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The Best Employee Retirement Plans for Small Businesses 2020

By
Dock David Treece
,
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
| Updated
Nov 29, 2021

An employee retirement plan is an employer-sponsored benefit that helps workers save and invest a portion of their salaries, allowing the money to grow until they retire.
Best for Small Businesses
ADP Employee Retirement
Payroll integration
Mobile enrollment
All-in-one solution
Best for Transparency
American 401k
Subsidiary of MassMutual
Named representatives
Personalized service
Best for Affordability
Human Interest Employee Retirement
Straightforward pricing
Four levels of service
Payroll integration
Best for Low Fees
ShareBuilder 401k
Total costs under 1%
Auto-enrollment, payroll integration
Solo 401(k) plans
Best All-in-One Solution
Paychex Employee Retirement
Help with administration, payroll
Dedicated advisor
IRA and 403(b) options
An employee retirement plan is an employer-sponsored benefit that helps workers save and invest a portion of their salaries, allowing the money to grow until they retire.

Best Employee Retirement Plans


  • Many employee retirement benefits providers also handle company payroll and other HR functions.
  • Cost and investment options are important considerations when you are choosing an employee retirement benefits provider.
  • You should expect sound service, but not investment advice, from an employee retirement benefits provider.
  • This best-picks page is for business owners who are looking for the best employee retirement benefits provider for their business.

Once your business is profitable – and especially once you have employees – you need to set up an employer-sponsored retirement plan to help employees save and invest. The best employee retirement providers offer plan design, along with administration, recordkeeping, auto-enrollment and easy integration with company payroll.

 

Find the Right Employee Retirement Plan for Your Business

Fill out this questionnaire to find vendors that meet your needs.

Compare Our Best Picks

Company Best use case Editor's score Monthly pricing Add-on fees Types of plans Ease of use Online and mobile enrollment Acts as fiduciary
ADP Best for small businesses 91/100 Not disclosed online Not disclosed online
  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • SIMPLE IRA
  • SEP IRA
Easy enrollment via mobile app Both Yes
American 401k Best for transparency 90/100 $250 one-time installation fee; $500 annual fee; $20 per participating employee No 12b-1 fees, exchange fees, or minimum balance fees
  • Safe harbor 401(k)
  • Traditional 401(k)
  • Solo 401(k)
Concierge-level service Online only Yes
Human Interest Best for affordability 95/100 Starting at $120 per month, plus $4 per employee 0.5% per year, plus 0.07% in average fund fees
  • Traditional 401(k)
  • Roth 401(k)
  • Safe harbor 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Profit-sharing
Integrated plan administration and payroll Both Yes
ShareBuilder 401k Best for low fees 93/100 Starting at $25 per month for solo 401(k) 0.75% for plans with 11-25 participants and less than $500,000 in assets
  • Solo 401(k)
  • Safe harbor 401(k)
  • Traditional 401(k)
  • Tiered profit-sharing 401(k)
Fully administered plans with payroll integration and bundled recordkeeping Online only Yes
Paychex Best all-in-one solution 93/100 Not disclosed online Not disclosed online
  • Pooled employer plan
  • Traditional 401(k)
  • Owner-only 401(k)
  • Solo 401(k)
  • SIMPLE IRA
  • 403(b)
Option of comprehensive recordkeeping and administration Both Yes
Perfect401(k) Best for easy implementation 90/100 Starting at $375 per quarter for 10 employees, plus $7.25 per quarter for each additional employee Not disclosed online Traditional 401(k) Plan design, enrollment materials, help with rollovers, participant education Online only Yes
Fidelity Best for self-employed 92/100 No setup fee, no account maintenance fee, no withdrawal fee, no account minimum Commissions on trades in certain securities
  • 401(k)
  • Self-employed 401(k)
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA
Phone support, account forms online, contributions by phone or mail Both Yes
Guideline Best for compliance 90/100 Starting at $49 per month and $8 per employee 0.08% per year for participants Safe harbor 401(k) Plan design, plan fiduciary, employer and employee dashboards, payroll integration Online only Yes
Vanguard Best for investment flexiblity 91/100 $20-$25 account fee for certain accounts or certain balances, fund expenses Not disclosed online
  • 401(k)
  • Individual 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA
Online setup for IRA options, recordkeeping included Both Yes
Shelton Capital Best for customer support 89/100 Not disclosed online Not disclosed online 401(k) Live onsite investment education Online only Yes

Our Reviews

ADP Employee Retirement: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Small Businesses

ADP offers customizable plans that are appropriate for businesses of all sizes.
Enrollment is easy and can be completed via a mobile app.
ADP does not disclose its fees online.

Editor's score: 91/100

ADP stands out as the best employee retirement provider for small businesses because of its comprehensive payroll, HR outsourcing and benefits services, all of which can be integrated through the company's SMARTSync Comprehensive Plan Automation. ADP offers a basic 401(k) plan that requires business administrators to select and monitor the investment options that are available to employees, as well as the more robust 401(k) Essential plan. Investments range from stock and income mutual funds to speciality funds, including real estate and technology.

With the Essential plan, you can customize automatic enrollment options, employee eligibility requirements, contributions, vesting schedules and more. Alternatively, the standard 401(k) plan requires more active management by plan administrators, which may be too much work for many business owners, especially employers with a lot of employees or employers that don't have dedicated HR teams. Regardless of the plan, employees get access to ADP's mobile app, which makes it easy to enroll in benefits and choose investments.

As with many top providers, ADP does not publish its pricing online. However, you can contact the company via telephone or click the Start Quote button to begin building a small business retirement plan with a representative.

Read ADP Employee Retirement Review

American 401k: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Transparency

The company's website lists straightforward and transparent pricing and fees.
American 401k offers investors more than 15,000 funds and 1,000 ETFs, including Vanguard.
Some plans limit access to certain investments, which can hurt adoption rates.

American 401k is a small, independent retirement benefits provider that offers services through a subsidiary of MassMutual. Unlike other top employee retirement providers, American 401k offers extremely transparent pricing. What's more, the company does not charge 12b-1 fees, exchange fees or minimum balance fees. That said, the company appears to be small – with only one representative, based outside Philadelphia – raising potential concerns regarding customer service capabilities.

Employers can choose from the company's Premier plan, which is meant for businesses with up to 100 employees, or the Elite plan, which is designed for companies with 101 or more employees. In general, Premier is better for businesses that do not already offer a 401(k), while Elite is better for those with an existing plan. Employees get access to concierge-level guidance throughout implementation and ongoing administration, and can take advantage of payroll integration and assistance with compliance and reporting.

Read American 401k Review

Human Interest Employee Retirement: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Affordability

Monthly rates start at just $120 per month, plus $4 per employee per month.
Human Interest includes free investment advice and automatic portfolio rebalancing for employees.
Some users report issues in connecting with the customer support team.

Editor's score: 95/100

Human Interest is a dedicated employee retirement benefits provider that offers cost-effective and user-friendly services online. Fully automated plans – complete with full recordkeeping, administration and payroll integration – start at $120 per month, plus $4 per employee per month. Employers can choose from three plans – Essentials, Complete and Concierge – each with increasing levels of management.

Beyond the payroll integration and automated administration available through the Essentials plan, Complete provides administration, tax support and 3(16) fiduciary services. The Concierge plan includes all of these features, as well as access to dedicated account management. Human Interest also offers a wide range of investment options, including stock, bond and international mutual funds, as well as real estate funds and an FDIC-insured cash deposit account.

Read Human Interest Employee Retirement Review

ShareBuilder 401k: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Low Fees

ShareBuilder 401k uses low-cost investments to guarantee that investment fees stay below 1%.
All plan paperwork and administration are digitized and easy to access.
The company's website does not provide details about ongoing investment management.

Editor's score: 93/100

ShareBuilder 401k was previously owned by ING Direct and then Capital One, but it was recently spun off and is now operating independently again. The company is a standout in the retirement benefits space because of its low cost; it specifically designs employer retirement plans to cost less than 1% overall each year. ShareBuilder 401k uses low-cost investment options to make sure that total costs remain under 1%. Plans start at $25 per month for solo 401(k) plans, plus 0.75% for plans with 11 to 25 participants and under $500,000 in assets.

Another big benefit of ShareBuilder 401k is that the entire process of setting up and administering a small business retirement plan is digital. All paperwork and administration are automated, and it's easy to oversee your account from anywhere.

Read ShareBuilder 401k Review

Paychex Employee Retirement: Employee Retirement Plan with the Best All-in-One Solution

Paychex offers a full suite of payroll and HR tools, including 401(k) and retirement services.
Customers get a dedicated support team to address questions.
The company does not disclose its fees and pricing online.

Editor's score: 93/100

Paychex is an all-in-one HR, payroll and benefits solution that offers 401(k) and retirement services for businesses of all sizes. Small business owners can work with Paychex to build a customized retirement plan, including a traditional 401(k), an owner-only 401(k), a solo 401(k) for sole proprietors and SIMPLE IRA plans. Paychex helps small business owners simplify plan management, reduce the risk of reporting errors and save time for HR professionals.

Paychex also assigns each customer a dedicated team to help them build, administer and troubleshoot a retirement plan tailored to the business's unique needs. Unfortunately, like many of the best employee retirement providers, Paychex does not disclose its pricing and fees online. You must contact the company to request a free quote, but this is easily accomplished online or via phone.

Read Paychex Employee Retirement Review

Perfect401(k): Best Employee Retirement Plan for Easy Implementation

An implementation team manages every step, from plan design to enrollment and training.
Employees can easily enroll online or via the mobile app.
The pricing structure makes Perfect401(k) more expensive for larger businesses.

Editor's score: 90/100

If you want to attract top talent with a competitive benefits package but you're intimidated by the thought of implementing a retirement plan, Perfect401(k) may be the best fit. The company makes it easy for business owners to set up a retirement plan for their employees by assigning each business a designated implementation team that handles the plan design, enrollment and training. 

The Perfect401(k) plan costs employers $375 per quarter ($1,500 annually) for 10 employees, plus $7.25 per additional employee each quarter. Employees are charged 0.67% or less of their account balance each month to cover the cost of mutual funds, investment consultation, education tools and other management fees.

More

Fidelity Investments: Best Employee Retirement Plan for the Self-Employed

Fidelity provides digital-only investing and a hybrid robo-advisor.
There are no account fees, account minimums or commissions on trades.
Trades aren't free if you need assistance from a broker.

Editor's score: 92/100

Fidelity is one of the largest privately owned financial services companies in the world. The firm provides a wide array of services, including individual retirement accounts and employer-sponsored retirement plans. Many of the IRA options can be opened without an advisor, including simplified employee pension (SEP) IRAs, which are a great cost-effective option for entrepreneurs. Accounts can be set up quickly and easily online. 

Within these retirement accounts, particularly the IRA options, Fidelity customers get access to a full array of investment options. Users can trade U.S. stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and options for zero commission, and there are no annual fees for SEP IRAs. If you're self-employed and want a retirement account you can set up online, Fidelity is a great option that has a well-deserved excellent reputation.

More

Guideline: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Compliance

Guideline offers safe harbor 401(k) plans at multiple price levels.
The plan pricing is extremely transparent.
The features may not be sufficient for larger, more complex businesses.

Editor's score: 90/100

Guideline is a relatively new company that has a particularly strong safe harbor 401(k) offering. Safe harbor 401(k) plans are great for small business owners because they allow company owners to maximize their own contributions, even if not all of their employees participate in the plan. Business owners who use a traditional 401(k) instead may be prohibited from maximizing their contributions, because the IRS imposes limitations based on employee participation and contribution rates.

Because Guideline is an online option, it's easy to set up and relatively cost-effective. The company's basic plan starts at $49 per month, plus $8 per employee per month. Guideline's other plans, which offer additional features, cost $79 and $129 per month. Employees are also charged additional account fees, but they are minimal (0.08% annually).

More

Vanguard: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Investment Flexibility

Vanguard offers a wide variety of funds, including Vanguard's Target Retirement Funds.
The average fund expense ratio at Vanguard is 84% lower than the industry average.
The trading platform is less user-friendly than some competitors'.

Editor's score: 91/100

As one of the oldest and largest mutual fund companies in the world, Vanguard offers a wide range of mutual funds and ETFs for account holders to choose from. The company also offers retirement services, including individual retirement accounts and some small employer-sponsored plans.

Vanguard shines because of its massive list of cost-effective investment options. Long considered the king of cheap investing, Vanguard has been helping individuals and small businesses save for retirement for more than 40 years. Of its funds, 87% have outperformed their peers over the past decade. What's more, the average fund expense ratio at Vanguard is 84% lower than the industry average. Another bonus is that there is no minimum initial investment required to open a small business retirement account. 

More

Employee Retirement Provider Costs

Business owners can expect to pay $50 to $200 per month for their employee retirement plan, plus $5 to $15 per employee per month to cover the cost of administration and recordkeeping. 

Additionally, when small business owners set up a retirement plan, there are usually annual fees for administration, recordkeeping and filing preparation. Providers may also charge fees for serving as a plan fiduciary, conducting onsite visits, or preparing educational materials or newsletters. Some companies may charge separate annual advisory fees for assisting with plan design and serving as a resource for employees who need assistance.

Separately, many costs of small business retirement plans are covered by the expense ratios of the investments included in the plan. These fees are paid by mutual funds in the plan to the plan provider based on the amount of assets plan participants have invested in the fund. 

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: Employee retirement plans typically charge a base rate ranging from $50 to $200 per month, plus $5 to $15 per employee per month.

Choosing Employee Retirement Providers

Selecting an employee retirement provider takes some research and careful consideration of your particular circumstances. Even after you settle on a platform, you should reassess it periodically to make sure you're getting everything you need. Follow these steps to choose the right employee retirement provider for your business:

1. Research providers.

First, survey the providers that offer different types of retirement accounts. You should consider what services and plans they offer and how much they charge.

2. Check out reviews.

Once you know what individual platforms offer, read customer reviews and keep an eye out for red flags. Pay close attention to the quality of customer service that customers have received, what problems they've encountered and the overall reputation of the provider.

3. Evaluate the investment selections.

When you've found a reputable firm that offers the type of plan you want, consider the types of investments it allows employees to make through that type of plan. Does the company give you latitude to invest in what you want?

4. Review the fees.

Now that you know what type of plan you want, which providers are reputable and what types of investments they allow, take a careful look at your preferred provider's fees for both the account you want and the investments you need. The total cost of a plan is an important factor in your final decision, so make sure you understand how much the plan will cost before you open an account.

5. Reevaluate periodically.

After you choose a provider and set up an account, review both your account and the provider regularly to gauge their performance. Assess both at least annually to make sure you don't need to make a change.

Advantages of Employee Retirement Plans

Anyone can set up a retirement plan for their small business, but there are significant advantages to using an independent provider. Here are just a few:

  • Helps to attract and retain talent. The job market is competitive. If you want to hire the best employees, you need to offer top-of-the-line benefits.

  • Improves productivity. Your HR manager will be a lot more productive (as will your employees) if everyone's retirement benefits are handled centrally by a professional provider.

  • Saves time for recordkeeping. Retirement plan providers have software that makes plan administration and recordkeeping totally seamless and largely automated.

  • Reduces the pressure of compliance requirements. The professionals who work with retirement service companies are up to date on the regulations and familiar with current best practices. [Related: How to Borrow Against your 401k]

Employee Retirement Provider Features

Employee retirement providers have many common features. Most offerings include certain core services, such as plan administration, recordkeeping and preparation of IRS filings. Some also handle plan design (investment selection) and employee enrollment, serve as a plan fiduciary, and sometimes even manage company payroll.

  • Onboarding: Benefits need to be explained to employees as part of their enrollment. Some providers offer an introduction and/or training course to help educate employees about the benefits available to them.

  • Easy online administration: You should be able to handle your plan's benefits administration online without ever having to visit an advisor's office.

  • Recordkeeping and compliance: Plan providers should handle all aspects of plan compliance, annual filings and necessary documentation.

  • Investment selection: Most providers help you pick the investment options to include in your plan and guide you in employee eligibility and company 401(k) matching.

  • Mobile enrollment for employees: Employees should be able to handle their account setup and maintenance via a mobile app or browser.

  • Employee resources: Plan providers should serve as a resource for employees who have questions about their benefits, though most don't provide investment advice.

Did you know?Did you know? Offering employee retirement plans helps your business as well as your employees. Learn how offering a 401(k) plan benefits small businesses.

Employee Retirement Provider FAQs

Can I open a 401(k) on my own?

Anyone who has earned income and isn't eligible for an employer-sponsored retirement plan can set up a 401(k) of their own. It's not easy, but it can be done. The IRS has numerous administrative and recordkeeping requirements. There are forms that have to be filed at setup and annually – things employee retirement benefits providers do on a plan sponsor's behalf.

Can you switch 401(k) providers?

If a 401(k) plan sponsor (a small business owner or self-employed entrepreneur with a 401k) is dissatisfied with their 401(k) provider, they can change providers. Making a change is typically inconvenient and involves meetings with employees for training and re-enrollment, but it can certainly be done if you aren't satisfied.

Dock David Treece
Dock David Treece
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Dock David Treece is a contributor who has written extensively about business finance, including SBA loans and alternative lending. He previously worked as a financial advisor and registered investment advisor, as well as served on the FINRA Small Firm Advisory Board. He previously held FINRA Series 7, 24, 27, and 66 licenses.
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