What is the 412(i) Plan?

Its Importance and Mechanics
The 412(i) Plan
The 412(i) PlanIts Importance and Mechanics

When it comes to saving for retirement as a small business owner, the 412(i) plan was a special option. It gave advantages like tax breaks and guaranteed benefits. It was made to help business owners save for retirement while also supporting their employees. 

In this article, we will delve into what constituted a 412(i) plan, its mechanics, and its transition to the 412(e)(3) plan in response to evolving regulatory concerns.

What comprised a 412(i) plan?

The 412(i) plan, crafted for American small business proprietors, was a distinct defined-benefit pension scheme. It boasted tax-qualified status, allowing businesses to promptly deduct taxes based on the owner's contributions.

Contributions to a 412(i) plan were confined to guaranteed annuities or a blend of annuities and life insurance products.

However, after December 31, 2007, the 412(i) plan was replaced by the 412(e)(3) plan. This transition was prompted by concerns about tax avoidance schemes, demonstrating the IRS's commitment to maintaining a fair and transparent tax system.

The 412(i) Plan
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Delving into the 412(i) Pension Plan

The 412(i) pension plan was crafted to assist small business owners in navigating the intricate task of allocating funds between their business ventures and securing retirement savings for their staff. Distinguished by its design, this plan provided steadfast retirement benefits backed by full guarantees.

Managed by insurance firms, the 412(i) scheme solely utilised insurance instruments like annuities and life insurance policies for financing, thereby establishing a sturdy financial framework. Contributions made to this plan resulted in substantial tax deductions.

An annuity, integral to the 412(i) plan, allows individuals to ensure a consistent flow of payments in the future by either a lump-sum payment or instalments, serving as a crucial income stream for retirees.

However, due to the significant annual premiums, the 412(i) plan wasn't universally viable for all small business owners, particularly favouring those with established and profitable ventures.

For instance, startups with substantial funding rounds were in a better position to utilise this plan compared to bootstrapped counterparts reliant on reinvesting profits for growth.

These dynamics were especially pertinent for businesses lacking consistent free cash flow to allocate towards employee retirement, highlighting the plan's alignment with established and flourishing enterprises.

412(i) Plans and Compliance Hurdles

In August 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) identified 412(i) plans as entangled in diverse compliance challenges, including cases of abusive tax avoidance transactions. To assist organisations overseeing such plans in attaining compliance, the IRS formulated an extensive survey.

The survey included questions covering aspects like the existence of a 412(i) plan, its funding methods (such as annuities, insurance contracts, or a blend of both), the proportion of death benefits to retirement benefits for each participant, disclosure of listed transactions as per Revenue Ruling 2004-20, and identification of the vendors involved in the sale of annuity and insurance contracts.

Out of a survey sample comprising 329 plans, findings indicated that 185 plans were earmarked for examination, while 139 plans were classified as "compliance sufficient." Three plans are presently under scrutiny, one plan has had its compliance verified (needing no further action), and one plan was found not to align with the classification of a 412(i) plan.

The 412(i) Plan
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Overview of the 412(e)(3) Pension Plan

In reaction to the misuse of 412(i) plans for tax avoidance, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) shifted the regulations to 412(e)(3), applicable to plans established after December 31, 2007. 412(e)(3) functions similarly to 412(i), offering a notable exemption from the minimum funding rule. The IRS delineates the criteria for 412(e)(3) plans as follows:

  • Plans must exclusively depend on obtaining a combination of annuities and life insurance contracts, or individual annuities, for funding.

  • The plan agreements must guarantee regular annual premium payments, persisting until the retirement age of each plan participant, starting from their enrollment date in the plan. In case of benefit increments, payments should commence upon the adjustment of benefits.

  • The benefits provided by the plan align with those offered by each contract at the designated standard retirement age outlined in the plan. These benefits are safeguarded by an insurance carrier licensed to operate within the jurisdiction of the plan, ensuring coverage to the extent of fulfilled premiums.

  • Premiums for the ongoing plan year, along with those from all prior plan years, must be paid before any policy lapse or, in the case of policy reinstatement.

  • No rights within these contracts have been subjected to a security interest at any juncture during the plan year.

  • There are no policy loans outstanding at any time during the plan year


The evolution from the 412(i) plan to the 412(e)(3) plan marks a pivotal moment in retirement planning history for small business owners. While the 412(i) plan provided valuable benefits, its successor addresses regulatory concerns and ensures continued compliance while offering similar advantages.

The 412(i) Plan
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