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How 401(k) Profit Sharing Helps Businesses Lower Taxes, Maximizes Owner Savings, and Rewards Employees

By Stuart Robertson

401(k) plans provide this pretty sweet, optional feature called profit sharing. Don’t let the name fool you. It has nothing to do with whether your business earned a profit.

401(k) profit sharing enables employers to give employees including owners a discretionary contribution. The profit share contribution is typically 100% tax deductible for the firm, which can help the firm lower taxes versus other profit-sharing options the business may consider. So, if you do $100,000 in profit sharing, you likely just lowered your business tax bill by $100,000. The profit share also isn’t subject to Social Security or Medicare withholdings.

For you and your employees, it’s bonus with tax benefits. You boost employees' retirement accounts without increasing their taxable income. This could be worth more to employees literally and figuratively than a similar after-tax bonus.

Reward employees and lower taxes – you can see the appeal. It’s a common practice for savvy businesses to execute during years they perform well, and less so in years the business may have weaker results. You can even profit share using a vesting schedule and use it as an employee retention tool too.

You Can Profit Share a Lot of Moolah to You and Your Employees
Employers can contribute up to 25% of an employee’s income up to the limit into their 401(k) and qualify for it to be 100% tax deductible for the business. The maximum amount an employee can receive for 2019 in a 401(k) account is $56,000 ($62,000 if 50+ years of age) including their own personal contributions. This is increased to $57,000 and $63,000 respectively in 2020. That’s pretty big-time monies.

Profit sharing can be given on a whole dollar amount where everyone gets the same, a salary percentage, or on a social security integrated basis (you’ll want to talk to a specialist like us about this – we can explain if you want to call). There are also Advanced Profit Sharing options (aka. Tiered Profit Sharing) which can help you determine different amounts or percentages by employee groups.

The most popular tends to be the same percentage, or pro rata, profit sharing. The same percentage of salary is used to determine the contributions to every employee in the firm with the monies going directly into their 401(k) account. So, let’s say you decided on a $60,000 pool, you have 5 employees including yourself, and the total compensation for you and your team is $600,000. This is a 10% of salary profit share:

Employee Salary Calculation Contribution
Employee Salary Calculation Contribution
Sarah $200,000 $200,000 x ($60,000 / $600,000) $20,000
Bill $150,000 $150,000 x ($60,000 / $600,000) $15,000
Taylor $100,000 $100,000 x ($60,000 / $600,000) $10,000
Mary $75,000 $75,000 x ($60,000 / $600,000) $7,500
Jim $75,000 $75,000 x ($60,000 / $600,000) $7,500

Profit Sharing Is Also an Awesome Tax Bracket Buster for the Self-Employed
The 401(k) profit sharing component is popular with the self-employed who have a Solo 401(k) plan. With a Solo 401(k) plan you are both the employer and employee and can contribute up to $57,000 in 2020 into your 401(k). Yes, that can drop your taxable income big time, maybe even a tax bracket.

Depending on your business entity type (sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation), you will want to consider your saving and tax goals. Sole proprietors can contribute up to 20% of their net Schedule C and most other business entities can contribute up to 25% of W-2 earnings. Keep in mind that anything contributed during the calendar year as an employee is separate from this calculation, but the employee amount still applies towards the overall contribution limit of $57,000, so don’t exceed that. Your tax advisor or accountant will be a great resource to help you finalize your approach and manage income and contribution limits.

All Businesses Have Until Their Tax Deadline to Lower Taxes for Last Year
You have until your business tax deadline to make a profit sharing contribution for the previous year. Your deadline will vary by your business type. Assuming you are on a fiscal calendar year, deadlines for 2019 are:

Tax Deadlines for 2019 by Business Type
Business March 16 April 15
Multi-member LLC checkmark
S - Corporation checkmark
Partnership checkmark
Sole Proprietorship checkmark
C - Corporation checkmark
LLC checkmark

If you already have a 401(k) plan and think this can benefit your company, talk to your provider about how you can best use the profit sharing feature to meet your business goals. If you’re thinking of starting a 401(k) plan for 2020, you will have until near your tax deadline in 2021 to make any profit sharing contributions for 2020.


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