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The Best Employee Retirement Plans for Small Businesses 2022

By
Max Freedman
,
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
| Updated
Nov 15, 2022

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 All-in-One Solution
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Support for admin and payroll
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Customizable retirement plans
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IRA options
Best for Small Businesses
ADP Employee Retirement
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Payroll integration
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Mobile enrollment
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All-in-one solution
Best for Affordability
Human Interest Employee Retirement
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Coverage of certain mandatory fees
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Three levels of service
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Payroll integration
Best for Transparency
USA 401K
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Clear pricing and fee details
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Diverse fund offerings
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Unlimited number of employees
Best for Low Fees
ShareBuilder 401k
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Total investment fees under 1%
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Payroll integration
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Solo 401(k) plans
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 always 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 has a team of employees, it’s best to set up an employer-sponsored retirement plan, which can help improve employee retention rates. Some states even require certain types of employers to offer 401(k) plans. To find the best employee retirement benefits providers for your business, look for vendors that offer plan design, 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 401k Essentials: $150 per months plus $4 per participant per month

SIMPLE IRA administration starts at $480 per month

Pricing for other plans not disclosed online

401k Essentials: 0.10% of eligible assets as annual investment management fee, minimum $20.83 per month

Fees for other plans not disclosed online

401(k) SIMPLE IRA SEP IRA Easy enrollment via mobile app Both Yes
USA 401k Best for transparency 87/100 $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)

Concierge-level service Online only Yes
Human Interest Best for affordability 96/100 Starting at $120 per month, plus $4 per employee;

one-time $499 setup fee

0.5% per year, plus 0.07% in average fund fees Traditional 401(k)

Roth 401(k)

Safe harbor

401(k)

403(b)

Integrated plan administration and payroll Both Yes
ShareBuilder 401k Best for low fees 87/100 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 92/100 Not disclosed online Not disclosed online Traditional 401(k) Owner-only 401(k)

Solo 401(k) SIMPLE IRA

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 plus $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 flexibility 91/100 $20-$25 account fee for certain accounts or certain balances, fund expenses;

403(b) plan participants pay $5 per month

Not disclosed online 401(k)

Individual 401(k)

403(b)

SEP IRA

SIMPLE IRA

Online setup for IRA options, recordkeeping included Both Yes

Our Reviews

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

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

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.

Editor’s score: 92/100

As an added layer of convenience, Paychex has a mobile app that you can use to view your accounts. Through this app, you and your employees can check your investments and review contribution amounts, as well as access various other functions that generally are accessed via the desktop version.

Paychex also assigns each customer a dedicated team during onboarding to help them build, administer and troubleshoot a retirement plan tailored to the business’s unique needs. Unfortunately, like many of the employee benefits retirement providers we reviewed, 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.

Paychex users also have the option of receiving financial wellness services through FinFit. With this program, employees can ensure they know where they stand regarding current financial obligations, which can help them decide how much they should be investing toward their retirement.

Read Paychex Employee Retirement Review

ADP Employee Retirement: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Small Businesses

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

ADP stands out as the best employee retirement benefits 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 specialty funds, including real estate and technology.

Editor’s score: 91/100

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

Human Interest Employee Retirement: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Affordability

pro
Monthly rates start at just $120 per month, plus $4 per employee per month.
pro
Human Interest covers certain fees that all other vendors charge.
con
The one-time setup fee is high.

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.

Editor’s score: 96/100

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

USA 401K: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Transparency

pro
The company's website lists straightforward and transparent pricing and fees.
pro
USA 401k offers investors more than 15,000 funds and 1,000 exchange-traded funds (ETFs), including options from Vanguard.
con
USA 401k primarily offers prepackaged plans, meaning it mostly lacks customizability.

USA 401k is a small, independent retirement benefits provider that offers services through a subsidiary of MassMutual. Unlike other top employee retirement benefits providers, USA 401k offers extremely transparent pricing. What’s more, the company does not charge 12b-1 fees, exchange fees or minimum-balance fees.

Editor’s score: 87/100

Employers can choose either the New 401(k) plan, which is meant for businesses with one to 500 employees, or the Existing 401(k) plan, which is designed for companies with 501 or more employees. In general, New 401(k) is better for businesses that do not already offer a 401(k), while Existing 401(k) is better for those with an existing plan. Employees get access to concierge-level guidance throughout implementation as well as ongoing administration, and they can take advantage of payroll integration and assistance with compliance and reporting.

Read USA 401k Review

ShareBuilder 401k: Best Employee Retirement Plan for Low Fees

pro
ShareBuilder 401k uses low-cost investments to guarantee that investment fees stay below 1%.
pro
All plan paperwork and administration are digitized and easy to access.
con
There are no IRA options and no mobile app.

ShareBuilder 401k is a standout in the retirement benefits space because of its low fees. It specifically designs employer retirement plans with low-cost investment options to make sure that total investment fees 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 less than $500,000 in assets.

Editor’s score: 93/100

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. Additionally, ShareBuilder 401k recently expanded its ETF options to include environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds for the first time. We like that this expands the investment options for participants.

ShareBuilder 401k pairs you with a customer success manager to create a customized and detailed program that is tailored to your business’s and employees’ needs. From vesting schedules to employee education efforts, ShareBuilder 401k can help you build a complete program. This way, you can focus on the financial goals of both your business and your employees.

Read ShareBuilder 401k Review

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

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

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.

Editor’s score: 90/100

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, educational tools and other management fees.

More

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

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

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.

Editor’s score: 92/100

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, 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

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

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.

Editor’s score: 90/100

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

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

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.

Editor’s score: 91/100

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 actively managed funds, 86% 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 the minimum initial investment required to open a small business retirement account is the price of one share.

More

Employee Retirement Provider Costs

Business owners can expect to pay $20 to $200 per month for their employee retirement plan, plus $4 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 also may charge fees for serving as a plan fiduciary, conducting on-site 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 to the plan provider based on the amount of assets that plan participants have invested in the fund.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: Employee retirement plans typically charge a base rate ranging from $20 to $200 per month, plus $4 to $15 per employee per month.

Choosing Employee Retirement Providers

Selecting an employee retirement benefits 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 benefits 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 kinds of investments it allows employees to make through that type of plan. Does the company give you the 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 kinds 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 before you open an account, make sure you understand how much the plan will cost.

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. According to a survey of 100 companies from Callan, 16% of companies planned to reinstate or raise their 401(k) employer matching contributions in 2022. A further 8% are thinking about raising their contributions. Business owners can use a solid retirement plan as a tool for recruitment.
  • 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 401(k).]

Employee Retirement Provider Features

Employee retirement benefits 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 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 – tasks that employee retirement benefits providers handle 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 401(k) – 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 you can certainly do it if you aren’t satisfied.

How much can my business contribute to my employees’ 401(k) plans?

The IRS issues guidance on how much employers and employees can contribute to 401(k) plans each year. For tax year 2022, employers can contribute at most 100% of the employee’s total annual wages or $61,000 – whichever is smaller. This limit increases to $67,500 for employees ages 50 and older. However, the $61,000 figure represents the maximum allowed total for employee and employer contributions. Employees can contribute at most $20,500.

For tax year 2023, these figures will increase. The total maximum annual contribution will be $66,000, or $73,500 for employees 50 or older. Employees will be able to contribute at most $22,500.

Retirement options are only slightly different for small business owners with no employees other than a spouse. In that case, you can set up a self-employed 401(k) with a $20,500 annual contribution limit as of 2022 ($27,000 for people age 50 and over). Total employee and employer contributions cannot exceed $61,000. The corresponding figures for 2023 will be, respectively, $22,500; $30,000 for those 50 and over; and $66,000.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected retirement plans?

During the first nine months of the pandemic, 8% of employers suspended or reduced their 401(k) contributions. This trend has only continued since then, with major companies such as Amtrak and Lockheed Martin canceling their retirement benefits programs.

This may be a factor in the ongoing “Great Resignation.” According to WTW’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitude Survey, 47% of employees could be convinced to join a company based on strong retirement plan offerings. Similarly, 60% would keep working at a company with strong retirement benefits. These findings imply that companies that lack retirement plans may experience higher employee turnover.

Can my business save on taxes by providing an employee 401(k) plan?

Small businesses that have fewer than 100 employees and are setting up a retirement plan for the first time may be eligible for the Retirement Plans Startup Costs Tax Credit. For the first three years you offer a retirement plan for employees, you can earn a credit for up to 50% of the plan’s setup costs (up to $500 a year). Contributions for employer matching are also tax deductible.

Do I have to offer a 401(k) plan?

Some states have either passed or are considering legislation requiring businesses to provide a retirement plan or to register with a government-sponsored retirement plan. These laws are aimed mostly at larger businesses, but some apply to small businesses as well. For example, California now requires businesses with five or more employees to enroll in the state CalSavers program if they don’t already offer retirement benefits. Employers pay nothing for CalSavers and have few responsibilities, but noncompliance can result in a fine of up to $750 per employee.

Max Freedman contributed to this article.

Max Freedman
Max Freedman
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Max Freedman is a content writer who has written hundreds of articles about small business strategy and operations, with a focus on finance and HR topics. He's also published articles on payroll, small business funding, and content marketing. In addition to covering these business fundamentals, Max also writes about improving company culture, optimizing business social media pages, and choosing appropriate organizational structures for small businesses.
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