If you're self-employed, your primary focus, especially in your entrepreneurial effort's early years, likely is to just make sure your business survives.
But once you're on stable business footing, it's wise to look into tax-deferred retirement plan options for your small business.
Not only are these retirement accounts a great way to save for the day you are ready to stop working, they also can help you reduce your current tax bill.
Here are three self-employed retirement options to consider, how to open them and how much you can contribute to each.
1. Simplified Employee Pension (SEP): One reason that SEP plans are popular is that they are easy to set up and maintain.
You can establish a SEP with a simple one-page form, Form 5305-SEP, Simplified Employee Pension - Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement. Or, if you prefer, you can open a SEP-IRA through a mutual fund, bank or other financial institution.
A SEP-IRA operates essentially like a traditional IRA for tax purposes. Once created, the administrative responsibilities are minimal. There are no employer tax filings.
You can contribute as much as 25 percent of your net self-employment earnings up to annual maximum amounts that are adjusted each year for inflation.
If you opened, contributed to or plan to establish a SEP for the 2017 tax year, the contribution limit is $54,000. (You'll see in a few paragraphs why I'm using the present tense.) The SEP contribution maximum goes to $55,000 for 2018.
However, if you're age 50 or older, a SEP doesn't allow for an additional catch-up contribution.
If you've put off setting up a self-employed retirement account, but at the last minute decide you want to, a SEP-IRA could be the answer. You can establish one for a tax year as late as the due date, including extensions, of your income tax return for that year. So that means you still have time to open a SEP for 2017.
You caught the filing extension mention, right? Here a SEP-IRA offers even more flexibility.
If you are, for example, a sole proprietor and get an extension to file your personal return to which you attach your business' Schedule C, that gives you until mid-October to come up with last year's SEP contribution amount.
2. Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA: A SIMPLE plan provides you and your employees with a relatively easy way to make retirement contributions.
A SIMPLE IRA has two sources of funding. Employees may choose to make salary reduction contributions to plan instead of receiving the amounts as part of their regular compensation. In addition, as the boss, you will contribute either matching or nonelective amounts to the accounts of eligible employees.
As a self-employed individual, you can defer all of your net self-employment earnings or $12,500, whichever is less. The limit is the same for both 2017 and 2018 tax years.
If you're 50 or older, you can defer an additional $3,000 for 2017. This three-grand catch-up option also is available for the 2018 tax year.
If you've incorporated your business, salary deferrals must be made through payroll withholding. Deferrals must be deposited into a Simple IRA no later than the last day of the month following the month they were withheld.
You also must make a matching contribution of up to 3 percent of eligible worker compensation, with a maximum of $12,500 in 2017 and 2018, or contribute 2 percent of employees' compensation.
You also have most of the year to establish this tax-deferred retirement savings plan. You can open a SIMPLE IRA through a bank or another financial institution up until Oct. 1.
If you become self-employed after that date, the IRS says you can set up a SIMPLE IRA for the year "as soon as administratively feasible" after your business starts.
3. 401(k) plan: There are more administrative requirements with a one-participant 401(k) plan, but that doesn't dissuade many self-employed people from opening this type of account.
The reason for dealing with more hassles? An owner-only 401(k) often allows for a larger contribution than a SEP or SIMPLE IRA.
The self-employed retirement plan works essentially like traditional workplace defined contribution plan. However, a single-participant 401(k) — which also is commonly referred to as a solo 401(k), solo-k or uni-k plan — covers a business owner with no employees, or the owner and his or her spouse who works for the business.
You can make annual salary deferrals up to $18,000 in 2017 or $18,500 in 2018. If you're age 50 or older, you get an additional $6,000 for each tax year.
You also can contribute up to an additional 25 percent of your net self-employment earnings for a total of $54,000 for the 2017 tax year or $55,000 for 2018. Individuals who are 50 or older get an additional $6,000 limit in 2017 and $6,000 in 2018., meaning total contributions for older savers cannot $60,000 in 2017 or $61,000 in 2018.
As with company plans, you can tailor your self-employed 401(k) so that you can take out a loan or make hardship distributions.
Get solid professional advice: As you can see, setting up a self-employed retirement plan that meets IRS muster can get complicated, and quickly. That's why I've stuck with a SEP.
If you want to establish one of the more elaborate plans, you can read more about them in IRS Publication 560.
What you really should do, though, is talk with a business, financial or tax adviser (or all three) to make sure you don't make any costly mistakes in selecting and establishing a self-employed retirement plan.
These professionals also can explain other retirement plans that might work well for your small or solo business, such as traditional defined contribution plans, profit sharing arrangements and money purchase plans.
Immediate tax breaks: In addition, once you've established and contribute to a self-employed retirement plan, your planning for your post-work future could help you save on your taxes now.
You can deduct your contributions to a SEP, SIMPLE and other qualified self-employed retirement plans on your annual tax return as an above-the-line deduction.
Plus, you could be eligible for the Saver's Credit. This tax break, which is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of any tax you owe, is worth up to $1,000.
The Saver’s Credit can be taken for your contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA and/or a workplace retirement plan, including those you set up as a self-employed taxpayer.
Getting tax-favored retirement savings and immediate tax savings is a win-win.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Retirement plan 2018 amounts unaffected by new tax laws
- Rethinking retirement as traditional 3-legged stool wobbles
- Last-minute IRA contributions could mean a tax win-win-win