The self-employed small business owner has at least three ways to save for retirement while saving on current taxes. The best known is the simplified employee pension plan (SEP). Not quite as well known, is the individual 401K-profit sharing plan (401K-PSP). And definitely least known is the Defined Benefit (DB) plan. Your choice should not be based on familiarity but on your retirement needs, current cash flow, and tax liability. Without planning the choices are limited to a SEP IRA or other IRAs. SEPIRAs can be created any time prior to tax filing but the contributions can only be as much as 20-25% of net earnings from self-employment (up to $52K).
A 401K-PSP, on the other hand, must be created in the same year (meaning that if it is used for 2014 contributions it must be created before Dec 31 of 2014). Ideally the contributions are made by December 31st for employee deferred compensation but employer contributions are made later, prior to tax filing. Employee deferral limits this year are $17.5K (plus an additional $5.5K after 50) or to the maximum earned, whichever is less. Profit sharing contributions can top up to $52K (plus an additional $5.5K after 50). Tax filings for the plan are required once the total assets exceed $250K. For most small business owners the 401K-PSP allows for higher annual contributions (than the SEP) and therefore lower tax liability.
DB plans are the least used by self-employed and yet the most powerful at reducing tax liability by allowing very high tax-deferred contributions. A business must have sufficient profit and cash flow to take full advantage of this type of plan. DB plans, like 401k, must be established in the same year and have specific requirements including annual tax filings. These types of plans are not limited by the fixed maximum contribution of $52K but instead on annually calculated contributions based on a future benefit. The maximum annual benefit is up to $210K this year. DB plans provide the highest contribution amounts particularly when combined with a 401K-PSP.
The best type of retirement savings plan for you, as a self-employed individual, is partially dependent on your business’s current and projected cash flow. Ideally you will match the features in all available plans with your retirement needs, selecting the plan that maximizes your retirement savings while reducing your current tax liability.
The key is to plan ahead with someone that knows the self-employed plan options and your personal and business finances. Working together you can provide for your future while reducing your tax liability today.
Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS