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Retirement savings options for small-business owners

By Alaina Tweddale

Owning a business comes with perks, such as being your own boss. But business owners have many priorities to manage, making it easy for saving and retirement planning to fall off the radar.

According to TD Ameritrade, there are 14.4 million self-employed workers in the U.S. and almost 70 percent of them aren’t saving regularly for retirement — including 28 percent who aren’t saving at all!

No business owner wants to find him or herself bumping up against retirement age without having a savings strategy set place. Here are some options that can help them avoid this.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA)

If you’re a self-employed business owner with no employees and limited funds, an IRA may be your first stop.

“The saver can invest in just about anything they want, including stocks, bonds, real estate, CDs, or a saving account, for example,” says Kevin Wenke, certified financial planner and author of “Comfort Investing.”

IRA investment options are almost unlimited, so you can shop for mutual funds with the lowest fees, find the best money market accounts or compare CD rates to find the options you’re happiest with. So long as your income falls within allowable limits, contributions are tax-deductible and earnings are tax-deferred.

Roth IRA

The contribution and income limits are the same for both the traditional and Roth IRA. Though Roth contributions are not tax-deductible, the main advantage of the plan is that all earnings can be withdrawn tax-free, starting at age 59 1/2.

“The withdrawals from a Roth IRA will not count toward the tax a retired person will have to pay on their Social Security income in retirement,” says Wenke.

Solo 401(k)

“The Solo 401k is one of the best kept secrets available to self-employed professionals,” says Scott Puritz, co-founder of retirement investment advisory firm Rebalance IRA. “It’s not talked about enough and it’s relatively new, but for some people this is the best solution that really evens the retirement playing field for everyone who doesn’t work for a major corporation.”

This plan allows business owners and their spouses to save 100 percent of income, tax deferred, up to the annual limit (plus an additional sum if over age 50). If your income is above that limit and you want to save even more, you can contribute an additional 25 percent of income, up to a maximum that is evaluated each year. These plans are easy to open and inexpensive to maintain.

Simplified Employee Pension IRA (SEP IRA)

A SEP IRA can be set up whether you have employees or not. According to Franklin J. Parker, managing director at CH Wealth Management, “The plan works well in professional practices where the owner makes significantly more than the employees, like a doctor, for example.”

The contribution limit is 25 percent of annual income for each employee, up to the annual limit. The same contribution percentage must be set for each employee, including the owner, who makes all contributions (employees do not contribute on their own). With a SEP IRA, “the owner can put away considerable sums of money and provide a nice benefit for employees,” says Parker.


This plan is intended for the small business owner who has fewer than 100 employees. “It is ideally suited as a start-up retirement savings plan for small employers,” says Wenke.

Employees can contribute up to an annual limit, and the business owner is required to match employee contributions up to 3 percent of the employees’ annual salary. Although employee contributions could be expensive for a fledgling employer, the plan is easy and inexpensive to set up and maintain.

Defined Benefit (DB) Plans

“While a thing of the past for large corporations, defined benefit plans are still alive and well in the small business space and work well for small firms with highly paid owners,” says Parker.

A DB plan, otherwise known as a pension, can be expensive, but offering a pension can also increase employee retention, which can be a cost savings in itself. This is the most costly and complex of the plans (you’ll even need an actuary on board to calculate employee funding levels each year), but it can also offer the most sizable benefits.

No matter your company’s size or amount you want to put away, today is the day to get your retirement plan back on the radar if you’ve let it lapse. Any of the options above may be a great choice for doing so.

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