If you’re a small-business owner, you probably pour your heart, soul, and nearly all your money into your business. When it comes to retirement planning, do you cross your fingers and hope your business will provide the nest egg you’ll need to live comfortably? What if you become ill and have to sell your business early? Or what if the business experiences setbacks just before you retire?
Rather than relying on your business to define your retirement lifestyle, consider a tax-advantaged retirement plan to supplement your strategy. Employer-sponsored plans offer many benefits, including current tax deductions for the business itself and tax-deferred growth (and perhaps even tax-free income) for you and your employees. Here are some options to consider.
Although these types of plans generally have regulatory requirements that can be costly and somewhat cumbersome, they offer a certain level of control and flexibility.
Typically, only the business contributes to a profit-sharing plan. Contributions are discretionary (although they must be “substantial and recurring”) and are placed into separate accounts for each employee according to an established allocation formula. There’s no fixed amount requirement, and in years when profitability is particularly tight, you generally need not contribute at all.
Perhaps the most popular type of retirement plan offered by employers, a 401(k) plan can allow employees to make both pre- and after-tax (Roth) contributions. The accounts grow on a tax-deferred basis. Distributions from pre-tax accounts are taxed as ordinary income, whereas distributions from Roth accounts are tax-free as long as they are qualified. Employee contributions cannot exceed $18,500 in 2018 ($24,500 for those 50 and older) or 100% of compensation, and you, as the employer, can choose to match a portion of employee contributions. These plans must pass tests to ensure they are nondiscriminatory; however, you can avoid the testing requirements by adopting a “safe harbor” provision that requires a set matching contribution based on one of two formulas. Another way to avoid testing is by adopting a SIMPLE 401(k) plan. However, because they are more complicated than SIMPLE IRAs (described later in this article), SIMPLE 401(k)s are not widely utilized.
Defined benefit (DB) plan
Commonly known as a traditional pension plan, DB plans are not as popular as they once were and are uncommon among small businesses due to costs and complexities. They promise to pay employees a set level of benefits during retirement, based on a formula typically expressed as a percentage of income. DB plans generally require an actuary’s expertise.
Total contributions to profit-sharing and 401(k) plans cannot exceed $55,000 or 100% of compensation in 2018. With both profit-sharing and 401(k) plans (except safe-harbor 401(k) plans), you can impose a vesting schedule that permits your employees to become entitled to employer contributions over a period of time.
Unlike qualified plans that must comply with specific regulations, SEP-IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs are less complicated and typically less costly.
A SEP allows you to set up an IRA for yourself and each of your eligible employees. Although you contribute the same percentage of pay for every employee, you’re not required to make contributions every year. Therefore, you can time your contributions according to what makes sense for the business. For 2018, total contributions (both employer and employee) are limited to 25% of pay up to a maximum of $55,000 for each employee (including yourself).
The SIMPLE IRA allows employees to contribute up to $12,500 in 2018 on a pre-tax basis. Employees age 50 and older may contribute an additional $3,000. As the employer, you must either match your employees’ contributions dollar for dollar up to 3% of compensation, or make a fixed contribution of 2% of compensation for every eligible employee. (The 3% contribution can be reduced to 1% in any two of five years.)
For the self-employed
In addition to the options noted above, sole entrepreneurs may consider an individual or “solo” 401(k) plan. This type of plan is very similar to a standard 401(k) plan, but because it applies only to the business owner and his or her spouse, the regulatory requirements are not as stringent. It can also have a profit-sharing feature, which could help you maximize your tax-advantaged savings potential.