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Publication 560

Setting Up a
Qualified Plan(p14)

There are two basic steps in setting up a qualified plan. First you adopt a written plan. Then you invest the plan assets.
You, the employer, are responsible for setting up and maintaining the plan.
If you are self-employed, it is not necessary to have employees besides yourself to sponsor and set up a qualified plan. If you have employees, see Participation, under Qualification Rules, earlier.

Set-up deadline.(p14)

To take a deduction for contributions for a tax year, your plan must be set up (adopted) by the last day of that year (December 31 for calendar year employers).

Credit for startup costs.(p14)

You may be able to claim a tax credit for part of the ordinary and necessary costs of starting a qualified plan that first became effective in 2011. For more information, see Credit for startup costs under Reminders, earlier.

Adopting a Written Plan(p14)

You must adopt a written plan. The plan can be an IRS-approved master or prototype plan offered by a sponsoring organization. Or it can be an individually designed plan.

Written plan requirement.(p14)

To qualify, the plan you set up must be in writing and must be communicated to your employees. The plan's provisions must be stated in the plan. It is not sufficient for the plan to merely refer to a requirement of the Internal Revenue Code.

Master or prototype plans.(p14)

Most qualified plans follow a standard form of plan (a master or prototype plan) approved by the IRS. Master and prototype plans are plans made available by plan providers for adoption by employers (including self-employed individuals). Under a master plan, a single trust or custodial account is established, as part of the plan, for the joint use of all adopting employers. Under a prototype plan, a separate trust or custodial account is established for each employer.
Plan providers.(p14)
The following organizations generally can provide IRS-approved master or prototype plans.

Individually designed plan.(p14)

If you prefer, you can set up an individually designed plan to meet specific needs. Although advance IRS approval is not required, you can apply for approval by paying a fee and requesting a determination letter. You may need professional help for this. See Rev. Proc. 2012-6, 2012-1 I.R.B. 197, available at, that may help you decide whether to apply for approval.
Internal Revenue Bulletins are available on the IRS website at They are also available at most IRS offices and at certain libraries.
User fee.(p14)
The fee mentioned earlier for requesting a determination letter does not apply to employers who have 100 or fewer employees who received at least $5,000 of compensation from the employer for the preceding year. At least one of them must be a non-highly compensated employee participating in the plan. The fee does not apply to requests made by the later of the following dates. The request cannot be made by the sponsor of a prototype or similar plan the sponsor intends to market to participating employers.
For more information about whether the user fee applies, see Rev. Proc. 2012-8, 2012-1 I.R.B. 235, available at, and Notice 2003-49, 2003-32 I.R.B. 294, available at

Investing Plan Assets(p14)

In setting up a qualified plan, you arrange how the plan's funds will be used to build its assets.
You set up a trust by a legal instrument (written document). You may need professional help to do this.
You can set up a custodial account with a bank, savings and loan association, credit union, or other person who can act as the plan trustee.
You do not need a trust or custodial account, although you can have one, to invest the plan's funds in annuity contracts or face-amount certificates. If anyone other than a trustee holds them, however, the contracts or certificates must state they are not transferable.

Other plan requirements.(p14)

For information on other important plan requirements, see Qualification Rules, earlier in this chapter.