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Tax Tip of the Week | A Retirement Plan Too Often Ignored September 11, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business consulting, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes , trackback

If your business fits the definition of an owner-only employee business then a Solo 401(k) retirement plan may be a great idea for you.  And, oh yeah, another caveat – you are not allowed to have any employees other than you and your spouse. If your sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation or C corporation fits the necessary parameters then you may make contributions to a Solo 401(k) plan.

This type of retirement plan allows higher contribution amounts and more investment options than many other retirement plans. The Solo 401(k) even has ROTH options and its account holder may borrow against the plan assets. They are also inexpensive to setup and maintain. Even though created by Congress in 2001 – we still don’t see as many of these plans as I think we should.

If you think you may qualify for the Solo 401(k), please remember that this plan must be formed by year-end for the contributions to be deducted for that same year.

The below WSJ article by Jeff Brown was published on July 9, 2019 and contains additional details.

                                                                                                            -Mark Bradstreet

Millions of U.S. workers rely on employer-sponsored 401(k)s to save for retirement. But what about freelancers, sole proprietors and workers in the mushrooming gig economy, or people who want to leave the corporate cocoon and strike out on their own?

Financial advisers say that far from being left out in the cold, these workers have access to an often-overlooked retirement-savings vehicle that offers some distinct advantages: an “individual” or “solo” 401(k).

Available to self-employed people, as well as business owners and their spouses, solo 401(k)s allow participants to make contributions as both an employer and employee. That means individuals can sock away large sums that dramatically reduce income taxes, among other perks.

Although enrollment data is hard to come by, financial advisers say solo 401(k)s have been slow to get the respect they deserve since they were created by Congress in 2001. Many financial-services firms waited years to start offering the plans, and many business owners who could have them don’t know they exist.

“You’d be surprised how many people don’t know about solo 401(k)s, especially accountants,” says Sean Williams, wealth adviser with Sojourn Wealth Advisory in Timonium, Md.

Perks advisers like

Solo K’s, as some call them, allow participants to avoid the complex rules covering corporate 401(k)s. Not only do solo K’s permit virtually unlimited investing options, they allow participants to choose between making traditional tax-deductible contributions or after-tax Roth contributions. Some advisers prefer them over better-known options for people who work on their own, such as SEP-IRAs (simplified employee pension individual retirement arrangements) and Simples (savings incentive match plan for employees).

“Solo 401(k)s are better than the other options,” says Vincenzo Villamena, a certified public accountant with Online Taxman in New York, “because of the ability to contribute to a Roth and the higher contribution limits.”

Like corporate 401(k)s, the maximum contribution this year for solo K’s is $56,000, including up to $19,000 in pretax individual income, plus an employer contribution. (For people age 50 or older, the maximum is $62,000, due to a catch-up provision.) By comparison, Simples limit employee contributions to $13,000 this year ($16,000 for investors age 50 or over), and employer matches to 3% of compensation up to a maximum of $5,600. SEPs, meanwhile, limit annual employer contributions to $56,000 or 25% of income, whichever is less, and there is no employee contribution.

Contributions to solo K’s cannot exceed self-employment income, which is counted separately from any income earned by working for others.

According to Donald B. Cummings Jr., managing partner of Blue Haven Capital in Geneva, Ill., contributions can come from other sources if regular income from the business is needed to pay ordinary expenses. “Say a 50-plus-year-old business owner inherits $500,000 from a deceased relative. She now has access to better cash flow and can theoretically contribute 100% of her compensation” up to the limit, he says.

An investor also can move cash into a solo K from a taxable investment account, reducing taxable income and getting tax deferral on any future gains.

Opening one up typically takes only a few minutes of paperwork with a financial firm such as Vanguard Group, Fidelity Investments or Charles Schwab Corp. SCHW 1.03% Providers typically don’t require a minimum contribution to open an account, or minimum annual contributions.

Business owners who set up the solo plan as a traditional 401(k) get a tax deduction on contributions, tax deferral on gains and pay income tax on withdrawals after age 59½. (If they withdraw before 59½, they generally will pay both income tax and a penalty.) If they choose to go the Roth route, contributions are after taxes but qualified withdrawals are tax-free, which can be a plus for those who expect to be in a higher tax bracket later in life. And unlike ordinary Roth IRAs, which are available only to people with incomes below certain thresholds, anyone who opens a solo K can pick the Roth option. “The single largest benefit of a solo 401(k) is the ability to contribute Roth dollars,” says Brandon Renfro, a financial adviser and assistant finance professor at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. “Since you are the employer in your solo 401(k), you can simply elect that option,” he says. “This is a huge benefit over the other types of self-employed plans.”

Another plus is that account holders can borrow against the assets in a solo 401(k), says Pedro M. Silva, wealth manger with Provo Financial Services in Shrewsbury, Mass. That isn’t allowed with alternatives such as SEPs.

“Business owners often write large checks, and having access to an extra $50,000 for emergencies or opportunities is a valuable feature of the plan,” Mr. Silva says.

Words of caution

A solo 401(k) must be set up by the end of the calendar year for contributions to be subtracted from that year’s taxable income. But, as with an IRA, money can be put in as late as the tax deadline the following April, or by an extension deadline.

Investors who want to change providers can transfer assets from one solo 401(k) to another with no tax bill, as long as the investments go directly from the first investment firm to the second. But if the assets go to the investor first there may be tax consequences, even if they are then sent to the new provider.

Business owners should be aware that the hiring of just a single employee aside from a spouse would require the plan to meet the tricky nondiscrimination test that applies to regular 401(k)s, says Stephanie Hammell, an investment adviser with LPL Financial in Irvine, Calif. That test is designed to make sure executives don’t get a better deal than employees.

Business owners in that situation might do better with a SEP or Simple plan, which don’t have the nondiscrimination hurdle, according to Dr. Renfro.

And as with all financial products, it pays to shop around for the best combination of investment offerings, fees and customer service, experts say.

“Set up your account with an investment provider that either doesn’t charge fees for the administration of the account, or charges very minimal fees,” says Natalie Taylor, an adviser in Santa Barbara, Calif. “Choose an investment provider that offers high-quality, low-cost investment options inside of the individual 401(k) account.”

Credit Given to:  Jeff Brown. This appeared in the July 9, 2019, print edition of the Wall Street Journal as ‘The ‘Solo’ 401(k) Is Often Overlooked.’ Mr. Brown is a writer in Livingston, Mont. He can be reached at reports@wsj.com.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

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