CASE OF THE WEEK – Startup Plan Tax Credit Changes

By Jenny Kiffmeyer, J.D – The Retirement Learning Center

Sweeter Deal Awaits Small Businesses When Starting a Workplace Retirement Plan

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Florida dealt with a question on the SECURE Act 2.0 of 2022 (SECURE 2.0). The advisor asked: “What are the changes to the small plan startup tax credits for 2023 and could you walk me through an example, please?”

Highlights of Discussion

First, for businesses with up to 50 employees without a retirement plan that establish a SEP, SIMPLE IRA or 401(k) plan, Section 102 of SECURE 2.0 increases the small plan startup tax credit from 50 percent to 100 percent of eligible costs (capped at $5,000 per year) for the first three years the plan exists. (Prior rules still apply for those with 51-100 employees.)

More precisely, the enhanced credit is 100 percent of the eligible startup costs, up to the greater of

$500; or

The lesser of:

  • $250 multiplied by the number of nonhighly compensated employees (nonHCEs) who are eligible to participate in the plan, or
  • $5,000

Other eligibility rules include:

  • The business had at least one plan participant who was a nonHCE; and
  • In the three tax years before the first year the business is eligible for the credit, the covered employees were not substantially the same employees who received contributions or accrued benefits in another plan sponsored by the business

Second, the new law also added an additional credit exclusively for defined contribution plans with 50 or fewer employees. The credit is equal to a percentage of the amount contributed by the employer on behalf of employees, up to a per-employee cap of $1,000. Employees with compensation in excess of $100,000 are excluded from the calculation. This credit applies for five years and is phased out for employers with between 51 and 100 employees.

Year % of Contribution up to $1,000
1 and 2 100%
3 75%
4 50%
5 25%

But don’t forget about the third potential plan startup credit that still exists under the old rules. An eligible employer that adds an auto-enrollment feature to its plan can claim a tax credit of $500 per year for a three-year period beginning with the first taxable year the employer includes an auto-enrollment feature.


  1. Newbie Inc., sets up a new auto-enroll 401(k) plan with a 100% match up to 4% of compensation
  2. The company has 19 employees: 17 nonHCEs and 2 HCEs,
  3. There are 8 employees with compensation over $100,000 and 11 employees each with compensation of between $25,000-$100,000.
  4. Total startup costs for Year 1 = $7,500

Credit #1 Startup Credit

Dollar Limitation (The greater of $500 OR the lesser of A or B)

  1. $4,250 (i.e., $250 x 17 nonHCE participants)*
  2. $5,000

Result= $4,250

*20-50 nonHCEs would impose the $5,000 yearly cap

Credit #2 Auto Enrollment

Credit for auto enrollment feature = $ 500

Credit #3 Employer Contributions

11 employees with comp < $100K x $1,000= $11,000

Year 1 Startup Credits
100% of costs up to dollar limitation $4,250
Plus credit for auto enrollment feature $500
Plus credit for employer contribution $11,000
Total Year 1 Credits $15,750

Businesses will likely use an updated version of Form 8881, Credit for Small Employer Pension Plan Startup Costs and Auto-Enrollment to claim the credits.


A sweeter tax deal may await small businesses that do not currently offer workplace retirement plans. SECURE 2.0 enhances current plan startup tax credit rules and adds a new tax credit for employer-provided contributions. Plus, the $500 spiff for adding an auto-enroll feature may apply.


Consider TRA's 3(16) Fiduciary Services & Plan Administration

To alleviate the day-to-day administrative burdens of yours or your clients retirement plans.