What Are Nonelective Contributions?

Nonelective Contributions Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

Definition
Nonelective contributions are payments made by an employer to a company-sponsored retirement plan, regardless of whether employees contribute to the plan or not.
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Nonelective contributions are payments made by an employer to a company-sponsored retirement plan, regardless of whether employees contribute to the plan or not. Generally calculated as a percentage of an eligible employee’s compensation, nonelective contributions are paid directly to the employee’s retirement account.

Learn how nonelective contributions work, and what the implications are for employers and employees.

Definition and Example of Nonelective Contributions

If an employer makes a nonelective contribution to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) or SIMPLE IRA, they will do so for each participating employee, regardless of whether that employee contributes anything to the retirement account.

This is in contrast to a matching contribution, in which the employer agrees to provide additional contributions only for employees who make salary deferrals to the retirement plan. Another difference is that the employee portion of matching contributions are deducted (deferred) from their paycheck, while nonelective contributions are paid solely by the employer.

  • Acronyms: NEC, employer NEC

For example, an employer may choose to make a nonelective contribution of 6% of the employee’s salary. That means if the employee earns $50,000 annually, the employer would pay $3,000 per year to the employee’s retirement account. For the employee, it’s like receiving a $3,000 bonus to their retirement savings.

How Do Nonelective Contributions Work?

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA, is the federal law that specifies standards and requirements for retirement plans in private industry. Employers are not required to establish a retirement plan for their workers. But those who do have to comply with the minimum standards set by ERISA.

Note

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation are responsible for enforcing the rules for employer-sponsored retirement plans.

In many cases, the employer can choose the type and amount of contributions they make on behalf of employees, as long as they don’t exceed annual contribution limits as set by the IRS.

However, some retirement plan types require employers to meet specific contribution amounts. One example of this is a Safe Harbor 401(k). A Safe Harbor 401(k) requires the employer to either:

  • Match 100% of employee contributions up to 3% of earnings (plus 50% of the next 2%), or
  • Make nonelective contributions equaling 3% of compensation for every eligible employee

Under an automatic enrollment 401(k), the employer must either:

  • Match 100% of employee contributions up to 1% of compensation (plus 50% of contributions above 1% and up to 6% of compensation), or
  • Make nonelective contribution of 3% of compensation for all participants

A SIMPLE 401(k) is another type of 401(k) plan that limits employer contributions to either:

  • Make 100% matching contributions up to 3% of employee pay, or
  • Make a nonelective contribution of 2% of pay for every eligible employee

Advantages and Disadvantages of Nonelective Contributions

Nonelective contributions benefit workers by allowing them to boost their retirement savings beyond what they may have achieved on their own. This can act as an incentive for employees to stick with a company while at the same time helping the business attract and retain employees.

Another major benefit for businesses is that nonelective contributions are tax-deductible for the employer. Nonelective contributions promote inclusivity by requiring employers to contribute for all employees rather than just highly-compensated ones. Additionally, participation in Safe Harbor 401(k) and SIMPLE 401(k) plans allow businesses to avoid annual compliance testing.

One potential downside for employers is the added administrative costs that go along with sponsoring a plan. Employers must make sure to remain compliant with all rules and regulations, maintain fiduciary responsibility, and keep up with making the required contributions in a timely manner.

Key Takeaways

  • Nonelective contributions are paid into an employee’s retirement account by the employer, regardless of whether the employee contributes.
  • Nonelective contributions help employees boost their retirement savings and could potentially promote loyalty to a specific company.
  • Employers can choose the type and amount of contributions they make, except under certain plan types.
  • Nonelective contributions to employee’s retirement plans are tax deductible for employers, provided they comply with requirements set by the IRS.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. “Operating a 401(k) Plan.”

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. “FAQs About Retirement Plans and ERISA,” Page 1.

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