5 Strategies to Pass Nondiscrimination Tests Successfully

When it comes to employee benefits and retirement plans, nondiscrimination tests are a crucial part of ensuring fairness and equality. These tests are designed to prevent highly compensated employees from receiving disproportionately high benefits compared to their lower-paid counterparts. In the US, 66% of employers offer workers a retirement plan, and 55% of those plans are 401(k) plans. And, of course, 401(k) plans are subject to nondiscrimination testing.

So, how can businesses navigate the complexities of passing these tests and ensure they are providing equitable benefits to their employees? To address this challenge, we have developed a detailed guide that employers can utilize as a reliable resource.

Understand the Basics

The first step towards passing 401 k nondiscrimination testing is understanding what it is and why it exists. In a nutshell, these tests are mandated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ensure that retirement plans do not favor highly compensated employees (HCEs) over non-highly compensated employees (NHCEs).

To ensure that you, as a business owner, are on the right track of providing equitable benefits to employees and, therefore, passing all nondiscrimination tests, familiarize yourself with the different types of tests, such as the actual deferral percentage (ADP) and actual contribution percentage (ACP) tests, to better understand their requirements.

Once you are aware of how the process of testing transpires, it’s time to outline strategies to ensure the seamless passing of these tests. Below, you will find tried-and-true strategies that the savviest of businesses employ.

Regular Monitoring

Regular monitoring of your plan’s demographics and the contributions of HCEs and NHCEs is a proactive strategy. This approach allows you to stay ahead of potential issues.

By gaining a comprehensive understanding of the benefit distribution within your organization, you can identify disparities early. This provides the opportunity to make necessary adjustments before nondiscrimination tests are conducted, ensuring your plan remains compliant and fair.

Encourage Participation

Encouraging all eligible employees to participate in the retirement plan is an effective way to pass the nondiscrimination test. Higher participation rates among NHCEs can help balance the contributions between HCEs and NHCEs.

Clear and regular communication about the plan’s benefits, simplifying the enrollment process, and addressing employee concerns can boost participation. Remember, a well-participated plan not only aids in nondiscrimination testing but also contributes to the overall financial wellness of your employees.

Provide Education

Education is a powerful tool for increasing participation rates in your retirement plan. By educating your employees about the benefits of participation, you can help them understand its value for their future.

This includes information about the tax advantages of contributing to a retirement plan, the power of compound interest, and the importance of saving for retirement. Regular workshops, seminars, or one-on-one sessions can be effective ways to disseminate this information. As a result, you can expect increased participation and success in passing nondiscrimination tests.

Use Safe Harbor Plans

Adopting a safe harbor 401(k) plan can be a strategic move for your organization. These plans are exempt from most nondiscrimination testing as long as certain contribution and vesting requirements are met.

By meeting these requirements, you can avoid the complex and time-consuming process of nondiscrimination testing. This win-win situation allows you to offer a valuable benefit to your employees while ensuring compliance with IRS regulations.

Make Use of Automatic Enrollment

Automatic enrollment is an effective strategy to increase participation rates, especially among NHCEs. With this feature, employees are automatically enrolled in the retirement plan when they become eligible.

Although they have the option to opt out, many employees remain enrolled due to inertia. This significantly increases participation rates, helps to balance contributions between HCEs and NHCEs, and aids in passing nondiscrimination tests.

Corrective Distributions

If you fail a nondiscrimination test, corrective distributions can be a useful tool. This involves returning excess contributions to HCEs to balance the contributions between HCEs and NHCEs.

While not ideal, it’s a necessary step to correct the failed test and bring your plan back into compliance. Handling these distributions promptly and correctly is important to avoid further complications, such as additional taxes or penalties.


Passing nondiscrimination tests is crucial for maintaining a compliant and fair retirement plan. By understanding the basics, monitoring your plan, encouraging participation, educating employees, considering safe harbor plans, implementing automatic enrollment, and making corrective distributions when necessary, you can increase your chances of passing these tests. 

Remember, a successful retirement plan is not only beneficial for your employees, but it also reflects positively on your organization.

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