You know you should be stashing money away on a regular basis, but anyone who’s working for themselves knows earnings can vary drastically month to month.
Also, you're not sure what the best retirement plans for self-employed individuals are.
So, what’s a busy entrepreneur with an inconsistent income and no time to research retirement plans to do? Read on!
According to the Internal Revenue Service, self-employed individuals and regular employees have many of the same retirement plan options. And similar retirement plan features exist regardless of employer status.
- Money can grow tax-deferred
- No set annual required contribution amount
- Low-cost plan set-up
- Available catch-up contributions
- Early withdrawal penalties may apply
There are six accounts business owners and self-employed individuals can choose from to meet their retirement savings needs.
The first three are specifically designed for just those engaging in self-employment. The last three, while sound options, may have features less advantageous than the preceding choices.
- SEP IRAs
- SIMPLE IRAs
- Individual 401(k)s
- Defined Benefit Plans
- Traditional IRAs
- Roth IRAs
Keep reading for further details and the pros and cons of each retirement savings account.
Saving for Retirement as an Entrepreneur
Don’t delay in setting up a plan because you think time is on your side. The longer you wait to start setting money aside, the more you'll likely need to contribute overall to meet your financial retirement goals.
Related: What Is Your Retirement Number?
Financial retirement planning contains a few essential terms investors need to know before making a plan selection.
Knowing these terms will lead to a greater understanding of the best retirement plans for business owners and the importance of starting a plan today.
Contribution – A dollar amount (pretax or after taxes) placed in a retirement plan account. Amounts may be limited based on the plan participant’s income and prior contributions.
Tax Deductible Plan – A plan allowing the participant to lower the tax liability (amount owed in taxes) by reducing the taxable income amount.
Taxable Income – The amount used by the Internal Revenue Service to determine how much tax is owed.
Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP-IRA)
The SEP-IRA is an easy to start, low administrative cost tax-deductible plan which comes with several advantages for self-employed workers. And you decide the annual contribution amount which can change from year to year.
If you have a low-income year, you can decide not to make contributions at all.
In 2021, you can contribute the lesser of – up to 25% of your annual earnings or up to $58,000.
Tax credits of up to $500 per year for each of the first three years for the cost of starting the plan are available to eligible plan participants.
Provide a completed Form 5305 – SEP to a retirement plan professional at a financial institution that sponsors SEPs.
Not sure how much to contribute? Use this nifty SEP-IRA retirement plan calculator.
- Plan participants can withdraw money at any time, however, such withdrawals are taxable unless rolled over to another retirement plan
- Plan participants cannot take loans from their SEP-IRAs
Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE IRA)
The SIMPLE IRA works for self-employed individuals and small business owners who meet specific eligibility requirements. Plan requirements relate to company size, earnings per employee and other retirement plans.
- You've no more than 100 employees
- You've earned at least $5000 in the most recent calendar year and expect to earn at least $5000 in the current year
- You cannot currently have another retirement plan
The annual contribution limit for 2021 is $13,500 plus an additional $3,000 if you are over 50.
- The annual contribution limit is lower than other plans
- Plan participant loans are not permissible
- You may not use funds as collateral for other loans
Be sure to use Form 5305 – SIMPLE to set up the retirement plan at a financial institution or investment company.
An IRA calculator can lay the groundwork for your investment plan. Use it to set investment goals keeping in mind expected investment return along with tax and inflation rates.
Individual or Solo 401(k)
The Individual 401(k) also known as the solo 401(k) or self-employed 401(k) has a varied selection which will differ by the investment company, i.e., T. Rowe Price vs. Fidelity. T. Rowe Price offers participants a choice of over 100 mutual funds.
Not interested in setting up your 401(k) online? Fidelity has Investor Centers across the country where you can meet with an investment representative in person.
The maximum annual contribution for 2021 is the lesser of $58,000, $64,500 for those 55 and older, or 100% of compensation.
- The Individual 401(k) is unique in that unlike the SIMPLE IRA and SEP IRA; it can be used to cover both one-person business owners and his/her working spouse.
Defined Benefit Plans
This type of plan provides a fixed, pre-established benefit at retirement, using a formula to calculate your benefits in advance of retirement.
The key here is that with a defined benefit plan, the benefit is guaranteed regardless of the investment performance in the years leading up to retirement. Think pension.
- Available for any size business
- Can have other retirement plans
- Participant loans are available
- Most costly type of plan to establish and maintain
- Most administratively complex retirement plan option
- Additional taxes apply if minimum contribution amount is not met or if excess contributions are made
Traditional and Roth IRAs
Traditional IRAs allow for investing of pretax income on a tax-deferral basis meaning taxes are due upon withdrawal.
Roth IRAs differ in that you make contributions based on the money you've already paid taxes on, allowing it to grow tax-free.
These plans are usually used by individuals who are leaving an employer-sponsored plan and rolling over their old 401(k) to a custodian like Vanguard or Edward Jones.
Individuals may continue adding to the contributions originally made under the employer-sponsored plan.
- The plan is open to anyone with earned income (and their nonworking spouse filing jointly)
- Maximum annual contribution amount for 2021 is $6,000 (if over 50 years of age then $7,000)
- Contribution limitations based on age (ineligible after 70 ½ or older)
- The ability to take contribution related tax deductions are limited by your tax filing status and modified adjusted gross income
- Plan is open to anyone with earned income (and their nonworking spouse filing jointly)
- Ability to pay income taxes today on retirement funds instead of when they are withdrawn during retirement
- Maximum annual contribution amount for 2021 is $6,000.00 (if over 50 years of age then $7,000.00)
- Contribution limits are based on your tax filing status and income
- Contributions are not tax-deductible
The best retirement plan is the one you open.
Self-employed individuals and business owners must take the initiative in retirement planning and can do so simply with the options listed above and available on the open marketplace.
Suggested Additional Reading:
- Is A Spousal IRA Something I Can Benefit From?
- Can I Save For Retirement When Helping My Kids And Parents?
- Should I Rollover My 401(k) Or 403(b) After Changing Jobs?
Article written by:
Tracy Scott, a freelance writer, higher education subject matter expert, and blogger.
Updated March 2021