Keep it Going: Sustaining Your Success

OMG you did it!! The months and years of working hard and working smart, of knowing when to listen to your inner voice and when to listen to a good adviser, the months of living on four hours of sleep and no vacations for what seems like forever and—–your company grossed $1 million over four consecutive quarters! You’ve reached a milestone that defines success.

OK. So now that you’ve reached the mountaintop, you have to figure out how to keep your footing and stay up there.  In fact, because you are focused, ambitious and determined, you’re already thinking about climbing even higher.  But sustaining and growing your success might demand as much work and determination as you invested to attain it. Here are four commonsense choices that can help you hold on to your earnings and continue the positive slope of your company’s future.

Pay taxes

Meet with a business accountant and figure out how much money you should reserve each quarter for tax payments (usually 30% – 40%). You don’t want to wait until the annual tax time and realize that you owe big money to the IRS.  Before you spread money around, pay the quarterly tax bill and set aside enough to ensure that all remaining tax bills in the calendar year can be covered.

Smart celebration

When you hit the revenue milestone that you’ve defined as your “made it” metric, whether the amount is a net or gross figure, you owe it to yourself to celebrate. What’s important, though, is not only how you celebrate but also with whom.

First, don’t overspend.  If you want to take a week-long spa vacation then go for it, because that will dissolve your stress and prepare you for the work you’ll do to build on your new-found success.  Or maybe you’d like to visit a place you’ve always wanted to see, or return to?  A splurge that refreshes and replenishes your energy stores is likewise always worth it.

Where you want to be careful is the amount you spend on consumer goods.  You may need a new car and if you can afford it, then do so, but be careful about splurging on luxuries.  Buying a Saab or Volvo probably makes more sense than buying a BMW or Benz at this point.  Save real luxury purchases for when you’ve raised your net worth to a more substantial level.

Others may want to throw a party.  Caution is advised when developing the guest list.  The sad fact is that there will be certain individuals, including family members, who will feel more envy than happiness upon hearing news of your success.  If a party is a must-do (and why not?), invite only those who supported and believed in you.

Fair-weather friends, frenemies, passive-aggressives, or critical types who claim that they’re just playing “devil’s advocate” or being “objective” are mostly about undermining and sabotaging. They are not your friends, even if they’re family members.  Don’t invite them and don’t let your mother guilt you into including them.  They don’t belong.

Save money

After you’ve paid down or, ideally, paid off any significant debts, business and personal, it’s time to save money.  Start with your retirement fund. Research options available to you in accordance with the business you own and pay the maximum amount allowed by your age and income level.  Investigate opening a Roth retirement account as a place to hold after-tax money if you anticipate having surplus cash.

Once you’ve figured out your retirement fund strategy, focus on other long-term investments. By all means, invest in the equipment, staffing, technology and office or manufacturing space that will support operations (including customer service), generate ROI and advance the business. But what if the building where you lease space comes up for sale? It might be a good move to buy the building, so that you can control your costs more effectively and also collect some rents.  For that, you’ll need money and a good credit score.

You can give yourself a wish-list savings account to build up cash reserves. There are other investments that can be made as well and to learn about your options, ask people you trust to recommend an investment counselor.  If you’ve got even $5000 to invest, investigate certificates of deposit, online banks such as Everbank, index stock funds, or actively managed mutual funds.

Keep doing what it was that made you successful

Now that you have a blueprint for making lots of money, continue to follow the template and don’t slack off! Don’t think that once you reach a certain level of success that things will just cruise along on their own. You must continue to do those things that created the conditions for success.  You can, however, devise methods that help processes become more efficient—that comes from experience. Operational efficiencies make money.  Plan your work to give priority to income-generating activities, such as sales calls and networking, to conserve your energy and bolster your stamina and creativity.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Emanuel Leutze (1816 – 1868, Germany) Washington Crossing the Delaware (River) December 25- 26, 1776 (1851)

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Dates to Keep You Straight

Every year, Freelancers have an important list of dates to remember and act on, primarily those related to tax filings, retirement account management and health insurance plan enrollment. To help you stay organized, I’ve compiled this date planner that brings together all deadlines into one document that you can bookmark, copy into your calendar or even print out and post on your refrigerator.

TAXES

January 31, 2019: 1099-MISC due to contractors
Those who hired Freelancers (independent contractors) to whom they paid $600 or more in the previous year must send 1099-MISC forms by January 31, 2019.  If a client paid you less than $600, then you probably will not be mailed a 1099-MISC, although the IRS nevertheless requires you to report all income.

Do keep scrupulous records of who owes you a 1099-MISC so that you can accurately report your income on your tax return.  Your clients will also send 1099-MISC data re: you to the IRS and any differences between your numbers and the clients’ could trigger an audit.  If you haven’t received a 1099-MISC from a client by January 31, contact your client ASAP and request a re-send.

If you used any subcontractors to whom you paid at least $600 last year, you must likewise send them a 1099-MISC by January 31.

April 15, 2019: Individual income tax filing deadline
You have until April 15, 2019 to file your Form 1040 individual income tax return for 2018. Be aware that April 15 isn’t the deadline to pay your taxes — tax payments for Freelancers are due on a quarterly schedule (see 2019 quarterly estimated tax deadlines, below). If you wait until the tax filing deadline to pay your taxes, the IRS may charge you penalties and interest on top of the tax you owe.

If you’re still waiting for information, or you’re too busy to file a return by April 15, you may apply for a six-month extension that gives you until October 15, 2019 to file. The extension application needs to be filed by April 15, 2019. Remember again that the extension is for filing, not paying your taxes.  Payments are still due on the quarterly schedule no matter when you file and penalties and interest can accumulate if you wait to pay.

QUARTERLY TAX FILING DATES

The IRS requires business owners to pay income taxes on a quarterly schedule. This may seem like a hassle, but it’s easier to pay in four installments than to try and come up with a whole year’s worth of income taxes all at once.

Here are the 2019 deadlines for quarterly estimated tax payments. Note that the four quarters are not of equal lengths: the 2nd Quarter covers only April and May, while the 4th Quarter covers the last four months of the year.

DEADLINE                                                         PERIOD COVERED

April 15, 2019                                                     January 1 – March 31, 2019

June 17, 2019                                                      April 1 – May 31, 2019

September 16, 2019                                           June 1 – August 31, 2019

January 15, 2020                                                September 1 – December 31, 2019

 

RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS

April 15, 2019: Deadline to set up and contribute to an IRA for 2018
Even if you made no contributions to your retirement savings account in 2018, you can still make a 2018 contribution to an IRA up until April 15, 2019. This includes traditional, Roth and SEP IRAs. You can also make 2019 contributions to these plans from now up until next year’s tax filing deadline of April 15, 2020.

December 31, 2019: Deadline to set up an individual 401(K) 
An individual 401(K) is another type of plan that Freelancers can use to save for retirement. One important detail is that an individual 401(K) must be established by December 31st of the first plan year (as opposed to an IRA, which can be opened up until April 15 of the following year). That means it’s too late to set up an individual 401(K) for 2018, but you may set one up for 2019.

Contribution limits 2019 update:

Solo 401(K)                                                                                                                            Employer: 20% of net self-employment income                                                            Employee: 100 % of earned income up to $19,000 (for age 50 years +, up to $25,000)   Total combined contribution: $56,000

Traditional or Roth 401(K)                                                                                                     $6000 annually $7000 if age 50 years +

SEP IRA                                                                                                                                               The lesser of 20% of net self-employment income, or $56,000 annually

 

HEALTH INSURANCE

The open enrollment dates to purchase health insurance for 2020 on the Affordable Care Act exchange will be November 1 – December 15, 2019.  Open enrollment for 2020 through the national health insurance exchange will also be run from November 1 – December 15, 2019.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Budget Plan: The Unexpected Windfall

Now check this out—what if Santa Claus comes to town and leaves a nice financial windfall under your Christmas tree? What a sweet surprise! You took a chance and competed for a very lucrative assignment and by some miracle, you won.  Along with making sure that you’ll deliver, if not surpass, your new client’s expectations, you should as well think about how you can most effectively utilize the proceeds from the billable hours.

Most often, we approach the subject of financial contingency planning from the negative side and prepare ourselves for unexpected expenses that could ruin a budget or seriously deplete our savings.  But why not manifest prosperity and think about what you can do if your ship comes in? Here’s a sampling of where extra money can be applied:

Erase debt.  Without a doubt, pay down and pay off all outstanding debts.  Interest rates are at loan sharking level and eliminating the burden will increase your credit score and decrease your stress level.  If you are not in debt, then pay ahead monthly installment obligations such as health and auto insurance policies or renewable business licenses and certifications.  Payment of these types of accounts payable is recorded as an asset on your Balance Sheet.

Professional development.  Are there continuing education workshops and courses or certifications that if acquired stand to enhance your stature and brand? Is there a conference that not only provides good business information, but also excellent networking opportunities? Explore how you might be able to raise the bar on your qualifications and make yourself a more employable Freelance consultant.

Business investment.  Maybe your billable hours are sufficiently generous to allow you to buy a new car? Ask your accountant or business attorney if the proposed new automobile can be designated as a company vehicle and permit you to write off some portion of the expenses plus depreciation, so that you could sweeten the investment.  You might also consider computer or other technology upgrades, or office equipment such as a new desk or an ergonomically correct office chair.  Much smaller but still significant branding upgrades include personalized business note cards, holiday greeting cards, stationery and your invoice statement.

Retirement account.  Fund your retirement account to the maximum annual amount with pre-tax dollars.  If you have extra money, open a Roth IRA account in tandem with your primary retirement account and enhance your financial future with after-tax dollars. Verify first the financial guidelines required for simultaneously holding these two retirement funds.

General savings. You might also meet with a wealth manager, if you meet the investment minimum and can find someone who can be trusted.  Alternatively,  on your own you can research and invest a couple of thousand dollars in a mutual fund that is indexed to the stock market and watch it grow (and it will, despite some ups and downs along the way).

Splurge.  Oh, go ahead! When’s the last time you took a wonderful vacation? Freelancers work so hard and we worry so much about how we will be able to satisfy our clients, find new clients, win back lapsed clients, generate relevant content marketing, distinguish ourselves from our many competitors and on and on.  I don’t know about all of you, but I am so exhausted it’s absurd.  I’ve been able to take brief local vacations, but I dream of taking two weeks or even more in Marrakesh, Morocco. Or Bahia, Brazil. Or Shanghai. Or Rome. Or Tokyo. Or Buenos Aires. Mmmmm….!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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,

Kim

 

 

 

Year-End Tax Planning: Freelancer Options

It’s never too early to start a retirement plan and Freelance consultants are encouraged to set aside money whenever possible.  Be advised that contributions to a self-funded retirement plan are guided by your net earnings from self-employment.  If you net $80,000 this year,  then you may contribute 20%  of that amount,  or $16,000,  to a SEP IRA or Solo 401K plan.  If you are age 50 +,  a  “catch-up”  contribution of maximum $5,500  (in 2014)  can raise your total allowed retirement fund contribution  (and tax deduction)  to $21, 500.  The maximum amount that one can contribute in tax year 2014 is $52,000 and $57,500 for those age 50 +.  However,  if you are a high earner and you consult with a savvy tax specialist,  it may be possible to divert lots more tax-deductible dollars to a Solo 401K than is allowed with a SEP IRA.

 

SIMPLE IRA

The Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees Individual Retirement Account is a type of traditional IRA that is tailored for small business owners and self-employed Freelance consultants.  As with a traditional IRA,  contributions are tax-deductible and savings held in the account are tax-deferred until retirement withdrawals are made  (age 59 1/2 the youngest and age 70 1/2 the oldest).  If you have employees,  they may contribute to the SIMPLE IRA themselves and you the employer are required to make annual contributions as well,  whether or not the employee chooses to contribute.  You may make a 100%  match of the employee’s contribution,  but the maximum is 3% of your  net earnings,  or you may limit your employer contribution to 2%  of your  net earnings.

Any business entity that employs 100 or fewer workers may establish a SIMPLE IRA for employees and the owners,  too.  If you anticipate growth in your business that will likely cause you to hire even one full-time employee,  then consider a SIMPLE IRA,  because adding employees to the plan is relatively easy,  unlike other retirement plans.  The big downsides to SIMPLE IRA are 1).  the $12,000 annual contribution limit is considerably lower than that of SEP IRA and Solo 401K and 2). the  $2,5000  “catch-up contribution”  for Freelancers and business owners who are age 50 + is paltry by comparison as well.

However,  as a business owner or self-employed Freelance consultant,  you are your own employer and you may contribute to your SIMPLE IRA as both employer and employee.  You may add in up to 3% of net earnings,  in this example up to $2,400,  to contribute $14,4000 in 2014 and $2,500 extra if you are age 50 +.  Finally,  if you don’t make much money but you still want to set aside a little something for retirement,  if your net earnings from self-employment are $12,000 or less,  you may contribute 100% of the amount of your net earnings to your SIMPLE IRA.

ROTH 401K

A designated Roth Retirement Account is an individual retirement account that exists under the umbrella of your 401K,  solo or traditional  (if the 401K is set up to allow it).  Unlike SEP and Solo 401K,  Roth 401K contributions are made with after-tax income and when you are ready to access the account,  you will draw down tax-free money.   The 2014 maximum Roth 401K contribution is $5,500  ($6,500 for those age 50 +).

Your selection of a Roth designation within your 401K will depend upon your financial circumstances and you should meet with a reliable financial adviser in advance.  An individual or couple might choose a Roth when there are insufficient deductions to itemize at tax time,  thus negating the tax deduction benefit of the other retirement accounts .  The Roth,  paid with after-tax dollars,  gives account holders the benefit of tax-free income during retirement.   Wealthy Freelance consultants who are concerned about minimizing taxes during retirement may also benefit from the Roth.

You may have both a  (pre-tax)  Solo 401K and an  (after tax)  Roth 401K and it is permissible to use the salary-deferred portion of your Solo 401K to make a Roth 401K contribution.  Profit sharing Solo 401K contributions are not eligible to be made as a Roth 401K contribution,  since they are made pre-tax and are tax deductible and you cannot commingle the two.

While Roth 401K income-deferred contributions are NOT tax-deductible,  withdrawals made after age 59 1/2 are tax-free IF five years have passed since your first contribution to the Roth  (known as the 5 year rule).  One is NOT required to take distributions at least by age 70 1/2 and that feature may be useful for retirement cash flow planning.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Year-End Tax Planning: Funding Your Retirement

Happy November.  The year will soon end and it is time to put together a tax planning strategy while there is still time to plan and execute.  There may be business equipment to purchase,  upgrades to make to your website or a seminar to attend,  but we self-employed workers must also fund our retirement.  Traditionally employed workers must also fund their retirement,  but they get help from their employers.  Freelancers are our own employers and we must step up and do all that we can to stash a few tax-deductible dollars in the cookie jar,  so that we can eat when we’re 75.

Whether you’ll squeeze a few thousand dollars out of modest billable hours or you’re looking for a place to roll the overflow from a lucrative year,  saving for retirement is a superb tax planning strategy.  It is also a superb life planning strategy.  Under no circumstances do we want to be old and broke in America.  If one is single,  that is a real possibility.  This is not Europe and the government will not give us any financial assistance in a time of need,  even though we have been tax paying citizens our entire lives.

The good news is that there are good retirement plan options available to Freelancers with a few thousand dollars to spare and the discipline to save.  Also,  the retirement money can be invested in stocks,  bonds,  mutual funds or even real estate.  You might get lucky and see your investment really grow.  Taxes will not be paid until it’s time to draw down on the account  (age 59 1/2 the youngest and age 70 1/2 the oldest).

SEP IRA

The Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account is modeled after the IRAs that every employer offers.  They are evidently the easiest type of retirement account to set up and there are minimal IRS reporting requirements involved.  Your job will be to find a brokerage firm that will set up the plan,  process your deposits,  maybe give you some investment advice and not kill you with administration fees.

Contributions are limited to 20% of your net earnings  (before the self-employment tax).  Contributions are capped at $52,000/year for tax year 2014 and the limit will increase every year or two,  to adjust for inflation.  A married couple who run a business together,  or are each Freelancers,  may open a joint account and save an annual maximum of $98,000 tax-deductible retirement dollars in 2014.  One cannot borrow against a SEP IRA.

SOLO 401K

The Individual 401K is modeled after a traditional 401K and once again,  the IRS filing requirements are uncomplicated and your job is to find a brokerage firm that will set up the plan,  process your deposits and not kill you with administration fees.  One may contribute money a little differently to a Solo 401K,  in that you may give yourself a  “salary deferral”  in a good year and stash up to 20% of your net earnings into the Solo 401K,  but the annual maximum contribution remains $52,000 in 2014  (the limit will rise modestly to adjust for inflation).  However,  Freelancers aged 50 +  can take advantage of the  $5,500 (max)  “catch-up contribution”  feature,  which allows those who are able to set aside more retirement dollars to do so and contribute up to $57,500/year in tax-deductible dollars.  Another big advantage of the Solo 401 K is that one may borrow against maximum one-half of the assets  (you must repay the loan with interest, to yourself).  Additionally,  a married couple who run a business together can start a Solo 401K retirement plan for the two and contribute up to $98,000 annually as of 2014 and $10,000 more with the catch-up contribution if both are age 50 +.

Next week,   we’ll look at the SIMPLE IRA and more retirement plan options.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Year End Tax Planning 2013

Lo and behold it is the first week of November and time for you to begin your year-end tax planning.  If you have an accountant or bookkeeper,  pick up the phone and make an appointment.   If you perform these functions yourself,  then take action now,  before Thanksgiving and Christmas ambush you.  Your mission is to minimize the tax bill payable in April 2014.

Let’s start with your place of business.  Do you work from home?  Then consider taking the home office deduction.

Next,  take a look at revenue generated in 2013.  If this was a lucrative year,  you are advised to push income into 2014,  especially if you expect next year to be less flush.   Study the matter before you invoice late 4th quarter projects.  Call clients to confirm that it will be OK to invoice in January.  Many are not on a January – December fiscal year,  so deferring payment until January may not be a problem.

If you expect no substantive change in revenue generated from 2013 to 2014,  consider investing in your business and creating additional tax write-offs this year,  rather than next.  Remember also  to make a contribution to your Solo 401K,  IRA or Roth retirement account.  Freelancers who have already celebrated their 50th birthday are eligible to make a maximum $22,000 tax-deferred catch-up contribution to their Solo 401K each year,  on money generated from self-employment only.

Further,  those who’ve had a good year and hold a Solo 401K may deposit up to 25% of their income into the account.  The tax-deductible and tax-deferred income limit is $49,000 for those under 50 years and $54,500 for those aged 50 years and older.  See my post https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/the-self-employed-401k-plan/  for more information.

The Affordable Healthcare Act must now be factored into your year-end tax strategy.  Freelance soloprenuers who qualify for a health insurance subsidy (approximate income maximums of $45,000 for a single person household and $94,000 for a family of four)  need not worry about the subsidy being treated as taxable income.  However,  if your insurer refunds to you a portion of premiums paid,  that refund will be taxable and a 1099 will be sent.

Healthcare Act subsidies function to limit out-of-pocket  monthly insurance premium costs for those who generate revenues below a certain threshold.  The subsidy may be requested as follows:

1. Premium assistance credits, to reduce the monthly cost of health insurance

2. Up-front lump-sum payment

3. Tax credit on Form 1040, to reduce any taxes owed and perhaps create a refund

A statement that documents any subsidy will be issued and there will be an annual reconciliation.  If you underestimated your 2014 income,  you will be required to pay back a portion of your subsidy.  If 2014 income was overestimated,  then a refund will be somehow issued.  Visit the website of either your state or federal health insurance exchange to obtain information about how to estimate your 2014 income.

YOU will be responsible for monitoring your annual income and ensuring that you receive the correct subsidy.  Ben Tallman of Tallman Tax Service in Atlanta recommends that Freelancers monitor revenues and expenses at least quarterly and contact their health exchange and get themselves re-certified in the event of a large increase in income generated,  to reduce the chance of facing a subsidy claw-back at tax time.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Roth, The SEP and The Solo 

As you begin to ponder your inevitable retirement from the Freelance life,  you’ll  need to examine options for saving.  Those who generate an income large enough to make planning and saving for the future an obvious course of action probably have an investment counselor to act as guide through the minefield.  

Yet at some point,  less wealthy Freelancers must also understand how to finance the next phase of their lives.  Choosing the best retirement plan option is confusing and subtle differences can magnify both at tax time and when it’s time to retire.  I hope that you find this post useful as you formulate the plan for your future.

The Simplified Employer Pension Plan

Somewhat similar to Solo 401K,  the SEP IRA retirement plan may be used by Sole Proprietors,  LLCs,   C  Corporations,  S  Corporations and Partnerships.  As an added bonus,  the SEP IRA may be used not only by those who have both W2 and self employment income,  but also by business owners who employ more than just the spouse.

Contributions to the SEP IRA are made pre-tax and contributions are tax deductible.  It is permissible to contribute up to 25 %  of W2 earnings plus up to 20%  of self employment income,  to the maximum annual contribution of $49,000.00 in 2010.  There is no  “catch up contribution”  provision with SEP IRA.

If you have a job,  including one where you are able to participate in a retirement plan,  along with a sideline business,  then SEP IRA is your option of choice.   Up to the maximum,  the amount you choose to contribute,  or even if you choose to contribute,  in a given year is up to you.  Contributions are held tax deferred and withdrawals made after age 59 1/2 are taxed as ordinary income.  Withdrawals made prior to age 59 1/2 are subject to the customary 10 %  premature withdrawal penalty and additionally,  will be taxed as ordinary income.

Small business owners with employees may institute a SEP IRA for themselves and their employees.  Business owners are able to make generous tax deductible contributions to the company SEP IRA on behalf of themselves,  the on-the-payroll-wage-earning spouse and other employees.

The business owner decides at what level to fund the plan,  up to 25%  of annual compensation.  The %  of funding for the business owner must equal what is offered to employees.  Each employee has an individual SEP IRA account and the business owner pays the entire contribution.  The pre-tax money paid into each SEP IRA account is tax deductible for the business and is a tax free benefit for the employee.

If you like,  it is possible to convert a SEP IRA to a Solo 401K,  something you may choose to do when you turn 50 and want to make those catch up contributions.  Other retirement accounts can be consolidated into the SEP IRA,  with the exception of a Roth  401K,  which is an after-tax fund.  It is not possible to borrow against the value of the SEP IRA.  April 15  is the deadline to establish and fund your SEP IRA account in order to receive a tax deduction for the previous year.

Roth 401K

 Unlike SEP and Solo 401K,   Roth 401K contributions are made with after-tax income.  Which option you choose will,  like most of life’s choices,  depend upon how much money you generate.  Depending upon your financial situation,  you may decide to split the difference and have both a  (pre-tax)  Solo 401K and an  (after tax)  Roth 401K. 

It is permissible to use the salary deferred portion of your Solo 401K to make a Roth 401K contribution.   Remember that the maximum annual contribution is $16,500.00  for those younger than 50 years and $22,000.00 for those 50 years and older.  Profit sharing Solo 401K contributions are not eligible to be made as a Roth 401K contribution,  since they are made pre-tax and are tax deductible and you cannot commingle the two.

While Roth 401K income deferred contributions are NOT tax deductible,  withdrawals you make after age 59 1/2 years are tax free IF five years have passed since your first contribution to the Roth (known as the 5 year rule).  Roth distributions must begin at least by age 70 1/2,  unless you roll over to the Roth IRA.

BTW,  if you transition into a job that offers a retirement plan,  you may be tempted to roll your SEP IRA or Solo 401K into the new retirement account.  Be advised that may or may not be a smart move.  Maintenance fees will be much lower for an account attached to a large company vs. that of an individual;  but there is much more investment flexibility available in your Solo 401K vs. what is available to a big corporation. 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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 http://morningstar.com 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.

Kim