As a small-business owner, you're probably used to handling a lot of responsibility—everything from drawing up detailed business plans to creating a budget. So it should come as no surprise that funding your retirement will likely fall on your shoulders.
But what type of retirement plan is the right fit for your business? There are several types to choose from and the options can be confusing. For example, some small-business retirement plans are better for sole proprietors, while others may be more appropriate for businesses with up to 100 employees.
"Many small-business owners say they want to set up a 401(k) plan because that is the plan they are most familiar with," says Ken Hevert, senior vice president, retirement products, at Fidelity. "However, after reviewing their situation, small-business owners often conclude that perhaps another plan type, such as a SEP IRA or a Self-Employed 401(k), may be more appropriate."
Basically, there are 4 types of retirement plans that small-business owners might consider:
We will focus only on the first 3, which are generally more suitable for very small businesses—typically, 100 employees or less. Each of these plans has different characteristics—such as the ability to cover employees, contribution limits, and administrative responsibility, to name a few. To choose the right plan for your business, you need to understand the nuances of these plans and match them to your priorities (e.g., higher contributions or simpler administration).
Understanding the differences in the plan types is an important exercise. If you have been operating a plan that doesn't match your business needs, you could be missing out on important tax benefits, or possibly making mistakes regarding employee contributions.
Why have a small-business retirement plan?
Here are 3 very compelling reasons:
Consider your options
Each of the 3 small-business retirement plans may offer certain tax advantages, including:
But this is where the similarities end, particularly about whether the plans cover employees and, if so, who is responsible for making contributions.
Choosing the right plan takes careful consideration
"If you know what you are trying to accomplish with a retirement plan, it may be relatively straightforward to determine which plan is most appropriate for the business," Hevert says. "For example, is ease of administration an important consideration? Is it critical that employees be able to contribute to the plan? Knowing what you want and need ahead of time is a key component, because each plan has its advantages and disadvantages."
The chart below compares the 3 plans in detail.
Fidelity's small-business retirement plans at a glance
Matching a retirement plan to your business
As you consider the specific features of each plan, it's important to remember that there are always trade-offs. Think very carefully about your priorities.
Here are some factors that may be helpful as you consider the right retirement plan for your business:
If you have no employees other than you and your spouse (or business partner) and want the highest possible contribution limits, consider a Self-Employed 401(k). If, however, additional employees are a possibility in the future, you may need to choose between a SEP IRA and a SIMPLE IRA, both of which can cover employees. Then it's a matter of deciding whether you want to fund your employees' accounts by yourself (SEP) or you want your employees to contribute (SIMPLE).
Contributions: How much and who pays?
Next, think about how much flexibility you want in terms of contribution limits and who is responsible for making such contributions.
A Self-Employed 401(k) plan offers the largest possible contributions because it recognizes that self-employed people wear 2 hats—as an employee and as an employer. In fact, as an employee, you can make elective deferrals of up to $19,000 for 2019. As an employer, you can make a profit-sharing contribution of up to 25% of compensation, up to a maximum of $56,000 for 2019. (Total contributions as employer and employee cannot exceed $56,000 for 2019.) The plan also allows catch-up contributions of up to $6,000 for those who are age 50 or older in 2019. You are also eligible for added tax breaks. If your business is not incorporated, you can generally deduct contributions for yourself from your personal income. If your business is incorporated, the corporation can generally deduct the contributions as a business expense.
If you have a business with variable income and you want more flexibility, you might consider a SEP IRA. Just remember that, if you have employees in years you contribute, you have to contribute the same percentage for them as you contribute for yourself. As an employer, you can contribute up to 25% of compensation, up to a maximum of $56,000 in 2019. And you don’t have to contribute every year.
On the other hand, if you want your employees to help fund their retirement account, you may want to consider a SIMPLE IRA, available to businesses with up to 100 employees. With a SIMPLE IRA, employees can make salary deferral contributions of up to 100% of compensation, not to exceed $13,000 in 2019. You, as the employer, must also contribute to their accounts—you can either match the employees' contributions dollar for dollar up to 3% of compensation (contributions can be reduced to as little as 1% in any 2 out of 5 years), or contribute 2% of each eligible employee's compensation. The SIMPLE IRA also allows employees age 50 or older to make catch-up contributions of up to $3,000 in 2019.
Time and money
The good news is that all 3 of these plans are relatively low cost and easy to administer. Neither the SEP IRA nor the SIMPLE IRA requires annual plan filings with the IRS, just certain employee notifications. The Self-Employed 401(k) plan involves a little more effort, requiring an annual Form 5500 filing once plan assets exceed $250,000. To make the most of this retirement savings opportunity—both for yourself and your employees—make sure it's the right plan for your small business before you set one up.
Next steps to consider
See how an advisor can help you grow and protect your wealth.
Access Fidelity tools to get retirement income planning help.
Get information about Fidelity's small-business retirement plans.