Basics of IRS Nondiscrimination Testing: Top Heavy Test

August 4, 2016 by Hazel Gunapala

Every single day, I work with people in compliance and 401(k) plan administration. I talk to recordkeepers, compliance officers, and 401(k) fiduciaries. And every single day, I find new ways to appreciate the responsibilities, challenges, and art behind creating a place where employees are happy and appreciated. For all the HR, finance, and leadership teams out there struggling with IRS and Department of Labor regulations: this is for you.

If you’re a small business owner thinking of starting a 401(k) plan or a small business owner that already has a 401(k) plan, you’ve probably heard the terms top heavy, nondiscrimination testing, and ACP vs. ADP thrown around. Don’t panic.

At the end of the year, 401(k) plans are subject to a series of nondiscrimination tests. The purpose of these tests is to make sure your 401(k) plan isn’t inherently designed to favor certain employees.

Today, I’m going to address one of these nondiscrimination tests — the top heavy test.

While there are three 401(k) nondiscrimination tests in total, the top heavy test is the most painful one to correct if your company ends up failing it.

Here’s how the IRS Top Heavy Test works:

Most small companies have employees who qualify as “key employees.” If over 60% of the assets in a plan are owned by these key employees, a plan is considered top heavy. You probably have some questions based on what you just read. “What’s a key employee?” and “why do I care?” are probably up there.

A key employee is someone who:

  1. Owns greater than 5% of the company
  2. Or is an officer making $170,000 in 2016
  3. Or is an employee who owns more than 1% and makes over $150,000 in 2016

Why is this important? Good question.

If your plan is top heavy, you might have to make a 3% nonelective contribution to all non-key employees and this could add up pretty quickly. This means putting in 3% of gross pay into the 401(k) on behalf of each employee eligible to participate in the plan — effectively increasing your payroll by 3% for the year.

To avoid this, ForUsAll collects data from plan sponsors to run mid-year testing on plans. Additionally, we run weekly reporting to see if your plan is trending toward being top heavy. If your plan is trending toward this, we’ll let you know ASAP. Our services don’t end there though.

We’ll even advise you on how to reduce the risk of being top heavy and continue monitoring your plan until that risk has sufficiently subsided. As a 3(16) fiduciary, we take on these responsibilities so you can go about doing your actual job.

If you want to check “plan design” and “nondiscrimination testing” off your to-do list — schedule time to talk. We’ve got your covered.

Originally published at blog.forusall.com on August 4, 2016.

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