Definitions You Need To Know
Certain terms used in this publication are defined below. The same term used in another publication may have a slightly different
Annual additions are the total of all your contributions in a year, employee contributions (not including rollovers),
and forfeitures allocated to a participant's account.
Annual benefits are the benefits to be paid yearly in the form of a straight life annuity (with no extra benefits)
under a plan to which employees don't contribute and under which no rollover contributions are made.
A business is an activity in which a profit motive is present and economic activity is involved. Service as a newspaper
carrier under age 18 or as a public official isn’t a business.
A common-law employee is any individual who, under common law, would have the status of an employee. A leased employee
can also be a common-law employee.
A common-law employee is a person who performs services for an employer who has the right to control and direct the
results of the work and the way in which it is done. For example, the employer:
Common-law employees aren't self-employed and can't set up retirement plans for income from their work, even if that
income is self-employment income for social security tax purposes. For example, common-law employees who are ministers, members
of religious orders, full-time insurance salespeople, and U.S. citizens employed in the United States by foreign governments
can't set up retirement plans for their earnings from those employments, even though their earnings are treated as self-employment
However, an individual may be a common-law employee and a self-employed person as well. For example, an attorney can
be a corporate common-law employee during regular working hours and also practice law in the evening as a self-employed person.
In another example, a minister employed by a congregation for a salary is a common-law employee even though the salary is
treated as self-employment income for social security tax purposes. However, fees reported on Schedule C (Form 1040), Profit
or Loss From Business, for performing marriages, baptisms, and other personal services are self-employment earnings for qualified
Compensation for plan allocations is the pay a participant received from you for personal services for a year. You
can generally define compensation as including all the following payments.
Wages and salaries.
Fees for professional services.
Other amounts received (cash or noncash) for personal services actually rendered by an employee, including, but not limited
to, the following items.
Commissions and tips.
For a self-employed individual, compensation means the earned income, discussed later, of that individual.
Compensation generally includes amounts deferred at the employee's election in the following employee benefit plans.
However, an employer can choose to exclude elective deferrals under the above plans from the definition of compensation.
The limit on elective deferrals is discussed in chapter 2 under Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension (SARSEP)
and in chapter 4.
In figuring the compensation of a participant, you can treat any of the following amounts as the employee's compensation.
The employee's wages as defined for income tax withholding purposes.
The employee's wages you report in box 1 of Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement.
The employee's social security wages (including elective deferrals).
Compensation generally can't include either of the following items.
A special definition of compensation applies for SIMPLE plans. See chapter 3.
A contribution is an amount you pay into a plan for all those participating in the plan, including self-employed individuals.
Limits apply to how much, under the contribution formula of the plan, can be contributed each year for a participant.
A deduction is the plan contributions you can subtract from gross income on your federal income tax return. Limits
apply to the amount deductible.
Earned income is net earnings from self-employment, discussed later, from a business in which your services materially
helped to produce the income.
You can also have earned income from property your personal efforts helped create, such as royalties from your books
or inventions. Earned income includes net earnings from selling or otherwise disposing of the property, but it doesn't include
capital gains. It includes income from licensing the use of property other than goodwill.
Earned income includes amounts received for services by self-employed members of recognized religious sects opposed
to social security benefits who are exempt from self-employment tax.
If you have more than one business, but only one has a retirement plan, only the earned income from that business
is considered for that plan.
An employer is generally any person for whom an individual performs or did perform any service, of whatever nature,
as an employee. A sole proprietor is treated as his or her own employer for retirement plan purposes. However, a partner isn't
an employer for retirement plan purposes. Instead, the partnership is treated as the employer of each partner.
Highly compensated employee.
A highly compensated employee is an individual who:
Owned more than 5% of the interest in your business at any time during the year or the preceding year, regardless of how much
compensation that person earned or received, or
For the preceding year, received compensation from you of more than $120,000 (if the preceding year is 2015, 2016 or 2017)
and, if you so choose, was in the top 20% of employees when ranked by compensation.
A leased employee who isn't your common-law employee must generally be treated as your employee for retirement plan
purposes if he or she does all the following.
Provides services to you under an agreement between you and a leasing organization.
Has performed services for you (or for you and related persons) substantially full time for at least 1 year.
Performs services under your primary direction or control.
A leased employee isn't treated as your employee if all the following conditions are met.
Leased employees aren't more than 20% of your non-highly compensated work force.
The employee is covered under the leasing organization's qualified pension plan.
The leasing organization's plan is a money purchase pension plan that has all the following provisions.
Immediate participation. (This requirement doesn't apply to any individual whose compensation from the leasing organization
in each plan year during the 4-year period ending with the plan year is less than $1,000.)
Full and immediate vesting.
A nonintegrated employer contribution rate of at least 10% of compensation for each participant.
However, if the leased employee is your common-law employee, that employee will be your employee for all purposes, regardless
of any pension plan of the leasing organization.
Net earnings from self-employment.
For SEP and qualified plans, net earnings from self-employment is your gross income from your trade or business (provided
your personal services are a material income-producing factor) minus allowable business deductions. Allowable deductions include
contributions to SEP and qualified plans for common-law employees and the deduction allowed for the deductible part of your
Net earnings from self-employment doesn't include items excluded from gross income (or their related deductions)
other than foreign earned income and foreign housing cost amounts.
For the deduction limits, earned income is net earnings for personal services actually rendered to the business. You
take into account the income tax deduction for the deductible part of self-employment tax and the deduction for contributions
to the plan made on your behalf when figuring net earnings.
Net earnings include a partner's distributive share of partnership income or loss (other than separately stated items,
such as capital gains and losses). It doesn't include income passed through to shareholders of S corporations. Guaranteed
payments to limited partners are net earnings from self-employment if they are paid for services to or for the partnership.
Distributions of other income or loss to limited partners aren't net earnings from self-employment.
For SIMPLE plans, net earnings from self-employment is the amount on line 4 of Short Schedule SE or line 6 of Long
Schedule SE (Form 1040), Self-Employment Tax, before subtracting any contributions made to the SIMPLE plan for yourself.
A qualified plan is a retirement plan that offers a tax-favored way to save for retirement. You can deduct contributions
made to the plan for your employees. Earnings on these contributions are generally tax free until distributed at retirement.
Profit-sharing, money purchase, and defined benefit plans are qualified plans. A 401(k) plan is also a qualified plan.
A participant is an eligible employee who is covered by your retirement plan. See the discussions of the different
types of plans for the definition of an employee eligible to participate in each type of plan.
A partner is an individual who shares ownership of an unincorporated trade or business with one or more persons. For
retirement plans, a partner is treated as an employee of the partnership.
An individual in business for himself or herself, and whose business isn't incorporated, is self-employed. Sole proprietors
and partners are self-employed. Self-employment can include part-time work.
Not everyone who has net earnings from self-employment for social security tax purposes is self-employed for qualified
plan purposes. See
Net earnings from self-employment
In addition, certain fishermen may be considered self-employed for setting up a qualified plan. See Publication 595,
Capital Construction Fund for Commercial Fishermen, for the special rules used to determine whether fishermen are self-employed.
A sole proprietor is an individual who owns an unincorporated business by himself or herself, including a single member
limited liability company that is treated as a disregarded entity for tax purposes. For retirement plans, a sole proprietor
is treated as both an employer and an employee.