Pros and Cons of the New York State Secure Choice Savings Program

Answers to small businesses' frequently asked questions

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The New York State Secure Choice Savings Program was established to help the more than 3.5 million private-sector workers in the state who have no access to a workplace retirement savings plan. Originally enacted as a voluntary program in 2018, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a law on Oct. 22, 2021, that requires all employees of qualified businesses be automatically enrolled in the state's Secure Choice Savings Program.

If you’re an employer in New York, state laws require you to offer the Secure Choice Savings Program if you:

  • Had 10 or more employees during the entire prior calendar year
  • Have been in business for at least two years
  • Have not offered a qualified retirement plan during prior two years

If you’re wondering whether the Secure Choice Savings Program is the best choice for your employees, read on for answers to frequently asked questions.

Do I have to offer my employees the Secure Choice Savings Program?

No. State laws require businesses with 10 or more employees to offer retirement benefits, but you don’t have to elect the Secure Choice Savings Program if you provide a 401(k) plan (or another type of employer-sponsored retirement program).

What is the Secure Choice Savings Program?

The Secure Choice Savings Program is a Payroll Deduction IRA program—also known as an “Auto IRA” plan. Under an Auto IRA plan, if you don’t offer a retirement plan, you must automatically enroll your employees into a state IRA savings program. Specifically, the New York plan requires employers to automatically enroll employees at a 3% deferral rate.

As an eligible employer, you must set up the payroll deduction process and remit participating employee contributions to the Secure Choice Savings Program provider. Employees retain control over their Roth IRA and can customize their account by selecting their own contribution rate and investments—or by opting out altogether.

Why should I consider the Secure Choice Savings Program?

The Secure Choice Savings Program is a simple, straightforward way to help your employees save for retirement. According to SHRM, it is managed by the program’s board, which is responsible for selecting the investment options. The state pays the administrative costs associated with the program until it has enough assets to cover those costs itself. When that happens, any costs will be paid out of the money in the program’s fund.

Are there any downsides to the Secure Choice Savings Program?

Yes, there are factors that may make the Secure Choice Savings Program less appealing than other retirement plans. Here are some important considerations:

  • The Secure Choice Savings Program is a Roth IRA, which means it has income limits—If your employees earn above a certain threshold, they will not be able to participate. For example, single filers with modified adjusted gross incomes of more than $140,000 would not be eligible to contribute. If they mistakenly contribute to the Secure Choice Savings Program—and then find out they’re ineligible—they must correct their error or potentially face taxes and penalties. However, 401(k) plans aren’t subject to the same income restrictions.
  • New York Secure Choice is not subject to worker protections under ERISA—Other tax-qualified retirement savings plans—such as 401(k) plans—are subject to ERISA, a federal law that requires fiduciary oversight of retirement plans.
  • Employees don’t receive a tax benefit for their savings in the year they make contributions—Unlike a 401(k) plan—which allows both before-tax and after-tax contributions—Illinois only offers after-tax contributions to a Roth IRA. Investment earnings within a Roth IRA are tax-deferred until withdrawn and may eventually be tax-free.
  • Contribution limits are far lower—Employees may save up to $6,000 in an IRA in 2022 ($7,000 if they’re age 50 or older), while in a 401(k) plan employees may save up to $20,500 in 2022 ($27,000 if they’re age 50 or older). So even if employees max out their contribution to the Secure Choice Savings Program, they may still fall short of the amount of money they’ll likely need to achieve a financially secure retirement.
  • No employer matching and/or profit sharing contributions—Employer contributions are a major incentive for employees to save for their future. 401(k) plans allow you the flexibility of offering employer contributions; however, the Secure Choice Savings Program does not.
  • Limited investment options—Secure Choice Savings Program offers a relatively limited selection of investments.

Why should I consider a 401(k) plan instead of the Secure Choice Savings Program?

For many employers—even very small businesses—a 401(k) plan may be a more attractive option for a variety of reasons. As an employer, you have greater flexibility and control over your plan service provider, investments, and features so you can tailor the plan that best meets your company’s needs and objectives. Plus, you’ll benefit from:

  • Tax credits—Thanks to the SECURE Act, you can now receive up to $15,000 in tax credits to help defray the start-up costs of your 401(k) plan. Plus, if you add an eligible automatic enrollment feature, you could earn an additional $1,500 in tax credits.
  • Tax deductions—If you pay for plan expenses like administrative fees, you may be able to claim them as a business tax deduction.

With a 401(k) plan, your employees may also likely have greater:

  • Choice—You can give employees, regardless of income, the choice of reducing their taxable income now by making pre-tax contributions or making after-tax contributions (or both!) Not only that, but employees can contribute to a 401(k) plan and an IRA if they wish—giving them even more opportunity to save for the future they envision.
  • Saving power—Thanks to the higher contributions limits of a 401(k) plan, employees can save thousands of dollars more—potentially setting them up for a more secure future. Plus, if the 401(k) plan fees are lower than what an individual might have to pay with Illinois Secure Choice, that means more employer savings are available for account growth.
  • Investment freedom—Employees may be able to access more investment options and the guidance they need to invest with confidence. Case in point: Betterment offers 500+ low-cost, globally diversified portfolios (including those focused on making a positive impact on the climate and society).
  • Support—401(k) providers often provide a greater degree of support, such as educational resources on a wide range of topics. For example, Betterment offers personalized, “always-on” advice to help your employees reach their retirement goals and pursue overall financial wellness. Plus, we provide an integrated view of your employees’ outside assets so they can see their full financial picture—and track their progress toward all their savings goals.

What action should I take now?

After the Secure Choice Savings Program opens for enrollment, you’ll have nine months to set up a payroll deposit retirement savings arrangement. No rollout date has been set yet, and the board can delay the program rollout as needed. We’ll keep you posted of any deadline updates.

If you decide to explore your retirement plan alternatives, talk to Betterment. We can help you get your plan up and running fast—and make ongoing plan administration a breeze. Plus, our fees are well below industry average. That can mean more value for your company—and more savings for your employees. Get started now.

Betterment is not a tax advisor, and the information contained in this article is for informational purposes only.