The Best Retirement Plans for Small Business Owners & The Self-Employed

The Best Retirement Plans for Small Business Owners & The Self-Employed

It’s hard to read the news these days without hearing about the sudden devaluation and in some cases outright decimation of personal savings and retirement accounts due to the economic difficulty of the past few years.

It is a sad situation, effecting people from all walks of life and all age-groups.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 2010 Retirement Confidence Survey, almost half of all Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, and the number is rising. EBRI reports that 43 percent of Americans fit this description in 2010, up from 39 percent the previous year. Even more telling is the finding that the number of people who had less than $1,000 saved for retirement rose by 7 percent from the previous year to a total 27 percent.

But the silver lining to all this economic insecurity is that it is forcing many people to focus on and re-evaluate their financial planning- especially when it comes to retirement. Those who are self-employed or who own very small businesses (10 or fewer employees) in particular need to be proactive in setting aside funds for retirement, since there are no matching employer contributions to rely on, there may be fewer assets to put aside, and the cost of the best retirement plans may make them prohibitive to the smallest businesses.

Having a good retirement plan for yourself and your employees to fall back on is essential. But with all the qualified retirement plans and programs available it may be hard to know which one is right for you. Here is a brief rundown of the best retirement plans for small businesses and the self-employed:

The Simplified Employee Pension Plan ( SEP)

The SEP is definitely the simplest and cheapest of the qualified retirement plans for the self-employed or for those who employ only a few people. The plan is funded with tax-deductible employer contributions, and the employer must cover all eligible employees. Self-employed individuals and small business owners can make tax-deductible contributions to SEP accounts of up to $49,000 per year in tax year 2010 based on a tax calculator. SEPs are also flexible in terms of contributions from one year to the next. If, for example, business is slow one year, account owners can reduce their SEP contributions or skip them altogether.


The Savings Incentive Match Plan (SIMPLE-IRA’s) fall some where between a SEP-IRA and a 401(k). With the SIMPLE IRA, both the employee and the employer are required to make tax-deductible contributions. The employer contribution is defined at a fixed match rate, usually 3% and is mandatory each year for all employees who participate. The 2010 contribution limit for SIMPLE IRAs is $11,500, or $14,000 for employees who are age 50 or older as of December 31st of 2010 plus an employer matching contribution (up to 3% of your salary).

Employers may also elect to make non-elective contributions equal to 2% of the employee’s annual compensation.  In 2010, this non-elective, 2% contribution was limited to $245,000 in compensation, or a non-elective contribution of $4,900.

The SIMPLE IRA may be a good option for those businesses with only a handful of employees, but compared to other retirement plans, your own allowable contributions are limited. Employers interested in using a SIMPLE IRA plan should consult IRS Form 5305-SIMPLE or Form 5304-SIMPLE

Traditional IRA and Roth IRA Accounts

Since IRA accounts are available to anyone who earns taxable income and they can be held simultaneously with other qualified retirement accounts, you should definitely look into opening one- especially if you are able to put aside more than the maximum contributions allowed with other plans yet you earn less than disqualifying income limit.

There are two types of IRA accounts: the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. With the traditional IRA, you can claim a tax deduction on contributions and your account earnings grow tax-deferred until you take the money out upon retirement. With a Roth IRA, you do not claim a tax deduction. Your contribution is made with after tax income. The retirement earnings in your Roth IRA then grow tax-free. This means you will not have to pay taxes on your distributions from the account. For more information on IRA’s and Roth IRA’s see IRS publication 590.

Self-Employed 401(k)

Unlike the popular 401(k) plan which can get expensive and difficult to manage, the self-employed 401(k) is relatively easy to set up and inexpensive to maintain. Moreover, the self-employed 401(k) offers higher contribution limits than other retirement plans, it can be consolidated with a traditional IRA account, and there ‘s more flexibility with contributions. For more information on Self-Employed 401(k) plans, read this post over at

Keogh Retirement Plans

Those who are self-employed and support only a handful of employees may want to consider the self-employed Keogh plan. Like the other qualified retirement plans, the account holder must be 59 1/2 in order to withdraw money from the account, and required distributions begin when the account holder reaches 70 1/2. Similar to an IRA contributions are pre-tax thus lowering taxable income, but contribution limits are more liberal than with an IRA.

There are two kinds of Keogh Plans: the Defined Benefit Plan and the Defined Contribution Plan. Each one has its own rules, benefits, and deductible limits. Deciding which Keogh Plan type to choose and administering it once chosen will require the services of a qualified financial professional.

Profit Sharing Plans

With a profit sharing plan, all employees (owners can claim themselves as employees) receive a percentage of the company’s profits. Annual contributions up to $49,000 are made to the account, but because they are dependent on the company’s profitability, they may vary from year to year. Under a profit sharing plan employers are only required to contribute when the business makes a profit, which may make them particularly attractive to small businesses. These plans will generally require the services of a trained professional for administration so this cost should be factored in.

For more information on retirement plans in general, be sure to also read IRS Publication 560.

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