribute. 

The contributions to a 401(K) plan are governed by what is known as the "annual contribution limit." The 2027 limit is $23,500 for individuals under 50 and $30,500 for those 50 and over. Employers can also contribute matching funds, providing additional incentives for employees to participate. 

Total 401(k) plan contributions by an employee and an employer cannot exceed $66,000 unless employees are 50 or older. New catch-up contribution limits have increased that amount to $73,500 in 2023. Funds in the 401(k) account are invested in predetermined investment options and grow tax-deferred, meaning the earnings are not taxed until the money is withdrawn.

Who is Eligible for a 401(k)?

The eligibility requirements for a 401(k) plan can vary depending on the plan sponsor (employer) and the plan's specific terms. However, here are some common eligibility requirements:

  • Age and service: Employees may need to reach a certain age (typically 21) and have a minimum service period (usually one year) before they are eligible to participate in the plan.
  • Employment status: Generally, employees must be classified as full-time or part-time employees, not independent contractors, to be eligible for a 401(k) plan.
  • Plan participation: The employer may encourage employees to actively participate in the plan by making contributions to receive employer contributions.
  • Non-discrimination testing: The plan must pass annual testing to ensure that highly compensated employees do not contribute a disproportionate amount to the plan compared to other employees.

It is important to note that while some employers may impose additional eligibility requirements, they cannot discriminate against employees based on age, race, gender, or other protected classes under federal law.

Benefits of Offering a 401(k) Plan 

Businesses can gain several advantages by offering employees a 401(k) plan. Here are some key benefits:

Attract and retain talent 

Offering a 401(k) plan can be a valuable employee benefit that can help attract and maintain the best talent. In addition, employees are often looking for a comprehensive benefits package, including retirement benefits, when considering job opportunities.

Tax benefits: 

Businesses can take advantage of tax benefits by offering a 401(k) plan. Employer contributions to the plan are tax-deductible, and employees can make pre-tax contributions, reducing their taxable income.

Employee participation: 

A 401(k) plan can encourage employee participation, help employees save for retirement, improve employee satisfaction and productivity, and increase loyalty to your company.

Improved employee financial wellness 

Providing employees with a 401(k) plan can improve their financial wellness by helping them save for retirement, reducing their stress, and improving their overall well-being.

Competitive advantage 

Offering a 401(k) plan can be a competitive advantage for businesses in your industry, particularly if your competitors do not provide a similar retirement plan.

Considering all these advantages, it's easy to see why implementing a 401(k) plan for your business makes sense. This type of plan offers multiple tax incentives and investment options and helps employees ensure that they have gained enough wealth to enjoy their retirement.

Tax Advantages of Offering a 401(k) Plan

With the passing of Secure Act 2.0, businesses implementing a new 401(k) plan for their business for the first time can take advantage of significant tax benefits, including up to $16,500 in tax credits over the first three years of starting a new plan, plus an additional $500 for using plan auto-enrollment. These companies can also receive tax credits for employer contributions for the first five years of a new plan. 

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees can receive up to 100% of employer contributions back in tax credits for the first two years. These tax credits can help offset the costs of setting up and administering the plan. Learn more about the Secure Act 2.0 Tax Credits for retirement plans. 

Here are some key tax advantages of offering retirement benefits for your employees:

Tax-deductible contributions 

Businesses can make tax-deductible contributions to their 401(k) plan, which reduces taxable income and can result in significant tax savings for the company.

Tax credits for small businesses:

Small businesses with fewer than 100 employees may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $5,000 for the first three years of starting a new 401(k) plan. This tax credit can help offset the costs of setting up and administering the plan.

Employee tax benefits

Employees can also benefit from tax savings by contributing to the 401(k) plan. Their 401(k) contributions are made using pre-tax dollars, which means they are not subject to income tax at the time of contribution. In addition, the investment gains on these contributions are also tax-deferred until withdrawal, which can result in significant tax savings over time.


Employees with retirement funds in other qualified plans, such as a traditional IRA or a former employer's 401(k) plan, can roll those funds into the new 401(k) plan. This can provide tax benefits by consolidating retirement accounts and potentially reducing fees.

How to Choose a 401(k) Plan

Choosing a 401(k) plan for your business may seem complex, but here are some steps you can take to make an informed decision:

First, determine your company's goals and budget.

Before selecting a 401(k) plan, you should assess your company's goals and budget. Consider factors such as your number of employees, your contribution budget, and your objectives for offering a 401(k) plan.

Depending on the state your business is located in, you may also need to choose a plan that complies with state-mandated requirements. 

Compare fees and services.

Examine what type of fees are associated with the plan. For example, many plans have administrative and investment fees that can eat into returns if not monitored and managed correctly. Read through the fine print to ensure that all costs associated with the plan remain reasonable and manageable over time. 

Knowing what type of services you will get with a 401(k) provider is also essential. Look for plans with easy and hassle-free onboarding processes, payroll integrations, modern and easy-to-navigate digital platforms, and excellent customer service.

Some companies, like Penelope, handle all compliance testing and filing, plan documentation and recordkeeping, and offer automated employee onboarding.

Understand the investment options.

Look at the investment options available in each plan. Assess the variety of funds and whether they align with your employees' retirement goals. Consider whether the plan offers target-date funds or other default investment options.  

Review the plan's features.

Evaluate the features of each plan, such as whether it allows for loans or hardship withdrawals or charges assets under management fees, which can limit the account's growth potential. Consider whether the plan offers automatic enrollment, catch-up contributions, and other features to help your employees save more for retirement. Also, review what types of contribution limits there are and what incentives can be offered, such as company matching or profit sharing.

Talk to a retirement expert.

If you are still determining which 401(k) plan to choose, consider speaking with a retirement plan specialist. They can help you evaluate your options and choose the best plan for your business.

Choosing a 401(k) plan for your business is an important decision that can significantly impact your employees' financial future. Take the time to research your options and choose a plan that meets your company's goals and budget.

Setting Up a 401(k) Plan

Setting up a 401(k) plan can seem daunting, but it's important for your employees' financial future and can also provide tax benefits for your business. Here are some steps to follow when setting up a 401(k) plan:

Determine eligibility and contribution levels.

Determine which employees will be eligible for the 401(k) plan and what their contribution levels will be. Then, decide whether you will offer matching contributions, and if so, what percentage of employee contributions you will match.

Choose a plan administrator.

Select a plan administrator to handle the administrative and fiduciary responsibilities of the plan. You can choose a financial institution, third-party administrator, professional employer organization (PEO), or a simplified retirement recordkeeper to serve as your plan administrator.

When looking at plan administrators, be sure to note the overall plan cost and fees associated with them. 

Choose investment options. 

Select a range of investment options for your plan, such as mutual funds, target-date funds, and individual stocks and bonds. Consider the investment objectives of your employees and their risk tolerance.

Develop a plan document. 

Develop a plan document that outlines the details of the 401(k) plan, such as eligibility requirements, contribution limits, investment options, and vesting schedules. Your plan document must comply with IRS regulations, so working with a qualified professional is essential to ensure compliance.

Provide employee education. 

Offer education and resources to help employees understand the benefits of the 401(k) plan, including how to enroll, investment options, and retirement savings strategies.

Set up payroll deductions. 

Set up payroll deductions so employee contributions are automatically taken from their paychecks and deposited into their 401(k) accounts.

Monitor the plan.

Regularly monitor the plan to ensure compliance with IRS regulations and assess the plan administrator's performance and investment options.

Setting up a 401(k) plan can be complex, but not if you work with a company like Penelope.

We simplify 401(k)s, so you don't have to worry about choosing the right funds, onboarding your employees, managing your payroll, creating plan documents, or ensuring IRS compliance. Instead, we do all that for you and ensure that you and your employees have the best resources to grow your wealth for retirement.

Retirement Plans Don't Need to Be Complicated

Implementing a 401(k) plan for your business is essential to ensure that you and your employees have what they need to achieve financial security during retirement. Offering a retirement benefit doesn't have to be overwhelming to set up or complicated to manage.

With the right plan and partner, businesses can benefit from improved employee engagement and loyalty while helping them build their retirement savings.

Interested in retirement plans for your employees?  Get started today with a free, no-obligation consultation with a 401(k) retirement specialist.

New call-to-action

More from our blog