401(k) safe harbor notice

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A safe harbor 401(k) plan must provide a notice that it is a safe harbor plan to all participants prior to the beginning of a plan year.

Content Requirements

The notice must be:

  • Sufficiently accurate and comprehensive to inform the employee of the employee’s rights and obligations under the plan; and
  • Written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average employee eligible to participate in the plan.

A notice is not considered sufficiently accurate and comprehensive unless the notice accurately describes:

  1. The safe harbor matching contribution or safe harbor nonelective contribution formula used under the plan (including a description of the levels of safe harbor matching contributions, if any, available under the plan);
  2. Any other contributions under the plan or matching contributions to another plan on account of elective contributions or employee contributions under the plan (including the potential for discretionary matching contributions) and the conditions under which such contributions are made;
  3. The plan to which safe harbor contributions will be made (if different than the plan containing the cash or deferred arrangement);
  4. The type and amount of compensation that may be deferred under the plan;
  5. How to make cash or deferred elections, including any administrative requirements that apply to such elections;
  6. The periods available under the plan for making cash or deferred elections;
  7. Withdrawal and vesting provisions applicable to contributions under the plan; and
  8. Information that makes it easy to obtain additional information about the plan (including an additional copy of the summary plan description) such as telephone numbers, addresses and, if applicable, electronic addresses, of individuals or offices from whom employees can obtain such plan information.

Note: Requirements 2, 3, and 4 can be satisifed through SPD cross-references.


The timing requirement is satisfied if the notice is provided within a "reasonable period" before the beginning of the plan year (or, in the year an employee becomes eligible, within a reasonable period before the employee becomes eligible).

A safe harbor for timing exists which it is advisable to take advantage of. The timing requirement is deemed to be satisfied if at least 30 days (and no more than 90 days) before the beginning of each plan year, the notice is given to each eligible employee for the plan year.

In the case of an employee who does not receive the notice within the period described in the previous sentence because the employee becomes eligible after the 90th day before the beginning of the plan year, the timing requirement is deemed to be satisfied if the notice is provided no more than 90 days before the employee becomes eligible (and no later than the date the employee becomes eligible).