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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Cooke, CFP®, CPFA®

How the Dental 401(k) Plan Works

Teamwork makes the dream work in your dental practice. In business, and especially in a

tightly knit work environment like a dental office, it’s imperative to develop a loyal team

that works well together. As a practice owner, you know how tough hiring has gotten,

and if you don’t offer competitive employee benefits, like healthcare and a retirement

plan for your dentistry staff, you’re at a big disadvantage in attracting and keeping good


However, you probably don’t have the time or energy to put into overseeing

a retirement plan because you’re busy putting your time and energy into working with

your patients. The Dental 401(k) Plan–a new type of defined contribution plan called a

Pooled Employer Plan (PEP)–lets you offer a retirement plan with some key advantages,

while also alleviating the burden of having to manage it.

Here’s a quick look at how the Dental 401(k) works:

More Purchasing Power

In the retirement plan world, there’s generally a direct correlation between a 401(k)

plan’s size and its administrative and investment fees. The more participants and dollars

in this type of plan, the lower the fees. A plan with more participants and assets is a

more attractive client for investment and administrative providers, and that can be

leveraged to negotiate lower fees.

It can get expensive to set up your own 401(k) plan, especially for a small business. By

joining a PEP like the Dental 401(k), small business owners benefit from economies of

scale by combining assets with other adopting employers under one plan for pricing

discounts while having customizable plan options. Meaning you can increase your

purchasing power and lower administrative and investment fees. The Dental 401(k) has a

flat, per-participant administrative fee and asset-based investment fees. The exact

investment fees a participant pays will vary based on the expense ratios for the

investments that person chooses.

Investment and Plan Design Flexibility

The Dental 401(k) Plan has investment options for both “do it yourself” investors who

want to pick funds themselves and “do it for me” participants who want investment

professionals to select and manage a diversified portfolio for them. For DIY investors,

the lineup includes 19 core funds, from Vanguard and Dimensional Fund Advisors, and

emphasizes low-cost index funds. For participants who want a professionally managed

portfolio, the Dental 401(k) includes both the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds and

pre-built, diversified investment allocations based on risk tolerance to help meet

employees' retirement goals.

Unlike a SIMPLE IRA, employers joining the Dental 401(k) have a lot of plan

design flexibility. Establishing a safe harbor plan allows you as the owner to maximize

your contributions while satisfying most IRS nondiscrimination tests. You can make the

right decisions for your practice, including: the employer match you want to offer, when

your eligible employees can participate in the plan, whether you want to automatically

enroll employees into the plan and automatically escalate their contributions annually

(while giving them the ability to opt out), and the vesting schedule for employer

contributions. Employee contributions have the option for pre-tax or Roth deferrals, up

to IRS contribution limits.

You also have the option to incorporate a profit-sharing plan and/or a cash-balance

plan into your practice’s Dental 401(k) participation to accelerate your retirement

savings and lower your tax bracket and income tax.

Tax Credits

Aside from the tax-deductible matching contributions, small businesses are now allowed

to deduct qualified startup costs for the first three years, up to a limit of the greater of

(1) $500 or (2) the lesser of (a) $250 multiplied by the number of non-Highly

Compensated Employees (NHCEs) eligible for plan participation or (b) $5,000. There is

also an additional $500 tax credit for adding an automatic enrollment feature to your

plan. When combined, these credits can total up to $5,500 per year or $16,500 for 3

years. Speak with your CPA to learn more.

Fiduciary Outsourcing and Financial Planning

Newport Group, Inc. serves as the recordkeeper and administrative fiduciary for the

Dental 401(k). Being the third party administrator means that Newport takes on

operational and legal responsibility for the time-consuming administrative work of the

plan, such as approving and processing loans and distributions.

Buckingham Retirement Services acts as the fiduciary investment manager for the

Dental 401(k), which means it takes on the operational and legal responsibility for

making decisions on which investments will be in the plan’s lineup, monitoring the

investments, and deciding when to make fund changes. This setup has a big benefit for

you; you don’t have to worry about getting sued over the plan’s investments.

Cooke Capital serves as the main point of contact for employers, so we’ll help you set up

your practice’s participation in the Dental 401(k) Plan, and then, we’ll answer your

ongoing questions. We also serve as the main contact for your employees, to help them

understand the plan and answer their questions. A lot of providers just give people an

800 number to call if they have questions—and let’s be honest, that’s an efficient

solution for the provider, but it often falls short for your employees who need help.

As your main contact, our financial advisors at Cooke Capital also can counsel you and

your employees on more than the retirement plan. Charles Cooke and Haley Tolitsky are

both CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals, so we can help you and your

employees work on your broader financial planning goals. We can counsel you and your

employees on cash flow as you transition into retirement, advise you on doing a rollover

with your retirement account(s), and put together a comprehensive financial plan for

your retirement. That’s where Cooke Capital adds a lot of value: helping you and your

employees stay on track with your retirement planning and overall financial wellness.

To learn more, please visit

Financial advisory services offered through Acorn Financial Services, Inc. (AFAS), a Registered Investment Adviser. Securities offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA), member FINRA/SIPC. Charles Cooke and Haley Tolitsky are Registered Representatives of SFA and Investment Adviser Representatives with AFAS. Cooke Capital is otherwise unaffiliated with AFAS and SFA. Supervising office (703)293-3100.

Investment management services for the Dental 401(k) Pooled Employer Plan are provided by Buckingham Retirement Solutions. Plan administration provided by Newport Group. These entities are separate and otherwise unaffiliated with Cooke Capital and The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc.


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