Self-employed Retirement Options

By Ben Szweda

There are many pros to being a small business owner and working for oneself from having a variety of clients to a flexible work schedule. One con however is missing out on an employer-sponsored 401K plan, not to mention the match that many employers offer within their plans.

Whether self-employed, an employee or both, generally most people can contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA, even while making 401K contributions. But there is a relatively low amount of money that can be contributed annually to such a plan ($6,000 at the time of this article without the catch-up amount triggered) and it’s a much smaller amount than can be contributed to a 401K.

But don’t despair, just because you started your own business does not mean you will never be able to have a 401K. A 401K is possible for the self-employed, along with other popular retirement investment vehicles.

Individual / Solo 401K

This is just what it sounds like – a 401K plan that can be administered by you. Whether you are 100% self-employed or working a full-time job and running a side business if you open this account type you act as the employer and the employee. You can make much higher total annual contributions to the 401K than you can to an IRA and you can still take advantage of an employer match (i.e., profit sharing). Yes, you are the employer, but it gets more money into a retirement account with your name on it and that employer contribution can help reduce tax liability too.

There are both traditional and Roth Solo 401Ks and many financial institutions offer them, though not all offer the Roth option (e.g, Schwab). Some institutions charge set-up and maintenance fees (e.g., Capital One), but there are some (e.g., E-Trade), that do not. Employer contributions can only go to the traditional plan, but employee contributions can go to the traditional or the Roth plan. Once the money is in the account you have many investment options to choose from.

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA)

You can contribute to both a SEP IRA and a traditional IRA without having to reduce your traditional IRA contributions. The SEP-IRA is another great option for small business owners. This plan has similar benefits to the Solo 401K but special nuanced rules that may make it better or worse for some individuals. For example, you might be able to contribute more to a 401K than the SEP-IRA. Other considerations include whether you are a solo-proprietor or have employees, and whether or not you may need to take a loan against your savings.

I highly recommend all small business owners check out the various retirement account options available to them and see if it makes sense in your overall financial and tax plan.

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