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Illinois Secure Choice Retirement Program: Everything You Need To Know

Illinois Secure Choice Retirement Program: Everything You Need To Know

Last Updated: January 9, 2024

According to PwC's Retirement in America, one in four Americans has yet to save a single dollar for their retirement years. Moreover, approximately 30 million retirees are projected to live in poverty or close to it by 2035.

That's why Illinois launched the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program (Illinois Secure Choice): A way to make it easy and automatic for workers to save money for their golden years.

In this article, we’ll answer some of your questions about Illinois Secure Choice. You’ll learn what it is, how it works, and what it means for you.

What is Illinois Secure Choice?

Signed into law in 2015 and launched in 2018, Illinois Secure Choice is a way for employees in the state to save for their retirement.

The program is overseen by a state Board but administered by private-sector partners, and it works like other workplace-based retirement savings plans: Employees regularly contribute money to their accounts through payroll deductions, and the funds are invested in stocks, bonds, or other investment vehicles.

The program's goal is to make saving for retirement more manageable and accessible for all Illinois residents.

How Does It Work?

Illinois Secure Choice is an automatic-enrollment IRA program. Employees are enrolled with a default 5% contribution rate into a default target date fund based on their expected retirement age. Employees can choose to save more or less than 5% and may select alternative investment options. The program is completely voluntary, so employees can opt-out at any time.

Illinois Secure Choice uses a Roth IRA as the default investment vehicle, meaning contributions are made with after-tax dollars. Withdrawals in retirement, defined by the IRS as after age 59½, are tax-free.

This differs from a traditional IRA, which allows pre-tax contributions but requires participants to pay taxes on withdrawals in retirement. Savers in the program can elect to save in a traditional IRA instead.

Which Businesses Are Affected?

According to the Illinois Secure Choice website, employers who meet the following criteria are required to register for the program or certify an exemption:

  • Have 5 or more employees
  • Have been in operation for at least two years
  • Do not offer a qualified, employer-sponsored retirement plan

Registration Deadline

Program deadlines for businesses are based on company size. The breakdown provided by the Illinois Secure Choice website is as follows:

  • Companies with 500+ employees - 11/1/2018 (deadline passed)
  • Companies with 100 to 499 employees - 7/1/2019 (deadline passed)
  • Companies with 25 to 99 employees - 11/1/2019 (deadline passed)
  • Companies with 15 to 24 employees - 11/1/2022 (deadline passed)
  • Companies with 5-14 employees - 11/1/2023 (deadline passed)

Employer size is based on quarterly data reported to the state from each employer. Employers who have missed their deadline should visit the program website and register to avoid any financial penalties.

Penalties

Eligible employers who fail to comply will face a $250 penalty per eligible employee for the first calendar year of non-compliance and a $500 fine per employee for each subsequent calendar year of non-compliance. Employers who have missed their deadline should visit the program website and register to avoid any financial penalties.

Who is Eligible to Participate?

Anyone who is 18 years or older and has a W-2 wages reported in Illinois, regardless of whether they are part-time or full-time, is eligible to participate in the program. Seasonal employees are eligible though there may be limitations for those who work fewer than 60 days with an employer.

Eligible workers are auto-enrolled by their employers but have a 30-day window to opt-out before any payroll contributions begin. Savers can make changes to their accounts or opt-out at any time. Accounts are owned by each individual participant and are portable from job to job.

Self-employed individuals are also eligible for the programs as long as they are 18 years old and above and have earned income. Self-employed individuals may use the self-enrollment process to open an IRA with the program.

Conclusion

The Illinois Secure Choice program represents a notable development in retirement planning for Illinois workers. With automatic enrollment and contributions made directly through payroll deductions, it simplifies the process of setting aside funds for retirement.

The program requires businesses that have been in operation for at least two years and have five or more employees to either offer a plan or certify an exemption, so it’s important for Illinois employers to familiarize themselves with the program details and requirements.

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