SIMPLE IRA Contribution Limits for 2021

The maximum amount workers at small businesses can contribute to a SIMPLE IRA for 2021 remained the same as the prior year.

A small business owner
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A SIMPLE IRA is a retirement plan designed for small businesses with 100 or fewer employees. It's a cheaper (and easier) plan for an employer to set up when compared to a traditional 401(k). However, the amount a worker can save in a SIMPLE IRA is less than a 401(k).

2021 SIMPLE IRA Contribution Limits

For 2021, the annual contribution limit for SIMPLE IRAs is $13,500, the same amount as the year before. Workers age 50 or older can make additional catch-up contributions of $3,000, for a total of $16,500.

By comparison, workers younger than 50 can salt away as much as $19,500 in a traditional 401(k) for 2021, plus another $6,500 if they're 50-plus.

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Employee contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are made on a pretax basis, which lowers taxable income. The invested money grows tax-sheltered until you withdraw it, at which time the distributions will be taxed as ordinary income.

If you pull money out before age 59 1/2, you face a 10% early-withdrawal penalty on top of taxes. The withdrawal penalty increases to 25% for SIMPLE IRAs if money is pulled out within two years of signing up for the plan.

Unlike some other retirement plans, a SIMPLE IRA doesn't offer a Roth option, which would allow workers to invest after-tax dollars in the plan and not to be taxed on withdrawals later in retirement.

Employer Contributions to SIMPLE IRAs

Good news for workers participating in a SIMPLE IRA: Employers must make some form of a contribution to employees' accounts. An employer can choose to either make a dollar-for-dollar match of up to 3% of a worker's pay or contribute a flat 2% of compensation, whether the employee contributes or not.

Most employers choose the dollar-for-dollar match of up to 3%, says Ronald Oldano, a certified financial planner and private wealth adviser in Florida. However, if an employer has a bad year financially, there's some wiggle room to lower the employer match to 1% or 2% for two years of a rolling five-year period.

For example, a company just starting a SIMPLE IRA can elect to match 1% or 2% of each employee's salary for the first two calendar years of the plan, but then must ramp up its match to 3% for the next three years. Once that five-year period is over, the employer can again lower its matching contribution.

If your employer is like most and matches dollar-for-dollar up to 3% of pay, make sure you're contributing at least enough to qualify for the full match.

Also, remember to pick your investments wisely. SIMPLE IRAs can hold a basket of investments, from stocks and bonds to mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. The best investment is one that fits your long-term goals at the right price.

How SIMPLE IRA Savers Can Build a Bigger Nest Egg

If you're already stashing away the maximum contribution allowed in your SIMPLE IRA—$13,500 for employees younger than 50 or $16,500 for 50-plus workers—but want to save even more for retirement, consider opening a separate traditional IRA or Roth IRA, suggests Clark Randall, a certified financial planner and founder of Financial Enlightenment, in Dallas.

For 2021, individuals younger than 50 can contribute up to $6,000 to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. Retirement savers age 50 and up can make an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution. Roth IRAs have income limits. The maximum amount you can contribute to a Roth IRA for 2021 begins to phase out once modified adjusted gross income hits $125,000 for singles ($198,000 if married filing jointly). There's no tax deduction for Roth IRA contributions.

Contributions to a traditional IRA for 2021 are tax-deductible, though this benefit will phase out if you also contribute to a 401(k) plan at work and reach a certain income threshold. The tax deduction phases out for single filers who have a modified gross income between $66,000 and $76,000.

If an IRA contributor is covered by a work retirement plan, joint filers must earn $105,000 or less to claim the full tax deduction. The deduction is fully phased out once you make $125,000 or more. If an IRA contributor is not covered by a retirement plan at work, then the deduction is phased out between $198,000 and $208,000 for joint filers.