New U.S. law may encourage businesses to offer retirement plans

A new law expanding retirement plan options for small businesses may encourage more American companies to offer the benefits to their workers.

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, known as the SECURE Act, won final congressional approval in the Senate last month and was signed into law by President Donald Trump.

One of the bill’s features makes it easier for small businesses to band together to offer 401(k) and other retirement plans. The option, called multiple-employer plans, lower the costs of administering a plan.

Read: A road map to clarity on the multi-employer pension plan promise

The high costs of more complex plans like 401(k)s have put them out of reach for many small businesses. These costs also reduce the returns employees get from their investments. So joining a plan with other companies theoretically will make it easier for small businesses to offer retirement plans.

The law also increases the maximum tax credit small businesses get for starting plans, to $5,000 from $500.

Half the workers in companies with fewer than 50 employees have access to retirement benefits, according to a Labor Department report.

“Most small businesses simply don’t have the funds or staff to offer and manage retirement plans,” said John Arensmeyer, chief executive officer of the advocacy group Small Business Majority.

What’s not known at this point is whether multiple plans going forward will have costs low enough to persuade small-business owners to join. Owners do have other options, including simplified employment pension, or SEP, plans that are less complex and cheaper than 401(k) plans.

Read: A primer on multi-employer pension plans