How Much Does A 401k Cost A Small Business?


When it comes to running a small business, there are numerous financial considerations to take into account. One important aspect is the cost of offering a 401k plan to employees. Did you know that the cost of a 401k can vary widely depending on the size of your business, the number of employees, and the services provided? Understanding the potential costs associated with a 401k plan can help you make informed decisions that are in the best interest of your business and its employees.

Offering a 401k plan can provide significant benefits for both small businesses and their employees. By offering a retirement savings vehicle, businesses can attract and retain top talent. Additionally, employees can enjoy the tax advantages and the opportunity to save for their future. However, it’s important to consider the costs involved. These costs may include administrative fees, investment fees, and record-keeping fees, among others. Finding the right plan provider and understanding the fee structure can help small businesses navigate the cost aspect of offering a 401k plan.

How Much Does a 401k Cost a Small Business?

Understanding the Costs of a 401k Plan for Small Businesses

A 401k plan is an employer-sponsored retirement savings account that allows employees to contribute a portion of their salary on a pre-tax basis. These plans have become increasingly popular among small businesses as they offer tax advantages to both the employees and the business. However, it’s important for small business owners to be aware of the costs associated with offering a 401k plan to their employees. In this article, we will explore the various expenses involved in setting up and maintaining a 401k plan for a small business.

One of the main costs associated with a 401k plan is the administrative fees charged by the plan provider. These fees can vary depending on the size of the plan, the number of participants, and the services provided by the provider. Some common administrative fees include recordkeeping fees, trustee fees, and participant communication fees.

Additionally, small businesses may also be required to pay for the services of a third-party administrator (TPA) who helps with the day-to-day management of the plan. The TPA is responsible for tasks such as processing contributions, distributing funds, and ensuring compliance with relevant laws and regulations. The fees charged by TPAs can range from a fixed monthly fee to a percentage of the plan assets.

Plan Setup Costs

The first cost that a small business owner will encounter when setting up a 401k plan is the plan setup cost. This includes expenses such as legal and consulting fees for drafting the plan documents and ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations. It is important to work with a qualified attorney or consultant who specializes in retirement plans to ensure that the 401k plan is properly structured and meets all legal requirements.

In addition to the setup fees, there may be other costs associated with implementing the plan, such as fees for employee education and enrollment materials. These costs are essential for effectively communicating the benefits of the plan to employees and encouraging their participation.

It’s worth noting that some 401k plan providers may waive or reduce the plan setup costs as an incentive to attract small businesses. It is advisable to explore different providers and compare their offerings and fee structures before making a decision.

Investment Fees

Another significant component of the cost of a 401k plan is the investment fees. These fees are associated with the investment options available within the plan and can have a significant impact on the long-term growth of the participants’ retirement savings. Investment fees can vary depending on the investment options chosen, such as mutual funds, index funds, or target-date funds.

Common investment fees include expense ratios, which cover the costs of managing the investment fund, and transaction fees, which are charged when buying or selling certain investments. It is important for small business owners to carefully review and compare the investment options and their associated fees to ensure that they are providing their employees with competitive and cost-effective investment choices.

One way to mitigate investment fees is to offer low-cost index funds, which are designed to track specific market indexes and generally have lower expense ratios compared to actively managed funds. Additionally, small businesses can negotiate with their plan provider or investment advisor to reduce the investment-related costs.

Matching Contributions

Many small businesses choose to make matching contributions to their employees’ 401k plans as an additional benefit. The matching contribution is an amount that the employer contributes to the plan based on the employee’s own contributions. While matching contributions are not mandatory, they can be a powerful tool for attracting and retaining talented employees.

The cost of matching contributions will depend on the matching formula adopted by the business. Common formulas include dollar-for-dollar matches, where the employer matches the employee’s contribution up to a certain percentage of their salary, or percentage matches, where the employer contributes a certain percentage of the employee’s contribution. Small businesses should carefully consider the financial implications of matching contributions and determine a matching formula that aligns with their budgetary constraints.

Matching contributions are subject to the same contribution limits as individual employee contributions, which are set by the IRS. It is important for small business owners to stay updated on these limits and ensure that the matching contributions do not exceed the applicable limits.

Tax Considerations

When evaluating the costs of a 401k plan for a small business, it is important to consider the potential tax benefits. Businesses can generally deduct contributions made to their employees’ 401k plans as a business expense, reducing their taxable income. Additionally, the contributions made by employees to their 401k accounts are deducted from their taxable income, resulting in immediate tax savings.

However, it’s important to note that there are specific IRS rules and limitations on tax deductions for 401k contributions. Small business owners should consult with a tax professional to understand the tax implications of offering a 401k plan to their employees.

It should also be noted that starting in 2020, the SECURE Act allows small businesses to claim a tax credit of up to $5,000 for the first three years to offset the costs of setting up a new 401k plan. This tax credit can help reduce the initial costs associated with implementing a 401k plan for a small business.

Employee Education and Support

Properly educating employees about their 401k plan and providing ongoing support is crucial for the success of the plan. Many small businesses incur costs associated with employee education, such as hiring financial advisors or conducting seminars and workshops. These education efforts help employees understand the benefits of the plan, the investment options available, and how to make smart retirement savings decisions.

Providing employees with access to a knowledgeable and responsive customer support team is also important. This can be achieved through the plan provider or by employing dedicated staff members to assist with any plan-related inquiries or issues. The costs associated with employee education and support should be factored into the overall budget of the 401k plan.


Offering a 401k plan can be a valuable employee benefit for small businesses, but it’s important to understand the associated costs. From administrative fees to investment expenses and matching contributions, there are various factors to consider when budgeting for a 401k plan. By carefully evaluating these costs and exploring different plan providers, small businesses can find a solution that aligns with their budgetary constraints while still offering a competitive retirement savings option to their employees.

Remember, if you’re a small business owner considering a 401k plan for your employees, it’s essential to seek professional advice and consult with a qualified attorney, financial advisor, or tax professional. They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific business needs and help you navigate the complexities of offering a 401k plan.

Key Takeaways

  1. A 401k plan can be a valuable benefit for small business employees.
  2. The cost of a 401k plan for a small business can vary based on factors like the plan provider and the number of employees.
  3. Small business owners should consider the setup fees, annual administration fees, and investment fees when calculating the cost of a 401k plan.
  4. There may also be additional fees for services like plan recordkeeping and compliance testing.
  5. It’s important to compare different 401k providers and understand all the costs involved before selecting a plan for your small business.

Overall, the cost of a 401k for a small business can vary depending on various factors.

These factors include the size of the company, the number of employees participating in the plan, the types of investment options offered, and the administrative services provided.

It is important for small businesses to carefully consider these costs and shop around for the best providers that offer competitive fees and services.

By offering a 401k plan, small businesses can attract and retain talent, while also providing employees with a valuable retirement benefit.

However, it is essential to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits to ensure that the 401k plan is a financially viable option for the business.


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