Business Owners: Don't Neglect Your Own Retirement Plan
If you're like many small business owners, you pour your heart, soul, and nearly all your money into your business. When it comes to retirement planning, your strategy might be crossing your fingers and hoping your business will provide the nest egg you'll need to live comfortably. But relying on a business to fund retirement can be a very risky proposition. What if you become ill and have to sell it early? Or what if your business experiences setbacks just before your planned retirement date?
Rather than counting on your business to define your retirement lifestyle, consider managing your risk now by investing in a tax-advantaged retirement account. Employer-sponsored retirement plans offer a number of potential benefits, including current tax deductions for the business and tax-deferred growth and/or tax-free retirement income for its employees. Following are several options to consider.
Unlike "qualified" plans that must comply with specific regulations governed by the Internal Revenue Code and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), SEP and SIMPLE IRAs are less complicated and typically less costly.
SEP-IRA: 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 2014, total contributions (both employer and employee) are limited to 25% of pay up to a maximum of $52,000 for each employee (including yourself).
SIMPLE IRA: The SIMPLE IRA allows employees to contribute up to $12,000 in 2014 on a pretax basis. Employees age 50 and older may contribute an additional $2,500. 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.)
Although these types of plans have more stringent regulatory requirements, they offer more control and flexibility. (Note that special rules may apply to self-employed individuals.)
Profit-sharing plan: 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.
401(k) plan: Perhaps the most popular type of retirement plan offered by employers, a 401(k) plan allows employees to make both pre- and after-tax (Roth) contributions. Pretax contributions grow on a tax-deferred basis, while qualified withdrawals from a Roth account are tax free. Employee contributions cannot exceed $17,500 in 2014 ($23,000 for those 50 and older) or 100% of compensation, and employers can choose to match a portion of employee contributions. These plans must pass tests to ensure they are nondiscriminatory; however, employers 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 and are still subject to certain regulations, SIMPLE 401(k)s are not widely utilized.
Defined benefit (DB) plan: Commonly known as a traditional pension plan, DB plans are becoming increasingly scarce 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 $52,000 or 100% of compensation in 2014. 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.
For the self-employed
In addition to the options noted above, sole entrepreneurs may consider an individual or "solo" 401(k) plan. These types of plans are very similar to a standard 401(k) plan, but because they apply only to the business owner and his or her spouse, the regulatory requirements are not as stringent. They can also have a profit-sharing feature, which can help you maximize your tax-advantaged savings potential.