Evaluating 401(k) providers can be daunting for small businesses. The 401(k) industry is fragmented and complex. There are hundreds of different providers, many with different roles in servicing a 401(k). And traditionally, small business owners and their employees have gotten the short end of the stick.
According to a study by BrightScope, the average small business pays 401(k) fees that are 5x higher than their Fortune 500 counterparts.
Five. Times. Higher.
If you ask us, that just isn’t fair.
Fortunately, it no longer has to be this way.
A new breed of small business 401(k) providers has emerged, using technology to offer easy-to-use, low-cost 401(k)s. Focused on the unique needs of the small business market, these 401(k) providers strive to make high-quality, low-cost retirement plans accessible to all – not just Fortune 500 companies.
So, the all-important question: who are the best 401(k) providers for small business? In this blog post, we’ll help you answer that.
We’ve done the legwork for you, assembling countless hours of research, reviews, and expert opinions into a simple, easy-to-digest guide. You’ll get side-by-side comparisons of 6 small business 401(k) providers that are frequently reviewed or mentioned by the media. By the end of this post, you’ll be well on your way to choosing the best 401(k) provider for you small business.
Ready to get started? Let’s jump right in!
Looking for something specific? Click on these links to jump straight to a specific section.
Before we get into the 401(k) provider comparisons, it helps to understand: what makes a good small business 401(k) provider? What criteria should you use to evaluate them? We’ve broken this down below:
Price is normally the first thing people consider when making a big purchase, and 401(k)s are no exception.
The truth is, 401(k) fees can have a huge impact on your plan’s success. Even fees a few tenths of a percent higher than they have to be can make a big dent in how much small business owners and their employees have in their accounts come retirement, so you’ll want to be sure to go with a low-cost 401(k) provider.
Newsflash: small businesses don’t have a lot of time to spend running a 401(k).
Unfortunately, 401(k)s are tightly regulated. They take *a lot* of work to run properly, keep compliant with government regulations, and avoid costly audits.
So when choosing a 401(k) provider for your small business, you’ll want to go with one that takes all that complex, tedious administrative work off your plate.
Better yet, they should act as both 3(16) and 3(38) fiduciaries – or, to put that in plain English, they should take *legal responsibility* for plan administration, AND building & optimizing your investment fund lineup.
When we talk about flexibility for small business retirement plan providers, we mean two things:
Investment Options: there are *tens of thousands* of mutual funds, index funds, and other investment products that can be added to 401(k) fund lineups, each with different pros, cons, fund expense ratios, and maintenance fees.
While most employees will be fine with a simple lineup of low-cost index funds, it’s important that investment-savvy small business owners and employees have access to a wide-range of investment options, so they have options that can accomodate their desired portfolio goals.
Plan Design: this refers to the specific features, rules, and setup of your small business retirement plan. Typically, this includes things like…
- Plan Type: whether it’s a Safe Harbor 401(k), Traditional 401(k), etc
- Eligibility: When employees are eligible to join the 401k plan and make salary deferrals
- Enrollment Timing: When those eligible employees are actually enrolled
- Roth: Whether or not your plan allows roth contributions
- Employer Contributions: Whether or not your plan offers employer contributions, such as matching contributions or profit-sharing
- Vesting: When employees gain ownership over employer contributions (this is referred to as a vesting schedule)
Some providers may have specific plan design limitations, which can lead to problems like poor employee participation, your business owners not being able to max out their contributions, or the plan costing your company more money than it should. So be sure to choose a provider that supports the plan design that’ll work for your business.
For your 401(k) to be a truly powerful benefit and competitive advantage in the war for talent, it’ll need to offer a truly exceptional experience for you and your employees. To do this, you’ll want a provider that helps with the following:
High Participation & Savings Rates: every year, the IRS requires your retirement benefit plan to undergo compliance testing to ensure that the benefits of the plan are being enjoyed by everyone – *not just your high-earning employees*. If your plan fails this testing, you’ll need to refund contributions to your high-earning employees (often business owners or executives), effectively preventing them from maxing out their contributions. To avoid these failures, you’ll need a provider that maximizes participation and employee contributions.
Financial Wellness: according to a recent study by Gallup, 59% of Americans are worried that they won’t have enough saved for retirement, making it the number one financial concern faced by Americans today. So at a minimum, your 401(k) provider should give your plan participants the support needed to feel like their retirement savings are on track. But in addition to investment advice and other 401(k)-related services, your provider should also help out with other personal finance matters as well, as these can have an impact on your employees’ workplace productivity and the success of your retirement plan.
Okay, now that we’ve laid out the evaluation criteria for small business 401(k) providers, let’s take a look at the top providers mentioned most often by the media to see how they stack up.
Small Business 401(k) Provider Comparison Chart
ForUsAll advisory fee is 0.50% of plan assets, which includes our 0.10% Custodial Fee.</font>
Information was gathered from provider websites & 3rd party sources as of Jan. 2021. Providers’ offerings may be slightly different from what's denoted on their websites or as reported by 3rd parties and therefore on this chart.
Now that you can see how each of these 401(k) providers compare side-by-side, we’ll take a deeper dive into each of them.
We generated this list of small business 401(k) providers by compiling media mentions and user reviews from forums, social media, and other sites across the internet, including the 6 most commonly mentioned providers in this list. We also pulled information from provider websites & documentation to create the small business 401(k) provider comparison chart above. Our aim by assembling this information is to make it quicker and easier for you to learn who the best 401(k) providers for your small business might be.
Full disclosure: with 16 mentions in the media and several reviews across the web, we (ForUsAll) are one of the 6 small business 401(k) providers in the list. We included information about our company and what makes our solution different, and for the other providers, we compiled their media mentions and user reviews from across the internet.
Our goal with this article is to save you time by gathering all the information from across the web in one place. With a benefit as important as the 401(k), it pays to do your due diligence and carefully choose the best 401(k) provider for your small business.
To start, we’ll tell you a little bit about who we are.
We’re ForUsAll – a group of financial innovators and technologists on a mission to fix retirement in America. Based out of San Francisco, CA, we’re an independent 401(k) technology company aiming to make Fortune 500-level retirement benefits more accessible by making them simpler, easier, and cheaper for small businesses.
Founded in 2012 by the same team that helped build Financial Engines, the largest registered investment advisor in the country, we serve over 350 small businesses nationwide and help more than 37,000 plan participants save for a comfortable retirement.*
But enough about who we are. Let’s tell you a little bit about our small business 401(k) solution.
Based on ForUsAll client data as of February, 2019.
Between our automated compliance & administration software, and your dedicated account manager and 401(k) specialists, nearly all the work of running your 401(k) is taken off your plate.
That’s everything from enrolling new employees to depositing contributions to taking care of the dreaded large plan audit.
Our platform also runs 44 unique validation checks each time you run payroll to scan for errors. Any errors that are found are flagged in our system and resolved by our team of 401(k) administrators.
You can log into your fiduciary dashboard to see a snapshot of your plan’s audit-readiness, as well as receive updates, notes, and documentation on any issues our administrators are resolving.
With ForUsAll, running a compliant 401(k) is easy. Just log into your dashboard every now and then, and leave the rest to us!
When it comes to reimagining the 401(k), it all starts with a stellar employee experience. Our virtual advisor, DAVE, offers employees education and advice from the moment they join the plan.
Available in English & Spanish, DAVE replaces complex financial jargon with friendly, easy-to-understand language, making it simple and easy for employees to make the right decisions.
Employees also receive frequent communications through email, direct mail, and text message. In addition to providing balance updates and notifications of important plan events, these communications help drive higher participation & savings rates, making it much easier for your plan to pass the annual compliance testing required by the IRS.
On average, ForUsAll plans have an average participation rate of 85.89%, with employees saving an average of 7.91% of their paychecks.
Based on ForUsAll client data as of February, 2019.
At ForUsAll, we think technology is pretty darn cool. But when it comes to complex things like finance & investing, nothing beats good-old-fashioned face-to-face.
From the moment employees join the 401(k), they have on-demand access to licensed financial advisors. They can call in for advice on a wide range of financial topics – anything from saving for retirement to paying down debt.
Our financial advisors can also schedule on-sites at your offices. They’ll provide educational presentations coupled with face-to-face, one-on-one financial consultations.
We think our solution is pretty awesome, but don’t take it from us. Here’s what the media has to say:
Online 401(k) Plans Disrupt Retirement Market - WSJ
“Led by technology entrepreneurs and backed by venture capitalists, a crop of startups have launched online 401(k) plans in recent months with the aim of bringing robo-style automated investment services to small businesses…”
Tailoring Retirement Plans to Companies with a Handful of Workers - NYT
“Setting up with ForUsAll was easy… and Proteus’s employees especially liked “Dave,” a virtual adviser created to answer questions and make the enrollment process easy.”
Employee Retirement Savings Advisor ForUsAll Hits $100 Million in AUM - Techcrunch
“With 90% participation overall and a 7.6% savings rate, the company’s 401(k) plans receive twice as many commitments as a typical plan.”
Term Sheet – Friday, January 19 - Fortune
“ForUsAll, a San Francisco-based provider of a financial platform that advises small and mid-sized businesses on their 401(k) plans, raised $21 million in funding.”
33 Startups to Watch in 2017, According to Investors - Business Insider
“ForUsAll is one of the few FinTech companies leading with design. With a beautifully simple product, they are making it possible for everyone to save for retirement”
ForUsAll Grabs $9.5 Million, Also Names ex-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers Senior Adviser - Pehub
“…President Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers has been named a senior adviser.”
ForUsAll: Solving Small Business Retirement Planning - Financial Samurai
“ForUsAll boasts over 90% employee participation compared to 74% in the overall small-plan segment. ForUsAll participants are also saving 10% on average compared to the market rate of 5.6%...”
Firm Rolls Out Simplified 401(k) Solution - Plan Sponsor
“ForUsAll has created a simple and inexpensive 401(k) product for small businesses with 3(16) and 3(38) fiduciary services.”
THIS is How Obama Can Fix 401(k)s - CNBC
“Today's 401(k)s combine technology and behavioral science to provide virtual participant education and advice, delivered via web apps, texting, and mobile devices, anywhere, anytime.”
Are 401k Robo Record Keepers for Real? - 401ktv
“Plan sponsors should look at robo record keepers if only to compare what they have now and what changes they need to make even if they don’t switch providers.”
Young Retirement Robo ForUsAll Scoring High Employee Participation Rates - 401ktv
“The firm's founders credit their success with employee engagement to Dave, ForUsAll's tech-enabled virtual adviser. By regularly staying in front of employees through emails and texts, Dave keeps employees engaged, answers their questions, and gets people to stay in the plans…”
How to Help Your Employees Retire (Without Going Crazy Trying) - Inc.
"border: 1px solid #000000; padding: 5px; width: 33%;">“As for Small Girls' Silverman, she ultimately picked the company with the free cake, newcomer ForUsAll...”
An End to Outrageous Fees Opens up 401(k) Accounts to Small Businesses - Huffpost
“As a technology driven company, ForUsAll gives both businesses and employees a modern, easy-to-use platform. Coupled with human advisors, the ForUsAll 401(k) offering takes the “best of both” approach to a combination of human and technology driven retirement investing.”
Wealth Managers Beware: Emerging Fintechs are Coming for Retirement Planning Next - CNBC Insights
“Just as the travel agent market was uprooted by technology, we believe ForUsAll is disrupting the 401(k) broker market by using technology to deliver a smarter, more effective, and less expensive solution.”
ForUsAll Review – A 401(k) That Works Right Out of the Box - Investor Junkie
“ForUsAll’s mission is to radically simplify the 401(k) so it’s easy, hassle-free and inexpensive for any small company and its employees.”
“ForUsAll is a 401k Administrator dream come true for a fast growing company… We switched to ForUsAll from another startup 401k provider in early 2017 and I can’t believe how much better it is with ForUsAll.”
Quora - “The user experience from the employee perspective is simple and excellent. Our internal Customer Success team has been so wowed by Dave that we often reference him as a prototype for a perfect experience guide.”
Quora - “We have nearly a 100% participation rate and know that we would not have been able to offer a retirement savings plan as quickly as we did were it not for ForUsAll.”
Quora - “After over a month of research, it came down to Betterment, Captain 401, and ForUsAll. We ultimately went with ForUsAll… the virtual advisor they created is great and super easy to use.”
Quora - And now, enough about us. What about the other 5 of the most mentioned small business 401(k) <a id="Guideline: 401(k) Reviews, Media Endorsements, and More"
As noted in Crunchbase, Guideline is an all-inclusive 401(k) and full-stack solution that automates plan administration and compliance to growing businesses. The company was founded in 2015 by Kevin Busque (former Task Rabbit CEO), Jeremy Caballero, and Mike Nelson, and is located in San Mateo, CA.
57 Startups That Will Bloom in 2019, According to VCs - Business Insder
“Guideline offers a 401K service to small businesses that doesn’t charge participants any fees on investments and instead charges employers a per person fee.”
Exclusive: Startup Raises $35 Million to Make 401(k) Fees Cheaper - Forbes
“If you work at a big company, access to a 401(k) retirement plan is a given. But only about half of U.S. small businesses offer them. Silicon Valley startup Guideline is trying to change that, offering 401(k) plans with extremely low fees.”
Guideline Raises $15 Million Led by Felicis to Make 401(k)s More Widely Available - Techcrunch
“Founded in 2015, Guideline wants to make it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to offer 401(k) retirement accounts.”
This Successful Serial Entrepreneur Shares How to Make Burnout a Thing of the Past - Entrepreneur
“Guideline doesn’t take management fees, its platform is user-friendly and employees can manage their retirement plan in one online location.”
Want to Be a 401(k) Superhero to Your Business Clients? - Think Advisor
“We are our own recordkeeper... we can keep our costs really low, and it allows us to bring 401(k) access to small businesses that couldn’t get one before.”
Most Innovative Companies: Guideline - Fast Company
“In 2018, Guideline had accumulated more than 6,250 small business clients, amassing more than $700 million in assets under management, with more than $30 million added every month from payroll contributions alone.”<
Bogleheads - “I just transferred my organization’s 80 or so participants to Guideline and it’s been great. We’ve just started this past month, but we went through a year long process of vetting and transferring.”
Bogleheads - “Love it, interface is awesome and it makes a traditionally complicated and confusing product super easy for employees to setup. Have had no issues so far and their support is fantastic.”
Bogleheads - “We start Jan 1 with 170+ employees. Excited to start a 401k plan with total fees under 10 basis points! Incredible!”
Bogleheads - “…when we told the 3(38) that we were switching to Guideline, they didn’t even attempt to save the business. I think they just can’t compete with Guideline… our experience has been overwhelmingly positive and I would highly recommend Guideline.”
As noted in Crunchbase, Human interest (formerly Captain401) is an online service and tool located in San Francisco, CA, that helps small businesses set up 401(k) plans. Founded in 2015 by Roger Lee and Paul Sawaya, Human Interest small businesses set up a 401(k) plan online with an automated investment advising component that helps employees make better financial decisions.
How Human Interest Helps Small Businesses Set Up 401(k) Plans - Forbes
“Human Interest’s automated advising tool (provided by Human Interest Advisors) looks at the profile of each employee, asks them a few questions, and calculates their risk tolerance, age and goals.”
401(k) Robo-Revolution is Underway - Investment News
“Human Interest, Vestwell and Betterment are examples of robos offering managed accounts in addition to plan administration and record keeping.”
Offering a 401(k) Plan? Tips for Small Business Owners - Business News Daily
"Human Interest offers a tool that is specifically made for business owners wanting to offer a wanting to offer a 401(k).”
Captain401 Raises $3.5 Million to Help Small-Business Employees Save for Retirement - WSJ
“Captain401 Inc. has raised $3.5 million in seed funding to help small businesses and startups give their employees retirement savings help similar to that of larger and deeper-pocketed employers.”
401(k) Best Practices: 5 Things Growing Businesses Need to Know - HR Technologies
“Similar to health insurance and other employee benefit or wellness programs, if the employees need to jump through too many hoops or pay too much out of pocket to get the full advantage of the benefit, then it’s not truly a program that adds value to your HR team’s goals.”
As noted on Wikipedia, Betterment is an online investment company based in New York City. The company is an automated, goal-based investing service also known as a robo-advisor. They invest in a portfolio of passive index-tracking equity and fixed income exchange traded funds and offer a variety of taxable and tax-advantaged accounts such as traditional IRAs and SEP IRAs, with the possibility of supporting SIMPLE IRAs as they evolve the platform.
Initially started as an automated investing service, Betterment launched its 401(k) offering in early 2016, bringing cost-effective automated investment advice to 401(k) plan sponsors.
Betterment for Business Officially Launches Robo-401(k) - Think Advisor
“Betterment for Business allows participants to invest in a globally diversified portfolio of index-tracking ETFs. They can aggregate multiple accounts on the platform alongside their 401(k), according to the firm.”
Tackling a $5.5 Trillion Market, Betterment Enters the 401(k) World - Techcrunch
“There’s no upfront fee for employers with more than $1 million in assets and Betterment charges a fee ranging from 10 to 60 basis points, which Stein says make them the lowest cost plans in the industry.”
Meet the All-Woman Team Disrupting an Antiquated Financial Industry - Business Insider
“Their clients span everything from doctors’ and lawyers’ offices to other fintech startups. Boxed, Estimize, and Stockwits were among B4B’s first customers.”
Betterment Offers a Lower-Cost 401(k) Tool for Small Businesses - Inc.
“The company’s new tool will serve as the record-keeper and compliance manager, so employers don’t have to “shop around,” explains Stein.”
Robo-Advisor Teardown: How Betterment and Wealthfront Stack Up - CB Insights
“Betterment has recently added new complimentary services (including human advisors) and is focusing on attracting new retail and institutional accounts through their B2B channels...”
The Balance: The 8 Best Retirement Plans of 2019 - The Balance
“Your investment selections at Betterment are made by computers. You don’t have to know anything about mutual funds to succeed. New employees fill out a short survey explaining investment goals and risk tolerance and Betterment takes care of the rest.”
As noted in Crunchbase, Ubiquity is a growth-explosive entrepreneurial FinTech company located in San Francisco, CA, that has been trail-blazing and disrupting the industry since 1999. They provide small businesses and entrepreneurs with the opportunity to save for their future by delivering simple, off-the-shelf, and flat-fee-for-service retirement options and small business plans for everyone.
Ubiquity and HealthEquity Link 401(k) and HSA - PlanAdviser
“While 401(k)s and HSAs have benefited sophisticated savers separately over the last several years, the market has failed, to this point, to produce a viable combination of the two accounts that can be easily accessed and managed by small business...”
4 Misconceptions Small-Business Owners Have About 401(k) Plans- Nerdwallet
“Ubiquity has steadily expanded and now works with 7,500 small businesses and owner-only companies, including dental clinics and law and financial advisory firms...”
Trustpilot: Ubiquity Retirement + Savings Review
“My implementation Specialist, VJ, has been and continues to be excellent while we are getting our plan set up. He is friendly, knowledgeable, and prompt with any issue we have.”
As noted in Crunchbase, Employee Fiduciary provides low-cost 401k plans to small and mid-sized companies nationwide. Founded in 2004 and located in Mobile, AL, Employee fiduciary is employee owned, operated, and fully independent.
Charles Schwab vs. Employee Fiduciary: Comparing Small Business 401(k) Providers - Investopedia
“...Since it is a small business, the employees are well versed in the specific needs of other small businesses and are well equipped to provide advice.”
Simpler, Less Expensive 401(k) Options Emerge for Small Businesses - New York Times
“...Employee Fiduciary, Capital One’s ShareBuilder 401(k), and Ubiquity have each offered lower-cost plans for at least a decade.”
Small Companies Now Have No Excuse for a Lousy Retirement Plan - Bloomberg
“If you work at a small company, you’re likely to have a lousy 401(k). Small plans often charge savers fees that are fixe or six times as great as those that workers at large companies pay.”
Finally, a Decent 401(k) for Small Business - Inc
“This 401(k) administrator offers only Vanguard funds… and its administrative fees are rock bottom.”
Retirement Planning with the Best 401k Funds for Your Business Advisory HQ
“Employee Fiduciary is a favorite among favorites for one main reason: it makes its pricing for 401k plans clear and explicit, eliminating much of the obscurity associated with even the best 401k providers.”
Best Small Company 401(k) Provider - CBS News
"This part passed my test with flying colors. The employee could build a diversified portfolio with about a 0.13 percent annual expense ratio. These are the same fees I pay when I invest directly with Vanguard.”
4 ways to spot 401(k) rip-offs - Forbes
"Although the government requires disclosure on fees, it’s not easy to tell whether you’re paying too much. Millions are, but will never know it.”
“…I’ve been extremely pleased with EF and would highly recommend them to any company unable to work with Vanguard directly… they let you choose any fund you want for your plan and offer solid customer service and extremely low fees.”
Bogleheads: A Review of Employee Fiduciary's 401(k)
“We have been with Employee Fiduciary a bit over 2.5 years now with a safe harbor plan that has 8 employees currently participating… we have had no problems with Employee Fiduciary.”
Bogleheads: Employee Fiduciary Update - 15 Month In
“Employee Fiduciary has gotten many positive reviews over the years. I don’t recall any negative ones.”
Bogleheads: Employee Fiduciary 401k
That question you’ll have to answer for yourself, but any skimmers, or those who would like to go back to a recently-mentioned 401(k) provider for review, click on these links to jump straight to the provider’s section.
A: There are 2 parts to this process – 1) finding a suitable 401(k) provider, and 2) the actual set up of the plan.
Finding a suitable 401(k) provider: This is the critical step since the provider will determine much of how your plan is eventually set up. Finding a suitable provider can be overwhelming, so it’s always good to have a little help. This article and evaluation guide includes a very helpful and streamlined way for a small business to identify, evaluate, and eventually choose a suitable 401(k) provider – one that will set your plan up the way you want it.
Plan set up: As for setting up a 401(k) plan for your business, your newly selected provider will play an important role, but you’ll still have choices to make so that your 401(k) plan reflects your goals. There are many choices, and being generally aware of those before you set up a plan can is recommended. Again, a little help goes a long way: This article will help you review the options and do some valuable homework before setting anything up.
A: 401(k) costs are generally divided between set up cost and administrative costs.
Set-up cost is a one-time fee for setting up your plan and educating employees about it. $0 to $2,000 depending on the provider.
Administrative costs can generally range from $750 a year to $3,000. Many providers will also charge a per-participant fee of about $72 to $96 a year for each employee enrolled in the plan.
A: The simple answer is yes, but when you set up an LLC you become an owner-employee, and are still considered self-employed. The retirement plans available for LLC owners are the same as those you could set up if you were a sole proprietor (or in a partnership). Things can get slightly more complicated if you have employees.
According to the IRS website, here are plan options available to self-employed business owners:
- Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)
- 401(k) A one-participant 401(k) plan is sometimes called: Solo 401(k), Solo-k, Uni-k, or One-participant k)
- Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE IRA Plan)
- Defined benefit plan
A: The minimum number of plan participants for a company 401(k) is 2, so that’s 1 employee, plus yourself. However, there is such a thing as a Solo 401(k), which is designed to serve businesses with no employees (just the owner and possibly their spouse).
And there you have it - 6 small business 401(k) providers that have received a lot of media attention. Hopefully this guide will give you the guidance and information you need to find the best 401(k) providers for your small business.
Now that you have a list of providers to consider, how do you choose the best 401(k) provider for your small business?
We know how difficult this evaluation can be, so we put together this simple, easy-to-use checklist to help you out. This checklist will provide you questions to ask, so you can quickly gather the information you need from providers to easily compare them side-by-side, and choose which is the best for your small business.
And if you need any further help in choosing the best small business 401(k) provider, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Sounds like a simple question, right?Unfortunately, finding the answer is a lot harder than it should be.
Give your employees more than just a 401(k), join the movement.