The SEP IRA, or simplified employee pension individual retirement account, is a good option for small business owners who want to offer this benefit to their employees. Needless to say, they'll want to build their own retirement savings as well.

As the name implies, setting up and managing a SEP IRA is streamlined compared to the processes for other qualified retirement plans that are used mostly by big corporations, such as the 401(k).

Notably, the contributions to a SEP IRA are made entirely by the employer, who can select an IRA or an annuity plan. The employee may, if they wish, open their own IRA accounts and contribute up to the annual IRS limits.

Contributions must be made by the tax-filing deadline for the year in which they are made. Here is a closer look at SEP IRAs, how contributions work, and when they are due.

Key Takeaways

  • Employer contributions to a SEP IRA must be made by the tax-filing deadline, usually April 15, or by the extension, usually Oct. 15, if there is one.
  • Only employers contribute to a SEP IRA, not employees.
  • The maximum contribution to a SEP IRA is $56,000 in 2019. That's much higher than the limits for other types of employer-sponsored insurance plans.

Contribution Deadline for SEP IRAs

Employer contributions to a SEP IRA are made in tax-deductible dollars. Business owners, including the self-employed, can also open a SEP IRA account of their own and contribute to their own retirement savings.

In either case, the deadline is the same. Contributions must be deposited into every employee's SEP IRA account by that year's tax-filing deadline, which is typically April 15 of the following year.

If, however, the employer has filed an extension, then the final SEP IRA contributions date is the extension deadline date, which is usually Oct.15.

For example:

Say John earns $50,000 a year at XYZ Corp. The company wants to contribute 15% of each employee's compensation into their SEP IRA accounts in 2019. This means John will receive a $7,500 contribution to his SEP IRA for 2019. XYZ Corp. has until April 15, 2020 to make the contribution to the employee SEP IRA accounts. If XYZ has filed a tax-filing extension until Oct.15, 2020, then the contributions must be made for John and all other employees by that date.

SEP IRA Contribution Limits

One of the advantages of a SEP IRA is that it has much higher contribution limits than a traditional or Roth IRA. In 2019, the annual contribution limit for a traditional or Roth IRA is $6,000, plus $1,000 for those aged 50 or over.

With a SEP IRA, an employer can contribute up to 25% of an employee's gross annual salary or $56,000, whichever is less, in 2019. Self-employed business owners can contribute 20% of their net adjusted self-employment annual income, as long as the contributions do not exceed $56,000.

Employers may change their contribution levels from year to year based on business considerations.

There's one more difference. In a traditional IRA, employers may match a percentage of the employee's contribution. But in the SEP IRA, the contribution is entirely up to the employer and can change from year to year.

That makes it effectively a kind of profit-sharing plan. When business is great, the employer may make a generous contribution, all the way up to 25% of each employee's salary. When business is bad, the employer may reduce or eliminate the company contribution.

This is not a bonus plan, though. If an employer has a SEP IRA, an identical percentage of salary must be deposited for each eligible employee.