What Is a Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan?
A supplemental executive retirement plan is a non-qualified retirement plan for key company employees, such as executives, that provides benefits above and beyond those covered in other retirement plans. There are many different kinds of SERPs available to companies wishing to ensure their key employees are able to maintain their current standards of living in retirement.
Understanding Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan (SERP)
A SERP is a form of deferred-compensation plan corporations often use as a way to reward and retain key executives. Because SERPs are non-qualified, they may be offered selectively to high-earning executives whose qualified plan contributions are limited by top-heavy rules. The company and executive enter into a formal agreement that promises the executive a certain amount of supplemental retirement income based on vesting and other eligibility conditions the executive must meet. The company funds the plan out of current cash flows or through the funding of a cash-value life insurance policy, and the deferred benefits are not currently taxable to the executive. Upon retirement, the executive receives the income, which the IRS and state taxes as ordinary income.
Advantages of a Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan
Supplemental executive retirement plans are viable options for companies seeking to maximize key executives' retirement income. They are non-qualified and require no IRS approval and minimal reporting. The company controls the plan and is able to book an annual expense equal to the present value of the stream of future benefit payments.
When the benefits are paid, the company is able to deduct them as an expense. When a cash-value life insurance policy is used to fund the benefits, the company benefits from tax-deferred accumulation inside the policy. In most cases, the policy can be structured in a way that allows the company to recover its cost.
For executives, the plan can be tailored to meet their specific needs. The benefits accrue to the executive without any current tax consequences. When funded with a cash-value life insurance policy, the death benefits are available to provide a continued supplemental payment or a lump-sum payment to the executive’s beneficiaries in the event of a premature death.
Disadvantages of a Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan
When funding a SERP, the company does not receive an immediate tax deduction on any payments. The funds that accumulate for a SERP inside a life insurance policy are not protected from creditor claims against the company or company insolvency. The IRS may also decide benefits available to the employee after retirement putting them at the risk of substantial payment.
- A SERP is a non-qualified retirement plan offered to executives as a long term incentive to stay with the company.
- SERPs offer tax advantages to companies and offer executives the chance to earn benefits of up to 70 percent of their pre-retirement income. But the tax benefits that accrue to the company and employee are not immediate.
Example of a SERP
A SERP generally takes on the form of a cash value life insurance policy. Companies buy an insurance policy of an agreed-upon amount for the employee. The company gets tax benefits because it pays the premiums on the insurance. Even if the employee quits, the company still has access to the insurance's cash value. If the employee passes away, the company is a beneficiary of the payout and also gets tax benefits.