SEP-IRA vs. SIMPLE IRA: what is the difference?

1 min readLast updated March 28, 2024by Unbiased team

Understand the intricacies of choosing between a SEP-IRA and a SIMPLE IRA retirement plan to ensure you make an informed decision tailored to your financial goals.


  • SEP-IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs are retirement plans designed for self-employed individuals and small business owners. 

  • SEP-IRA offers flexibility for contributions based on business profits, while SIMPLE IRA has set contribution limits. 

  • SEP-IRA suits those with variable income, while SIMPLE IRA is ideal for small businesses with a stable workforce. 

  • A financial advisor can offer you expert advice about choosing the right retirement plan. 

What is a SEP-IRA? 

A Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP-IRA) is a retirement plan designed for business owners and self-employed individuals.  

Its simplicity and minimal administrative requirements make it an attractive option for those seeking an uncomplicated yet effective retirement savings strategy. 

How does a SEP-IRA work? 

SEP-IRAs are straightforward - employers contribute to their employees' accounts, and these contributions are tax-deductible.  

What sets SEP-IRAs apart is their flexibility.  

Contributions are based on a percentage of income, making them ideal for businesses with variable profits.  

Contributions to SEP-IRAs are made by the employer and are discretionary. This means that in profitable years, businesses can contribute more, while in lean years, they have the flexibility to contribute less or nothing at all.  

This adaptability makes SEP-IRAs an attractive option for businesses with fluctuating incomes. 

The business owners and all employees must receive contributions at the same percentage of salary. 

In 2024, an employer's contributions to an employee's SEP-IRA cannot exceed the lesser of 25% of the employee's compensation or $69,000. 

Who can open a SEP-IRA? 

SEP-IRAs are inclusive and cater to various individuals, including business owners, freelancers, and those with self-employment income.  

The beauty of SEP-IRAs lies in their accessibility, allowing any employer, regardless of size, to establish accounts for themselves and their employees. 

The eligibility criteria for employees are also relatively straightforward.  

Any employee who has reached 21, has worked for the employer in at least three of the last five years, and has received at least $750 in compensation from the employer in the current year can participate in a SEP-IRA. 

Are there any specific SEP-IRA rules to follow? 

While they offer flexibility, you must adhere to specific SEP-IRA rules.  

Primarily, SEP-IRA contributions must be proportional among eligible employees, applying the same percentage to the employer's account. Employees must also meet specific criteria to qualify for contributions.  

There are also rules governing the percentage of income that employers can contribute.  

As mentioned, contributions are generally made as a percentage of each employee's compensation, but they must not exceed the lesser of 25% of the employee's salary, or ​​$69,000. 

Consulting IRS guidelines, such as Publication 560, Retirement Plans for Small Business (SEP, SIMPLE, and Qualified Plans), will ensure accurate information and compliance with regulations. 

What is a SIMPLE IRA? 

A Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees Individual Retirement Account (SIMPLE IRA) is another retirement option tailored for small businesses.  

This plan's hallmarks are simplicity and cost-effectiveness, making it appealing to employers with fewer than 100 employees. 

If you are self-employed, you can also use a SIMPLE IRA.  

How does a SIMPLE IRA work? 

A SIMPLE IRA enables both employers and employees to make contributions.  

Employers must make either matching contributions or non-elective contributions, even if the employee does not contribute.  

SIMPLE IRAs provide employees with an accessible means to save for retirement; however, this type of retirement account will not allow them to see the returns of the more traditional 401(k) plans

Who can open a SIMPLE IRA? 

A SIMPLE IRA is an ideal choice for small business owners seeking to provide retirement benefits.  

Any business with 100 or fewer employees can establish a SIMPLE IRA, making it a practical solution for a wide range of companies. 

The eligibility criteria for employees to participate in a SIMPLE IRA are less stringent than some other retirement plans. Any employee who has earned at least $5,000 in any two preceding calendar years and is reasonably expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current calendar year can participate. 

What are the key differences between a SEP-IRA and a SIMPLE IRA? 

Understanding the nuances between these plans is essential for informed decision-making: 

  • SEP-IRAs can be set up by any employer, while SIMPLE IRAs are reserved for businesses with 100 or fewer employees. 

  • SEP-IRAs allow for more substantial contributions based on a percentage of income, while SIMPLE IRAs have specific annual limits for both employers and employees. 

  • SEP-IRAs are highly flexible and suit businesses with varying profits, while SIMPLE IRAs are ideal for stable small businesses. 

Get expert financial advice 

Choosing between a SEP-IRA and a SIMPLE IRA has significant implications for your financial future.  

Your retirement plan is a cornerstone of your financial well-being, and choosing the right path today can lead to a more secure and fulfilling future.  

Seeking expert financial advice from a trusted financial professional will empower you to make informed choices that align with your unique circumstances and ensure a path to financial security and a well-deserved retirement.  

Let Unbiased help you get the financial advice you need to manage your money successfully.  

Find an advisor today. 


Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.