The SEP full form is a Simplified Employee Pension, also an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). A type of retirement savings plan, it is designed for self-employed individuals and small business owners.  Let us learn about SEP IRA in detail.

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What is SEP?

SEP stands for Simplified Employee Pension. Being one of the best pension plans in India, it allows employers and self-employed individuals to make tax-deductible contributions on behalf of their employees. 

It also helps contribute a portion of their income to a tax-deferred retirement account, which can further be invested in various assets. SEP IRA accounts offer eligible individuals a simple and flexible pension plan option.

Key Features of SEP IRA Pension Plan

Listed below are some key features of the SEP IRA retirement savings plan:

Features of SEP Details
Fund Investment SEP IRA funds can be invested in a variety of assets
Best Pension Plan for Businesses SEP Plans are relatively easy to set up and administer
Taxation Investments grow tax-deferred until their withdrawal upon retirement
Tax Benefits on Returns Tax-deferred fund earnings, which means that the earnings are not taxed until the money is withdrawn
Tax Benefits on Contributions Tax-deductible contributions
Immediate Vesting Employees have ownership of their SEP IRA funds from the start
Loans/ Hardship Withdrawals Not Allowed
Easy Administration Relatively easy to set up and administer, with no annual filings required with the IRS

Eligibility Criteria

Let us learn the eligibility criteria required to join a SEP Plan from the table below:

Eligibility Criteria Details
Business Entity
  • Business Entity
  • Sole Proprietors
  • Partnerships
  • LLCs
  • Corporations
  • Non-Profit Organizations
Self-Employed Individuals
  • Self-employed individuals, irrespective of whether they have employees or not
Employees All eligible employees must be included in the SEP Plan:
  • Age of Employee: 21 years or Above
  • 3-of-5 Rule: Employee worked for the employer for 3 of the last 5 years
  • Compensation Receiving: At least $750 during the year 2023
Exclusions Employers can exclude the following list of employees:
  • Employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement
  • Non-resident aliens with no US source of income
  • Employees who have not yet completed a year of service

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How Does SEP IRA Work?

To reap benefits of the SEP IRA pension plan, let us learn the working of this pension plan: 

  • Eligible Employer Establishes the Plan 

    • Sets up a separate SEP IRA account for each eligible employee

    • Determines contribution amount for each employee

  • Makes Contributions to the Employee Accounts 

    • Employer contributes to the SEP IRA account of each employee

    • Contributions are tax-deductible

  • Make Investments from the SEP IRA Funds 

  • Employee invests the funds in a variety of assets, such as:

    • Stocks
    • Bonds
    • Mutual Funds
    • Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
  • The funds grow tax-deferred until they are withdrawn

  • Fund Withdrawals on Retirement 

    • Employees can start withdrawing the funds from their SEP IRA account

    • The withdrawals are taxed at current tax slab rates as ordinary income for the employee

Contribution Limits of a SEP IRA in 2023

IRS announces the contribution limits for the SEP account periodically. These values are mentioned below for the year 2023:

Particulars Contribution Limits
Contribution by Employee in 2023 The less of:
    • 25% of the eligible annual compensation of each employee, or
  • $66,000 per year (2023)
Calculation of 25% of Compensation limit Maximum compensation limit to calculate the 25% contribution is:
  • 2022: $305,000
  • 2023: $ 330,000
Contribution Limits for Employees of Age 50 Years & Above N/A
Employer’s Contribution to the Employee’s SEP IRA  Same % as the employee’s contribution

How to Establish a SEP IRA Plan?

Follow these steps to establish a SEP IRA Plan:

  • Determine the eligibility of the organisation

  • Decide on a financial institution as SEP IRA plan provider

  • Adopt a written SEP IRA plan document that outlines the terms of the plan:

  • Eligibility criteria

  • Contribution limits

  • Vesting requirements

  • Notify employees about the SEP IRA and participation process in writing

  • Set up a separate SEP IRA account for each eligible employee

  • Determine contributions for each eligible employee

  • Make contributions to the employee's SEP IRA account before the employer's tax filing deadline for the year

  • Keep accurate records of all contributions for at least 6 years

Rules of SEP IRA

Some fundamental rules of a SEP IRA plan are as follows:

Rules Details
  • Immediate vesting is provided
  • Employees have full ownership of all employer contributions from the start
  • Subject to ordinary income tax slab rates
  • A penalty of 10% on early withdrawals taken before age of 59 ½ years
Required Minimum Distributions Must take Required Minimum Distribution (RMDs) from the age of 72 years (if you reach this age before 01 January 2020)
  • Employer must file the following forms with the IRS:
  • Form 5305-SEP
  • Form 5305A-SEP
  • Employee must provide written notice of SEP plan with complete details
Plan Administration
  • Ensure compliance with the rules and regulations of the IRS
  • Keep accurate records
  • Adhere to contribution deadlines

SEP IRA vs 401k Retirement Plan

Both plans offer tax advantages and can be effective tools for planning retirement savings. 

Some key differences between them are:

Criteria SEP IRA Plan 401k Plan
Eligibility Available to small business owners and self-employed individuals Offered by larger employers to their employees
Contribution Limits Allow for higher contribution limits than 401k  401k plans have a lower contribution limit
Administrative Complexity Generally easier and less expensive to manage More complex to set up and administer
Employee Participation Made solely by the employer Employees can also contribute to their retirement savings

Benefits of a SEP IRA Plan 

A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA plan is a type of retirement plan that can benefit both employers and employees. Here are some of the benefits of a SEP IRA plan:

  • Easy to Set Up: SEP IRA plans are easy to establish with less paperwork

  • Low Expenses: Low administrative costs compared to other retirement plans like 401k

  • Tax-Deductible Contributions: Contributions are tax-deductible, which helps to reduce the employer’s taxable income

  • Tax-Deferred Growth: Contributions to the SEP IRA plan grow tax-deferred until withdrawal. This helps employees to accumulate more savings for retirement.

  • Higher Contribution Limits: SEP IRA limits are higher than traditional or Roth IRAs. This allows employees to save more for retirement.

  • No Age Restrictions: There is no age restriction for contributions to a SEP IRA plan unlike traditional IRAs

  • Portability: SEP IRA plans are portable, which means that employees can take their SEP IRA account with them if they change jobs

  • Employer flexibility: Employers have the flexibility to decide how much to contribute each year based on business profits

In Brief

A SEP IRA is a contributory tax-advantaged retirement savings plan for small business owners and self-employed individuals. The employers can contribute to the SEP IRA pension accounts for themselves and their eligible employees. SEP IRA plans offer high contribution limits, immediate vesting, and flexibility while being easy to establish and administer. 


  • What does a SEP IRA do?

    A Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA) is a type of retirement savings plan. It allows contributions from small business owners and self-employed individuals for themselves and their eligible employees. 

    SEP IRA plans are easy to establish and administer, making them an attractive option for businesses looking to provide retirement savings for their employees.

  • What is the difference between an IRA and a SEP IRA?

    Here are the main differences between an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and a Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA):
    Criteria SEP IRA Plan Traditional IRA Plan
    • Specifically for small business owners and self-employed individuals
    • Employers can make contributions for themselves and their employees
    • Available to all earning individuals
    • Must fulfil certain conditions
    Contribution Limits
    • Allow employers to contribute up to 25% of each eligible employee's compensation
    • Up to a maximum of $63,000 in 2023
    • Lower contribution limits than SEP IRAs
    Contribution Sources Contributions are made solely by the employer Made by either the individual or their employer
    Vesting Immediately vested, meaning employees have full ownership of the contributions from the start Contributions may be subject to vesting schedules
    Plan Administration Require the assistance of a financial institution or provider Established and administered by individuals on their own
  • Is SEP IRA better than 401k?

    A SEP IRA may be a better option for small business owners and self-employed individuals who want to contribute significantly to their retirement savings and prefer a simpler administrative process. 

    A 401k may be more appropriate for larger businesses with employees who want to participate in their retirement savings and are willing to navigate the administrative complexities of the plan.

  • Is SEP IRA better than Roth IRA?

    A SEP IRA may be a better option for small business owners and self-employed individuals who want to make larger contributions to their retirement savings on a pre-tax basis. 

    On the other hand, a Roth IRA may be a better option for individuals who want tax-free withdrawals in retirement and have lower contribution needs. 

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