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Comparing the SIMPLE IRA vs. Traditional IRA

By Laurel Tincher · March 08, 2021 · 4 minute read

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Comparing the SIMPLE IRA vs. Traditional IRA

One of the most popular retirement accounts is an IRA, or Individual Retirement Account. IRAs allow individuals to put money aside over time to save up for retirement, with tax benefits similar to that of other retirement plans.

Two common IRAs are the SIMPLE IRA and the traditional IRA, both of which have their own benefits, downsides, and rules around who can open an account. For investors trying to decide which IRA to open, it helps to know the differences between SIMPLE IRAs and traditional IRAs.

SIMPLE IRA vs Traditional IRA: Side-by-Side Comparison

Although there are many similarities between the two accounts, there are some key differences. This chart details the key attributes of each plan.

SIMPLE IRA Traditional IRA
Offered by employers Yes No
Who it’s for Small-business owners and their employees Individuals
Eligibility Earn at least $5,000 per year Under 70 ½ years old and earned income in the past year
Tax deferred Yes Yes
Tax deductible contributions Yes, for employers and sole proprietors only Yes
Employer contribution Required No
Fee for early withdrawal 10% plus income tax
25% if money is withdrawn within two years of an employer making a deposit
10% plus income tax
Contribution limits $13,500 per year
10% plus income tax
$6,000 per year
10% plus income tax
Catch-up contribution $3,000 additional per year for people under 50
10% plus income tax
$$1,000 additional per year for people under 50

What is a SIMPLE IRA?

The SIMPLE IRA, which stands for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees, is set up to help small-business owners help both themselves and their employees save for retirement. It’s a retirement plan that small businesses with fewer than 100 employees can offer employees who earn at least $5,000 per year.

A SIMPLE IRA is similar to a traditional IRA, in that a plan participant can make tax-deferred contributions to their account, so that it grows over time with compound interest. When the individual retires and begins withdrawing money, then they must pay income taxes on the funds.

With a SIMPLE IRA, both the employer and the employee contribute to the employee’s account. Employers are required to contribute in one of two ways: either by matching employee contributions between 1% and 3% of their salary, or to contribute a flat rate of 2% of the employee’s salary—even if the employee doesn’t contribute. With the matching option, the employee must contribute money first.

There are yearly employee contribution limits to a SIMPLE IRA; in 2021 the annual limit is $13,500, with an additional $3,000 in catch-up contributions for people over age 50.

Pros and Cons of SIMPLE IRA

It’s important to understand both the benefits and downsides of the SIMPLE IRA in order to make an informed decision about retirement plans.

SIMPLE IRA Pros

There are several benefits—to both employers and employees—to choosing a SIMPLE IRA, including:

•  For employers, it’s easy for employers to set up and manage, including online set-up through most banks.
•  For employers, management costs are low compared to other retirement plans.
•  For employees, taxes on contributions are deferred until the money is withdrawn.
•  Employers can take tax deductions on contributions. Sole proprietors can deduct both salary and matching contributions.
•  For employees, there is an allowable catch-up contribution for those over 50.
•  For employers, the IRA plan providers send tax information to the IRS, so there is no need to do any reporting.
•  Employers and employees can choose how the money in the account gets invested based on what the plan offers. Options may include mutual funds aimed towards growth or income, international mutual funds, or other assets.

SIMPLE IRA Cons

Although there are multiple benefits to a SIMPLE IRA, there are some downsides as well, such as:

•  Employers must follow strict rules set by the IRS.
•  Other employer-sponsored retirement accounts have higher limits, such as the 401(k), which allows for $19,500 per year. (Check out our IRA calculator to see what you can contribute to each type of IRA.)
•  If account holders withdraw money before they reach age 59 ½ they must pay a 10% fee and income taxes on the withdrawal.
•  There is no option for a Roth contribution to a SIMPLE IRA, which would allow account holders to contribute post-tax money and avoid paying taxes later.

What is a Traditional IRA?

The traditional IRA is set up by an individual to contribute to their own retirement. Employers are not involved in traditional IRAs in any way. The main requirements to open an IRA are that the account holder must have earned some income within the past year and they must be younger than 70 ½ years old at the end of the year.

Pros and Cons of Traditional IRA

When it comes to benefits and downsides, there’s not too much difference between traditional vs SIMPLE IRAs—though there are a few that are unique to this type of plan.

Traditional IRA Pros

•  It allows for catch-up contributions for those over age 50.
•  One can choose how the money in the account gets invested based on what the plan offers. Options may include mutual funds aimed towards growth or income, international mutual funds, or other assets.
•  Contributions are tax-deferred, so taxes aren’t paid until funds are withdrawn.

Traditional IRA Cons

•  Much lower contribution limits than a 401(k) or a SIMPLE IRA, at $6,000 per year.
•  Penalties for early withdrawal are also the same: withdraw money before age 59 ½ and pay a 10% fee plus income taxes on the withdrawal.

Can I Have Both a SIMPLE IRA and a Traditional IRA?

Yes, it is possible for an individual to have both a SIMPLE IRA through their employer and also a traditional IRA on their own—though they may not be able to deduct all of their traditional IRA contributions. The IRS sets a cap on deductions per calendar year.

Single people with an AGI (adjusted gross income) of more than $66,000 are restricted to a partial deduction; those with AGI above $76,000 may not take a deduction at all. Married couples filing jointly with an AGI of $105,000 to $125,000 may take a partial deduction; those with AGI above $125,000 may not take a deduction at all.

The Takeaway

The SIMPLE IRA and traditional IRA are both individual retirement accounts, but the SIMPLE is set up through one’s employer—typically a small business of 100 people or less—while the traditional IRA is set up by an individual.

There are many similarities in attributes of the plans, though some major distinctions is that the SIMPLE IRA requires employer contributions (though not necessarily employee contributions) and allows for a higher amount of employee contributions per year.

Understanding the differences between retirement accounts like the SIMPLE and traditional IRA is one more step in creating a personalized retirement plan that works for you and your goals. If you’re looking to start saving for retirement now, or add to your investments for the future, SoFi Invest® online retirement accounts offers both traditional and Roth IRAs that are simple to set up and manage.

Find out how to further your retirement savings goals with SoFi Invest.


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