SIMPLE IRA vs. Traditional IRA: What's the Difference?

SIMPLE IRA vs. Traditional IRA: An Overview

A traditional IRA can be set up by any person who has earned income and wants a tax-advantaged way to save for retirement. A SIMPLE IRA is designed to be opened by a small business owner on behalf of up to 100 employees, including the owner if that person is a sole proprietor.

Only the owner of a traditional IRA makes contributions to the account. Both the employee and the employer make contributions to a SIMPLE IRA, which stands for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees.

Key Takeaways

  • Traditional IRAs are set up by individuals, while SIMPLE IRAs are set up by small business owners for employees and for themselves.
  • Traditional IRA contributions are made by the individual only, but SIMPLE IRA contributions can be from both an employee and an employer.
  • The key requirement for a traditional IRA is that you have earned income during the year, while SIMPLE IRAs may have other restrictions, put in place by the small business owner.
  • For 2022, a traditional IRA has a $6,000 annual contribution limit. For 2023, a traditional IRA has a $6,500 annual contribution limit. There is also a $1,000 catch-up contribution limit for those 50 years old and older.
  • For 2022, the SIMPLE IRA limit is $14,000. For 2023, the SIMPLE IRA limit is $15,500. There is also a catch-up contribution limit for SIMPLE IRAs of $3,000 in 2022 and $3,500 in 2023.

SIMPLE IRA

Contributing to a traditional IRA requires only that a person has earned income during the year. By contrast, small business owners who open SIMPLE IRAs for their employees may make additional stipulations about who can participate. Employee contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are not tax-deductible.

SIMPLE IRA contributions are made before income taxes are deducted. Contributions to SIMPLE IRAs reduce taxable income, but they are not deductible on your tax returns as they do not appear in your taxable income. However, sole proprietors may deduct both salary reduction contributions and matching contributions, using Form 1040.

With a SIMPLE IRA, an employee may contribute up to $14,000 in 2022 and $15,500 in 2023. For those who are 50 years or older, the IRS catch-up provision allows an additional $3,000 in 2022 and $3,500 in 2023.

The SIMPLE IRA contributions can be either matched dollar for dollar by the employer, up to 3% of the employee’s compensation, or the employer’s contribution can be a fixed amount of 2% of the employee’s compensation.

Both traditional and SIMPLE IRAs allow for deferment of income tax on amounts contributed to the plans until they are dispersed, as well as on any earnings as long as they remain in the plans.

Traditional IRA

For traditional IRAs, the maximum allowable contribution for 2022 is the smaller of $6,000 (or $7,000 for those 50 and older) or the person's total income for the year. This contribution limit in 2023 is the smaller of $6,500 (or $7,500 for those 50 and older) or the person's total income for the year.

While employee contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are not deductible, contributions to a traditional IRA can be tax-deductible. That is, contributions to traditional IRAs are made on a pre-tax basis. The tax deduction is taken that year. Taxes will be due when the money is withdrawn, presumably after the person retires.

This is different from a Roth IRA, which is funded with after-tax money. For Roth IRAs, the money can be withdrawn tax-free during retirement. On the downside, there is no immediate tax deductibility of Roth IRA contributions.

For a SIMPLE IRA, with a few exceptions, such as for people over age 59½, the penalty rises from 10% to 25% if the money is withdrawn within two years of an employer making the first deposit.

Both traditional and SIMPLE IRAs incur penalties for early distribution of funds—10%—unless the money is withdrawn for specific hardship reasons or for certain exceptions defined by the IRS. In any case, any income tax due must be paid on the amount withdrawn.

SIMPLE IRA vs. Traditional IRA

Two of the most common types of IRAs are the SIMPLE and the traditional retirement accounts. Though both allow savers to put money aside for retirement, there are widely varying rules on how the accounts are managed and rules of maintenance.

SIMPLE IRA
  • Offered by employers.

  • Must earn a certain amount of money each year to contribute.

  • Employer contributions are required.

  • In 2023, contribution limit is $15,500.

  • In 2023, catch-up contribution limit is an additional $3,500.

  • Can be used by small business owners and their employees (as long as they meet other eligibility requirements)

Traditional IRA
  • Not offered by employers.

  • Must be under 70.5 years old and have earned income to contribute.

  • No employer contributions.

  • In 2023, contribution limit is $6,500.

  • In 2023, catch-up contribution limit is an additional $1,000.

  • Can be used by anyone meeting age and earned income eligibility requirements).

Special Considerations

A law signed in January 2020 called the SECURE Act allows more employers to offer annuities as investment options within 401(k) plans. Under the Act, insurance companies, not employers, will be responsible for offering suitable investment choices.

The act also means that for multiple employer plans, in which small businesses can join together to provide retirement plans for employees, employers no longer have to share “a common characteristic,” such as being in the same industry.

Also, long-term part-time workers can now be eligible for plans. The threshold for eligibility is now one full year with 1,000 hours worked or three consecutive years of at least 500 hours.

Lastly, under the act, small business employers who automatically enroll workers in their retirement plan are eligible for a tax credit to offset the costs of starting a 401(k) plan or SIMPLE IRA plan with auto-enrollment, on top of the start-up credit they already receive.

What Are the Contribution Limits for a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA?

The annual contribution limit for both IRAs is $6,000 in 2022 and $6,500 in 2023. If you are 50 and older, you can contribute an additional $1,000.

What Is the Contribution Limit for a SIMPLE IRA?

The annual contribution limit for a SIMPLE IRA in 2022 is $14,000 and in 2023 is $15,500. In 2022, a $3,000 catch-up amount is allowed if you are 50 or older. In 2023, this catch-up contribution limit is $3,500.

What Is the Difference Between a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA?

The primary difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA is how they are taxed. A traditional IRA is funded with pre-tax dollars and taxed when withdrawals are made. A Roth IRA is funded with after-tax dollars and is not taxed when withdrawals are made.

The Bottom Line

Investors and savers have many options when planning for their retirement. Two very common options are to contribute into a SIMPLE IRA or traditional IRA. A SIMPLE IRA is geared towards small business owners and their employees, while anyone meeting age and earned income requirements can contribute into a traditional IRA. Each type of account has different contribution limits and eligibility requirements.

Article Sources
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  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics - 401(k) and Profit-Sharing Plan Contribution Limits."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics - SIMPLE IRA Contribution Limits."

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  8. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics - IRA Contribution Limits."

  9. Internal Revenue Service. "IRA FAQs."

  10. Internal Revenue Service. "Roth IRAs."

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  14. Congress.gov. "H.R.1994 - Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019."

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