If you’re an owner or top earner at your company
you might think that being an HCE is simply a matter of whether your salary exceeds a certain limit. In fact there’s more to it than that. Knowing the details can help owners and other HCEs avoid unwanted surprises.

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The IRS requires that most 401k’s and certain other qualified retirement plans undergo annual non-discrimination testing. The purpose of this testing is to ensure that the plan’s contributions, benefits, rights and features do not unfairly favor the company’s most highly compensated employees (HCEs) over its non-highly compensated employees.

Am I a Highly Compensated Employee? There are three ways that a person may qualify as a HCE. Meeting any one of these criteria makes you a HCE:

  • Ownership: You are a HCE if you own more than 5% of your business at any time during the current or prior plan year. Lineal ascendants and descendants and spouses of such owners are also HCEs.
  • Compensation: The compensation limit for HCEs can vary from year to year. If your income in 2012 was more than $115,000, you are considered a HCE for tax year 2013.

Note: Sometimes you may not be a HCE, even if your earnings exceeded the compensation limit, if the retirement plan document limits the number of HCEs to 20% of employees.

Impact on Savings if You are a HCE
Although you may want to contribute the maximum 401k deferral ($17,500 for 2013 or $23,000 if you are at least age 50), if the non-HCEs aren’t savings enough or your 401k plan doesn’t comply with the safe harbor rules, a portion of your savings may have to be returned to you on a taxable basis to fix the nondiscrimination testing.

As a business owner, top earner, or benefits manager, you owe it to yourself to know which of your company’s employees are HCEs — and whether you are one of them.

For help with that task, and with planning for your plan’s  nondiscrimination testing, please call us at (312) 762-5960 or Please email us