Exit Strategy: The Retirement Plan

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15 million Americans were self-employed in 2015. That’s 15 million talented, ambitious, disciplined and self-confident citizens of our nation who’ve taken charge of their professional and financial future and they (we!) are to be congratulated.  According to the Bureau, self-employed business owners and Freelancers represent 10.1% of the population and they are surely the Talented Tenth.

Now for the bad news—self-employed professionals are not eligible for employer-sponsored benefits of any kind, unless they employ full-time workers and are therefore compelled to provide certain benefits that they would also receive.   Otherwise, the 15 million self-employed do not receive paid sick time, holiday time, vacation time, or employer cosponsored health insurance or retirement benefits.  In addition to the self-employed, there are many more millions who work in traditional employment on a part-time basis only, making them unable to receive employer-sponsored worker’s benefits.  Income inequality, anyone?

Let us consider the retirement fund matter, one of the two benefits issues that workers are able to self-fund (health insurance is the other).  If your finances allow you to set aside money that will be used to support you when you’re too old to work,  you will be wise to do so ASAP.

Examine your spending patterns.  How much are you spending on items that you want, but don’t need?  I don’t recommend that you deny yourself all gratification—we all deserve little luxuries every now and again—but some activities and purchases might perhaps be scaled back, allowing those funds to be redirected to prudent investments.

Budgeting a limited income is stress-producing.  Even those who work full-time may be forced to under-fund their retirement accounts, despite the employer matching contributions.  Wages have stagnated for 30 years and living expenses have done nothing but increase.  As a result, many of us are unable to save enough money.  Many elect to utilize money they’ve managed to save for a down payment on a house, rather than saving for retirement.  Financing one’s life 20 or more years from now must take a back seat.

According to the Government Accountability Office,  in 2015, approximately 50% of Americans had no retirement account whatsoever and 29% of those age 55 and older had neither retirement savings nor a pension.  Social Security is not a good fall-back option. The average monthly pay-out to retirees is only about $1294.  For the overwhelming majority, that’s not enough to carry one through more than half a month.

I consider the retirement picture in the U.S. as both a looming national emergency and a national embarrassment.  Corporate governance laws enacted during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George Bush (son) that brought us globalization and the transfer of good paying jobs to other countries, in the process destroying for all time the ability of so many American citizens to earn a comfortable living employed in benefits paying full-time jobs, is the primary reason for this crisis.

The computer age has done the world no favors, either.  So now you can play with Snapchat on your Android while on break at your $12/hour job.  Yes, there have been magnificent technological advances that have helped in many fields, medicine comes to mind.  But are those benefits worth the livelihood of millions?  That’s a good question for the ethicists.

If at all possible, please start a retirement account.  Here are two options for Freelancers and those who work part-time at one or more locations:

myRA is a starter retirement account created by the Department of the Treasury. There are no fees associated with opening a myRA account and you can decide how much you’d like to contribute each month, according to your budget. Automatic withdrawal contributions can be set up through your bank account or paycheck.

If you change jobs, the myRA account is not affected. If you must take money from the account, there is no financial penalty to pay and no additional taxes are taken out. Like a Roth IRA account, myRA is funded with after-tax income. The maximum annual myRA contribution is $5500 and $6500 for those age 50 or older. The maximum amount that can be held in a myRA is $15,000.  Once the $15,000 limit has been reached (or before, for that matter),  the balance can be rolled over into a traditional retirement account.  https://myra.gov

Self-employed 401(k) profit sharing-plan (Solo 401 [k]) is funded with pre-tax dollars.  You can make contributions as both an employer (because you employ yourself) and as an employee (because you are employed by your sole proprietorship or single person LLC entity). Wearing your employer hat,  one contribution can be up to 25% of annual net profit, or $33,000 ($39,000 if 50 years or older) per year .  A second contribution of maximum $18,000 annually ($24,000 annually for those 50 years and older) can be made while wearing your employee hat.

Better still,  it’s possible to hire your spouse as an employee under this plan and s/he can contribute in the same way as you do,  meaning that your spouse can also contribute up to $53,000 ($59,000 if age 50 years or older) per year .  Open your Solo 401(k) account before December 31 if you’d like to make a tax-deductible contribution this year.

Thanks for reading,





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