What is a 'Profit-Sharing Plan'

A profit-sharing plan, also known as a deferred profit-sharing plan or DPSP, is a plan that gives employees a share in the profits of a company. Under this type of plan, an employee receives a percentage of a company's profits based on its quarterly or annual earnings. This is a great way for a business to give its employees a sense of ownership in the company, but there are typically restrictions as to when and how a person can withdraw these funds without penalties.

BREAKING DOWN 'Profit-Sharing Plan'

A profit-sharing plan is any retirement plan that accepts discretionary employer contributions. This means a retirement plan with employee contributions, such as a 401(k) or something similar, is not a profit-sharing plan because of the personal contributions. Since a profit-sharing plan is created by an employer, it is up to the business as to how much it wants to allocate to each employee. Companies that offer a profit-sharing plan have the opportunity to adjust the plan as needed, sometimes making zero contributions in some years. In the years when contributions are made, however, a company must come up with a set formula for profit allocation.

Comp-to-Comp Method of Profit-Sharing

The most common way for a business to determine the allocation of a profit-sharing plan is through the comp-to-comp method. Using this calculation, an employer derives the sum of all of its employees' compensation. Then, to determine what percentage of the profit-sharing plan an employee is entitled to, each employee's annual compensation is divided by the sum of the total compensation.

If, for example, a business has two employees, it could use a comp-to-comp method for profit sharing. Let's say employee-A earns $50,000 a year and employee-B earns $100,000 a year. If the business owner decides to share 10% of the annual profits, and the business earns $100,000 in a given fiscal year, the profit share would be allocated as: Employee-A = ($100,000 * 0.10) * ($50,000 / $150,000) and employee-B = ($100,000 * 0.10) * ($100,000 / $150,000).

Other Things to Know

A profit-sharing plan is available for a business of any size, and it can be established even if a company already has other retirement plans. Further, a company has a lot of flexibility in how it can implement a profit-sharing plan. Like with a 401(k) plan, an employer has full discretion over how and when it makes contributions. However, all companies have to prove a profit-sharing plan that does not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.

The contribution limit for a company sharing its profits to an employee is the lesser of 25% of that employee's compensation or $53,000. To implement a profit-sharing plan, all businesses must fill out a Form 5500-series return/report and disclose all participants of the plan. Early withdrawals, just like with other retirement plans, are subject to penalties.

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