The Self Employed 401K Plan

Freelancers are the CEO of our solo business empire and we wear many hats.  In addition to promoting our business services,  networking and prospecting for new clients,  managing our brand,  remaining relevant in a fluctuating marketplace and BTW,  actually working on projects that give us the billable hours that allow us to eat and maintain the roof over our heads,  we must also define,  fund and manage our retirement strategy. 

A March 2010  SBA study found that we Freelancers are much less likely to make adequate financial preparation for retirement.  That’s probably because most of us are either on our spouse’s retirement plan,  or are not generating enough income to incorporate saving into our lives. 

If you’re unmarried and able to spare a few thousand dollars a year,  do set up a retirement account.  It is essential that we have cash available to us as we get older.  Inevitably,  the day comes when one is too old and frail to work.  Plus,  a retirement account  keeps money out of the hands of the tax man,  for a while anyway. 

The Self Employed 401K was created in 2001 and made available on January 1, 2002.  The Self Employed 401K offers benefits that compare well to the traditional 401K plan.  This retirement plan option may be used by Sole Proprietors,  LLCs,  S  Corporations,  C  Corporations and Partnerships.  Solo 401K may also be used by small business owners whose only employee is the spouse.  The spouse must be on the payroll and receive income from the business.

Solo 401K consists of two types of contributions,  salary deferral and profit sharing,   both of which are tax deductible.  Funds deposited into the account are held tax deferred.  As with the typical 401K plan,  you may begin to draw down after age 59 1/2.  Those withdrawals will then be taxed as ordinary income.  Withdrawals made prior to age 59 1/2 will incur the 10%  premature withdrawal penalty and will additionally be taxed as ordinary income.

The Self Employed 401K,  or Solo 401K,  allows Freelancers younger than age 50 to contribute a maximum $16, 500.00 tax deferred annually.  Freelancers aged 50+ are eligible to contribute up to $22,000.00 tax deferred income each year,  known as the  “catch up”  contribution.  Money deposited into a Solo 401K must be generated by self employment only and not salary.

Up to the maximum,  you may decide the amount of your annual contribution.  If you’re unable to make a contribution in a given year,  then don’t make one.  When billable hours are strong,  add extra money to the account whenever possible.  The profit sharing feature allows you to deposit up to 25%  of your annual income,  which is tax deductible and held tax deferred.  That equals maximum $49,000.00 a year for those under age 50 and $54,500.00 yearly for those age 50+.

A solo 401K retirement plan is easy to set up and there are no complicated administrative requirements for us to micromanage.  We are responsible for making the contributions and deciding where to invest.   The deadline for establishing your Solo 401K is December 31 of the year in which you would like to receive the tax deduction (fiscal year end for corporations).  When researching 401K plans,  look for the following:

  • Low expense ratios.  Check out for a rate comparison.
  • No or low set-up fees and annual costs
  • Investment flexibility.  You should be able to invest in stocks,  bonds,  index funds and mutual funds.

It is possible to borrow against the plan’s account balance,  maximum $50,000.00 or 50% of the account balance.  If the loan is paid back on time,  there will be no penalty charges or taxes assessed to the transaction.  It is also possible to transfer funds from another retirement account into your Solo 401K and consolidate your holdings.

We’ll delve further into this topic next week.  Thanks for reading.



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