When I worked for my old brokerage firm, I was a W-2 employee and the retirement plan options were simple.  I had the 401k and could also do a Traditional or Roth IRA outside of it.  Things changed a bit when I started my own company.  I officially became a small business owner and had man more choices on retirement plans. What options do hands-on owner-operators have and which one is the best for you? If you have a small company and want a retirement program, you want to consider these plan choices.

Best Retirement plans for small businesses
Creative Commons License photo credit: eflon


These plans are very easy to create, and they have very low administrative costs and no annual IRS reporting requirements. You set up traditional IRAs for each eligible employee; they can contribute to the IRA on a tax-deferred basis (via payroll deductions, and you can either match the contributions of plan participants or contribute a fixed percentage of all eligible employees’ pay. The employees own the money in their IRAs.

I had considered going with the Simple IRA initially, but the one item I didn’t like is that it has a 25% early withdraw penalty for the first two years.  This is well over the standard 10% all other plans have.  In the event I did get into a bind, I didn’t like the idea of having to pay the extra to get it out.


A Simplified Employee Pension plan lets you make contributions toward your retirement and your employees’ retirements. (You can even have a SEP and another kind of retirement plan at your business simultaneously.) A SEP allows business owners annual tax-deductible contributions equal to 25% of your compensation (if you have a corporation) or 20% of self-employment income (for a sole proprietor).

This is currently what I have and should satisfy me for a few more years.   Pretty soon I hope to graduate to the next level….

The Solo 401(k).

First solo!
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Are you ready to fly solo?  As in a “Solo” 401(k). Yes, you can have a 401(k) when you are self-employed. A business owner may establish one and include their spouse in the plan, provided the spouse is an employee of the business. A solo 401(k) throws in a profit-sharing twist on the standard 401(k). Solo 401ks may be funded by the employee (deferred compensation) and the business (a percentage of profit). As an employee of your business, you can contribute an amount up to the standard yearly 401(k) contribution limit (catch-up contributions permissible if you are 50 or older). Additionally, solo 401(k) plans allow you to make tax-deductible profit-sharing contributions equal to 25% of your compensation (corporate entity) or 20% of self-employment income (sole proprietor). It is even possible to have a solo Roth 401(k). These plans do require a TPA (third-party administrator).

Ultimately, the Solo 401(k) will allow me to contribute the most pre-tax, but my income has to get me there first :)

Profit-sharing plans.

Here’s one way to compete with larger companies for prime employees. Contributions are usually deductible at both the federal and state level, with contribution limits equivalent to a SEP. Contributions aren’t mandatory. If your business has a bad year, you don’t have to make them. The assets placed within the plan grow tax-deferred. Again, annual tax-deductible contributions may be made according to the 25%/20% rule depending on your business entity.

New comparability plans.

Basically, this is a form of profit-sharing plan that rewards senior or key employees more than others. The classic situation for this plan is when you have a small business whose multiple owners take home similar earnings, but are of different ages. The plan must be tested to meet Internal Revenue Code nondiscrimination requirements, of course. It allows different levels of compensation to different groups within a small business.

What plan is best for your business?

If you are reading this, you are probably thinking about putting a plan into place or switching to a retirement program more easily administered than the one you have now? But which one should you choose – and what is the next step? Take a big step today and take advantage of all that is available in the marketplace – consult an independent financial professional and  a CPA to review your options and find the program that fits your needs.



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Comments | 1 Response

  1. Tom says

    I switched Plan administrators to Steidle Pension Solutions a few years ago and am extremely happy with their service. Whenever I call, a representative familiar with my Plan and business helps me…never an automated phone system ! They make the administration of my small business Plan easy and much more affordable. http://www.sps401k.com

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