7 Best 401(k) Providers
Regardless of your business’s size, offering your employees a retirement savings plan is a crucial part of any HR operation. Not only will offering comprehensive employee benefits draw top talent, but it’ll make your current employees feel valued and provide them peace of mind that they’re making the right financial decisions for their future—and happier employees make for better employees overall. Plus, as the employer and plan sponsor, you’ll also be setting yourself up with a retirement plan.
The key is to choose a 401(k) provider that is especially equipped to provide small businesses with quality retirement plans, investment advisory services, and administrative support.
There are a few retirement plans available for self-employed and small businesses, including SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, and individual 401(k) plans, but traditional 401(k) plans are by far the most common option. As a reminder, traditional 401(k) plans allow participants to make pre-tax contributions to an individual retirement account up to the limit set by the IRS. (In 2020, the elective salary deferral is up to $19,500, or $26,000 for those over 50.) Employers can also choose to make contributions on behalf of their employees, match their employees’ contributions, or both, also up to the IRS limit.
In this guide, we’ll go over seven of the best 401(k) providers for small businesses. We’ll also walk you through how to go about choosing the best 401(k) provider for you and your employees.
How to Choose a 401(k) Provider
When choosing a 401(k) provider for your business, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. Of course, you’ll first need to choose the firm that provides the type of retirement plan you really want to offer, whether that’s a traditional 401(k) plan or something else. Also take a look at the plan design to ensure that their eligibility requirements, vesting schedule, investment options, and other details are appropriate for your employees. You’ll also need to evaluate the fees attached to your retirement plan. Often, fees vary depending on your business and number of employees, so you will need to get in touch with each provider directly to receive a quote.
On a qualitative level, you’ll likely want to work with a 401(k) provider with excellent customer service, individualized investment and plan design guidance, and a support team that’s easy to reach—especially because the landscape of retirement plans can be confusing to navigate, both for you and your employees.
Moreover, you should consider a provider that acts as a fiduciary advisor. Fiduciaries are legally and ethically bound to provide unbiased investment advice that aligns with their clients’ best interests. They also manage, monitor, and adjust their clients’ retirement plans. There are several types of fiduciaries, but you’ll most often see the term 3(38) fiduciary.
Also note that a couple of the 401(k) providers we’ve included on this round-up are online-based, which is a great option if you’re looking to really streamline and digitize this process. Certain providers can offer employer benefits beyond 401(k) plans, as well, which is a good option if you want to integrate all your fringe benefits under one provider.
7 Best 401(k) Providers for Small Businesses
Here are seven of the best and most reputable 401(k) providers for small businesses that you should consider in 2020.
ADP is one of the most respected names in payroll processing, but their comprehensive HR and employer services suite includes retirement plans and administration. While they can serve businesses of all sizes, ADP is unique in that they extend their full arsenal of services and decades’ worth of expertise to small businesses (which they define as businesses with one to 49 employees), in addition to large enterprises.
If you sign up for ADP’s retirement planning service, you’ll have access to a team of professionals who can help you browse, choose, and customize which of their available retirement plans is best for you and your employees. In addition to 401(k) plans, ADP offers SIMPLE and SEP IRA options, which are great choices for very small businesses. They also offer tiered investment options, which are suitable for investors with all experience levels.
Once they’ve helped you design a retirement plan, your ADP advisors will help you implement and manage your plan to ensure you’re staying compliant. If you’re an ADP payroll client, your retirement plan’s record-keeping system will automatically integrate with your payroll system.
2. Betterment For Business
Betterment for Business is the 401(k) channel of Betterment, a robo-advisor that helps consumers make smarter investment choices using a combination of technology and human expertise. With this service, Betterment for Business’ human advisors and technology help business owners design 401(k) plans and advise employees on the smartest investments they can make in a variety of ETFs to optimize their retirement savings. Betterment for Business is a certified 3(38) fiduciary, so they’re legally and ethically required to act in your company’s best interests when giving investment advice.
Obviously, Betterment for Business is only a viable option if you and your employees are comfortable using a robo-advisor and managing your plan digitally. If you are interested, we’d recommend taking a look at our Betterment for Business review for a more in-depth understanding of this unique 401(k) provider.
3. Charles Schwab
Charles Schwab is one of the most established and best-known investment and retirement firms in the country—a better option if you consider yourself a bit too much of a technophobe to opt for a robo-advisor. Charles Schwab offers a managed account service that offers your employees personalized advice on a range of investment options, including ETFs or index mutual funds.
They’ll also provide ongoing account monitoring and automatic adjustments. As an alternative, Charles Schwab also offers SIMPLE and SEP IRA plans; or, if you’re self-employed, you can opt for their Individual 401(k) plan, which is essentially a traditional 401(k) plan designed particularly for individually owned businesses. It’s worth noting that this plan has no setup or monthly maintenance fees.
4. ShareBuilder 401k
Sharebuilder 401k allows self-employed individuals and small businesses to buy and set up low-cost 401(k) plans completely online. They also act as 3(38) fiduciaries, so they’re certified to make investment advice, manage portfolios, and handle plan administration.
With Sharebuilder 401k, you’ll have four retirement plan options: Solo 401(k), Safe Harbor 401(k), Traditional 401(k), and Tiered Profit-Sharing 401(k). All plans require a one-time setup fee, a flat monthly administration fee, and an annual fund fee that varies from 0.04% to 0.39% per year. Investment options include index ETFs and five types of model portfolios based on the individual investor’s risk tolerance.
5. Fidelity Investments
Another trusted name in retirement services, Fidelity has over 30 years of experience and currently over 30 million plan participants under their belt. Fidelity can service businesses of all sizes, but they say that 86% of their business clients have fewer than 500 employees—so despite the big name, they’re fully equipped to serve small businesses.
Fidelity’s 401(k) plan offers a wide range of investment options, including over 16,000 mutual funds from 380 fund companies. They also offer comprehensive advisory services, as well as administrative, reporting, and compliance support, and you can reach their advisors either in person, online, or over the phone. Their advisors will help you design a plan, or you can choose to work with your current broker. Plus, Fidelity has an app and online dashboard where you and your employees can view and manage their plans and get in touch with advisors whenever they need. Beyond retirement plans, Fidelity also offers integrated employer benefits, including payroll and health plans.
6. T. Rowe Price
At 83 years old, T. Rowe Price is the most established asset management firm on this list. They offer four retirement plans for small businesses: SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, Individual 401(k), and a 401(k) for Small Business. The former three plans are best for self-employed individuals or businesses with under 100 employees, while the latter plan is best suited for businesses with up to 1,000 employees.
Under the 401(k) for Small Business, plan sponsors can choose from over 100 no-load mutual funds and over 5,400 non-proprietary funds. T. Rowe Price also offers plan participants 24/7 phone support, plus an online portal where they can manage their plans and conduct transactions.
7. Merrill Edge
Under the Merrill Small Business 401(k) plan, independent advisors select and manage funds and model portfolios for all participants. Unlike the other participants on this list, pricing for this plan is very transparent: It costs a one-time setup fee of $390 and a monthly administration fee of $90. Then, each participant is responsible for a $4 monthly recordkeeping fee and an annual asset-based fee of 0.52%. You also have the option of converting your existing 401(k) plan to a Merrill Small Business 401(k), in which case you may end up saving money.
Merrill Edge’s Merril Small Business 401(k) is suitable for corporations, partnerships, and nonprofits, but they also offer SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, and Individual 401(k) plans for sole proprietorships and self-employed individuals.
The Bottom Line on Choosing a 401(k) Provider
While all of the 401(k) providers on this list are great options for small businesses, it’s important to choose the 401(k) provider that can actually work for you and your employees—and the best way to figure that out is by contacting each provider directly. That way, you can get a better sense of the fees attached to each plan, the services they provide, how comfortable you feel working with your advisors, and, importantly, how much of the administrative burden they can take on for you.
Sally Lauckner is the editor-in-chief of the Fundera Ledger and the editorial director at Fundera.
Sally has over a decade of experience in print and online journalism. Previously she was the senior editor at SmartAsset—a Y Combinator-backed fintech startup that provides personal finance advice. There she edited articles and data reports on topics including taxes, mortgages, banking, credit cards, investing, insurance, and retirement planning. She has also held various editorial roles at AOL.com, Huffington Post, and Glamour magazine. Her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan magazines.