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A Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Arrangement (SEP IRA) is a variation of the Individual Retirement Account used in the United States. SEP IRAs are adopted by business owners to provide retirement benefits for the business owners and their employees. There are no significant administration costs for self-employed person with no employees. If the self-employed person does have employees, all employees must receive the same benefits under a SEP plan. Since SEP accounts are treated as IRAs, funds can be invested the same way as any other IRA.
The deadline for establishing the plan and making contributions is the filing deadline for the employer's tax return, including extensions.
The most strict conditions for an employee to be eligible are as follows. The employee must:
1) be at least 21 years of age
2) have worked for the employer for at least three of the previous five years, and
3) have received at least $550 in compensation for the tax year
SEP-IRA funds are taxed at ordinary income tax rates when qualified withdrawals are taken after age 59 1/2 (as for traditional IRAs). Contributions to a SEP plan are deductible; they will lower a taxpayer's income tax liability in the contribution year.
SEP-IRA contributions are treated as part of a profit-sharing plan. For employees, the employer may contribute up to 25% of the employee's wages to the employee's SEP-IRA account. For example, if an employee earns $40,000 in wages, the employer could contribute up to $10,000 to the SEP-IRA account.
The total contribution to a SEP-IRA account should not exceed the lesser of 25% of income (20% for self-employed before self-employed tax deduction is included; (see below) or $42,000 (for 2005), $44,000 (2006), $45,000 (2007), $46,000 (2008), $49,000 (2009-2011), $50,000 (2012), $51,000 (2013), and $52,000 (2014). For 2010 and 2011, the compensation used in the calculation was capped at $245,000 (e.g., an employer making a 10% contribution cannot contribute more than $24,500 for any employee).
The contribution limit for self-employed persons is more complicated; barring limits, it is 18.587045% (approximately 18.6%) of net profit. The computation is in IRS Pub 560, section 5, Table and Worksheets for the Self-Employed, specifically Deduction Worksheet for Self-Employed.
Two complications are:
SEP contribution limits are computed not from net profit but from net profit adjusted for the deduction for self-employment tax (2006 Form 1040, line 27, from Schedule SE, Section A, line 6, or Section B, line 13). Barring limits, this is half the 15.3% FICA tax, levied on net earnings, which is 92.35% of net profit. Therefore, adjusted net profit (net profit minus deduction for self-employment tax) is 92.935225% of net profit, which is close to but slightly more than net earnings.
The limit of 25% applies to wages, not (adjusted) net profit.
In the above example, where an employee earns $40,000 and the employer contributes 25% of that, $10,000, the employee has received $50,000 total, of which 20% goes to the SEP-IRA.
When a business is a sole proprietorship, the employee/owner both pays themselves wages and may also make a SEP contribution, which is limited to 25% of wages, namely, profits minus SEP contribution. For a particular contribution rate CR, the reduced rate is CR/(1+CR); for a 25% contribution rate, this yields a 20% reduced rate, as in the above.
Thus the overall contribution limit (barring limits) is 20% of 92.9% (that is, 18.6%) of net profit.
For example, if a sole proprietor has $50,000 net profit from self-employment on Schedule C, then the "1/2 of self-employment tax credit", $3,532, shown on adjustments to income at the bottom of form 1040, will be deducted from the net profit. The result is then multiplied by 20% to arrive at the maximum SEP deduction, $9,293.
Note that net earnings include the proposed deduction for contributions to your own SEP-IRA. In this example, the sole proprietor therefore has $59,293 in net income before his (maximum) SEP-IRA contribution.