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Is A Solo 401(k) Right For You If You’re Self Employed?

Have you heard of a solo 401(k)? As a successful small business owner, you might think a 401(k) is out of your reach because only larger companies can manage one of those, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Two Ways To Contribute To Your Solo 401(k)

With a solo 401(k), the self-employed can make large annual deductible contributions to a qualified (that is, tax-advantaged) retirement account. However, this prime nest-egg-building opportunity comes with some administrative complexity.

How much can you contribute? For the 2023 tax year, you can make an ‘elective deferral contribution’ of up to $22,500 of your net self-employment (SE) income to a solo 401(k). If you’ll be 50 or older as of December 31, 2023, you can make additional catch-up contributions up to $7,500 for a grand total of $30,000. You can learn more about contribution limits for a solo 401(k) here.

On top of your elective deferral contribution, an additional contribution of up to 25% (depending on your business structure) of net SE income also is permitted. This additional pay-in is called an “employer contribution,” though of course there’s no employer other than you when you’re self-employed.

For purposes of calculating the employer contribution, your net SE income isn’t reduced by your elective deferral contribution. So, for the 2023 tax year, the combined elective deferral and employer contributions can’t exceed one of the following:

  • $66,000 ($73,500 with the max catch-up contribution if you qualify)
  • 100% of your net SE income

Along with the ability to make such a large annual deductible contribution, another advantage of solo 401(k)s is that contributions are completely discretionary. When cash is tight, you can contribute a small amount or nothing. In years when cash flow is strong, you can contribute the maximum allowable amount.

In addition, you can borrow from your solo 401(k) account, assuming the plan document permits it — which you should insist on when working with a provider (usually a financial services firm). The maximum loan amount is 50% of the account balance or $50,000, whichever is less. Some other types of retirement plans don’t allow loans.

Downsides To Consider Of A Solo 401(k)

The biggest downside to a solo 401(k) is, as mentioned, administrative complexity. You’ll encounter some substantial upfront paperwork when applying for a plan with a provider.

From there, ongoing administrative efforts will be required, including adopting a written plan document and arranging for how and when elective deferral contributions will be collected and paid into the account. Also, once your solo 401(k) account balance exceeds $250,000, you must file Form 5500-EZ with the IRS each year.

Bottom Line

For a one-person business, a solo 401(k) may be a smart, tax-favored retirement plan choice as long as you have the desire and cash flow to make large contributions. This is particularly true if you’re 50 or older. Of course, there are other options to consider. Contact us to learn more and determine the right retirement plan option for your needs.

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