8 reasons to open a solo 401k plan

8 reasons why entrepreneurs should open a solo 401k plan

What is a solo 401k plan

The solo 401k plan is a powerful tool for entrepreneurs to save money for retirement and reduce their current tax bill. These plans are often ignored and overshadowed by the more popular corporate 401k and SEP IRA plans.  In fact, there is a lack of widely available public information about them. Simply put, not many people know about it. In this article, I will discuss 8 reasons why entrepreneurs should open a solo 401k plan.

Solo or one participant 401k plans are available to solo entrepreneurs who do not have any personnel on staff. If a business owner employs seasonal workers who register less than 1,000 hours a year, then he or she may be eligible for the solo 401k plans as well. The solo plans have most of the characteristics of the traditional 401k plan without any of the restrictions.

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What are some of the most significant benefits of the self-employed 401k?

Maximize your retirement savings with a solo 401k

Self-employed 401k allows a business owner to save up to $56,000 a year for retirement, plus an additional $6,000 if age 50 and over. How does the math work exactly?

Solo entrepreneurs play a dual role in their business – an employee and an employer. As an employee, they can contribute up to $19,000 a year plus catch-up of $6,000 if over the age of 50. Further, the business owner can add up to $37,000 of contribution as an employer match. The employee’s side of the contribution is subject to 25% of the total compensation, which the business owner must pay herself.

Example: Jessica, age 52, has a solo practice. She earns a W2 salary of $100,000 from her S-corporation. Jessica set-up a solo 401k plan. In 2017 she can contribute $18,000 plus $6,000 catch-up, for a total of $24,000 as an employee of her company. Additionally, Jessica can add up to $25,000 (25% x $100,000) as an employer. All-n-all, she can save up to $49,000 in her solo 401k plan.

One important side note, if a business owner works for another company and participates in their 401(k), the above limits are applicable per person, not per plan. Therefore, the entrepreneur has to deduct any contributions from the second plan to stay within the allowed limits.

Add your spouse

A business owner can add his or her spouse to the 401k plan subject to the same limits discussed above. To be eligible for these contributions, the spouse has to earn income from the business. The spouse must report a wage from the company on a W2 form for tax purposes.

Reduce your current tax bill

The solo 401k plans contributions will reduce your tax bill at year-end. The wage contributions will lower your ordinary income tax. The company contributions will decrease your corporate tax.

This is a very significant benefit for all business owners and in particular for those who fall into higher income tax brackets. If an entrepreneur believes that her tax rate will go down in the future, maximizing her current solo 401k contributions now, can deliver substantial tax benefits in the long run.

Opt for Roth contributions

Most solo 401k plans allow for Roth contributions. These contributions are after taxes. Therefore, they do not lower current taxes. However, the long-term benefit is that all investments from Roth contributions grow tax-free. No taxes will be due at withdrawal during retirement.

Only the employee contributions are eligible for the Roth status. So solo entrepreneur can add up to $19,000 plus $6,000 in post-tax Roth contributions and $37,000 as tax-deductible employer contributions.

The Roth contributions are especially beneficial for young entrepreneurs or those in a lower tax bracket who expect that their income and taxes will be higher when they retire. By paying taxes now at a lower rate, plan owners avoid paying much larger tax bill later when they retire, assuming their tax rate will be higher.

No annual test

Solo 401k plans are not subject to the same strict regulations as their corporate rivals. Self-employed plans do not require a discrimination test as long as the only participants are the business owner and the spouse.

If the company employs workers who meet the eligibility requirements, they must be included in the plan.  To be eligible for the 401k plan, the worker must be a salaried full-time employee working more than 1,000 hours a year. In those cases, the plan administrator must conduct annual discrimination test which assesses the employee participation in the 401k plan. As long as solo entrepreneurs do not hire any full-time workers, they can avoid the discrimination test in their 401k plan.

No annual filing

Another benefit of the 401k plans is the exemption from annual filing a form 5500-EZ, as long as the year-end plan assets do not exceed $250,000. If plan assets exceed that amount, the plan administrator or the owner himself must do the annual filing. To learn more about the annual filing process, visit this page.

Asset protection

401k plans offer one of the highest bankruptcy protection than any other retirement accounts including IRA. The assets in 401k are safe from creditors as long as they remain there.

In general, all ERISA eligible retirement plans like 401k plan are sheltered from creditors. Non-ERISA plans like IRAs are also protected up to $1,283,025 (in aggregate) under federal law plus any additional state law protection.

Flexibility

You can open a self-employed 401k plan at nearly any broker like Fidelity, Schwab or Vanguard. The process is relatively straightforward. It requires filling out a form, company name, Tax ID, etc. Most brokers will act as your plan administrator. As long as, the business owner remain self-employed, doesn’t hire any full-time workers and plan assets do not exceed $250,000, plan administration will be relatively straightforward.

As a sponsor of your 401k plan, you can choose to manage it yourself or hire an investment advisor. Either way, most solo 401k plans offer a broader range of investments than comparable corporate 401k plans. Depending on your provider you may have access to a more extensive selection of investment choices including ETFs, low-cost mutual funds, stocks, and REITs. Always verify your investment selection and trading costs before opening an account with any financial provider.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families, physicians, and successful business owners.

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6 Saving & Investment Practices All Business Owners Should Follow

6 Saving & Investment Practices All Business Owners Should Follow

In my practice, I often meet with small business owners who have the entire life savings and family fortune tied up to their company. For many of them, their business is the only way out to retirement. With this post, I would like to offer 6 saving & investment practices all business owners should follow.

Having all your eggs in one basket, however, may not be the best way to manage your finances and family fortune. Think about bookstores. If you owned one 20-30 years ago, you probably earned a decent living. Now, bookstores are luxuries even in the major cities like New York and San Francisco. Technology, markets, consumer sentiments, and laws change all the time. And that is why it is vital that you build healthy saving and investment routines to grow your wealth, protect your loved ones and prepare yourself for the years during retirement.

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Start Early

I always advise my clients to start saving early and make it a habit. Saving 10-20 percent of your monthly income will help you build and grow your wealth. For instance, by starting with $20,000 today, with an average stock market return of 6 percent, your investments can potentially accumulate to $115,000 in 30 years or even $205,000 in 40 years.

Saving and investing early in your career can build a buffer to correct for any sidesteps or slip-ups. Starting to build your wealth early will provide the necessary protection against market drops and economic recessions and prepare you for large purchases like a new home, college tuition, a new car or even expanding your business.

Build a Safety Net

Life can often be unpredictable in good and bad ways. Having an emergency fund is the best way to guard your wealth and maintain liquidity for your business. I typically recommend keeping 6 to 12 months of basic living expenses in your savings account.

Even though my firm does not offer insurance, I often advise my clients especially those who are sole bread earners or work in industries prone to accidents to consider getting life and disability insurance. A good insurance will guarantee a protection and supplemental income for yourself and your loved ones in case of unexpected work or life events.

Manage Your Debt

The last eight years of friendly interest environment has brought record levels of debt in almost every single category. Americans now owe more than $8.26 trillion in mortgages, $1.14 trillion in auto loans, and $747 billion in credit cards debt. If you are like me, you probably don’t like owing money to anyone.

That’s great, however, taking loans is an essential part of any enterprise. Expanding your business, building a new facility or buying a competitor will often require external financing. Keeping track of your loans and prioritizing on paying off your high-interest debt can save you and your business a lot of money. It may also boost your credit score.

Set-up a Company Retirement Plan

The US Government provides a variety of options for businesses to create retirement plans for both employees and owners. Some of the most popular ones are employer-sponsored 401k, self-employed 401k, profit-sharing, SIMPLE IRA and SEP IRA.

Having a company retirement plan is an excellent way to save money in the long run. Plan contributions could reduce current taxes and boost your employees’ loyalty and morale.

Of the many alternatives, I am a big supporter of 401(k) plans. Although they are a little more expensive to establish and run, they provide the highest contribution allowance over all other options.

The maximum employee contribution to 401(k) plans for 2017 is $18,000. The employer can match up to $36,000 for a total of $54,000. Individuals over 50 can add a catch-up contribution of $6,000. Also, 401k and other ERISA Plans offer an added benefit. They have the highest protection to creditors.

Even if you already have an up-and-running 401k plan, your job is not done. Have your plan administrator or an independent advisor regularly review your investment options.

I frequently see old 401k plans that have been ignored and forgotten since they were first established. Some of these plans often contain high-fee mutual funds that have consistently underperformed their benchmarks for many consecutive years. I typically recommend replacing some of these funds with low-fee alternatives like index funds and ETFs. Paying low fees will keep more money in your pocket.

Diversify

Many business owners hold a substantial amount of their wealth locked in their business. By doing so, they expose themselves to what we call a concentrated risk. Any economic, legal and market developments that can adversely impact your industry can also hurt your personal wealth.

The best way to protect yourself is diversification. Investing in uncorrelated assets can decrease the overall risk of your portfolio. A typical diversified portfolio may include large-, mid-, small-cap, and international stocks, real estate, gold, government, and corporate fixed income.

Plan Your Exit

Whether you are planning to transfer your business to the next generation in your family or cash it in, this can have serious tax and legal consequences. Sometimes it pays off to speak to a pro.

Partnering with someone who understands your industry and your particular needs and circumstances, can offer substantial value to your business and build a robust plan to execute your future financial strategy.

 

The article was previously published in HVACR Business Magazine on March 1, 2017

About the author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.

 

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing, Copyright: www.123rf.com

11 Effective financial strategies for business owners

Eleven ways to boost and protect your wealth

Small and mid-size business are the backbone of the US economy. Entrepreneurship and creativity have been moving the American economy for centuries. In fact, US has one of the best grooming environments for start-ups and small businesses.  Many flagship consumer brands like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Apple started very small with one restaurant, a coffee shop, and a garage workshop to become international leaders in their industry.

Business owners spend several years building up their business. They invest a significant amount of personal time and capital to grow their companies.  Almost always these entrepreneurs will have their family fortune locked in their business. Those who succeed can go public or pass their wealth to the next generation.

Entrepreneurs are a special breed. Many have a vision or a single idea that that drives their pursuit for success. Others have a unique skill or talent that make them stand out from their competitors. They are independent, self-driven and bold.

Focused on their business, more often than not entrepreneurs ignore or delay their personal financial planning.  In this post, I would like to discuss several practical steps that business owners can follow to establish their successful financial plan.

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Balance your business and personal goals

The first and most crucial step in the personal financial planning process is setting your short and long-term financial goals. In many cases, the business goals can interfere and clash over personal financial goals. Business goals to expand into a new market or purchase a new factory can negatively interfere with your personal goals such as saving for retirement or college education for your children. Striking the right balance between your business and personal goals is key to achieving them.  Prioritizing one over the other may hurt your long-term financial success.

Explore different financing alternatives

Every new business idea requires capital to start. The success of the venture depends on the owner’s ability to secure financing. Sometimes, the funding comes from personal savings or the sale of a property. Other times, the owner needs to look for external funding within his or her social circle or even approach a financial institution. The external financing can be in the form of a loan or equity stake.

Both debt and equity financing come with embedded costs. The cost can vary depending on the company’s size, industry, history, economic conditions, etc. One of the main advantages of debt financing is that the interest on the loan is tax deductible. One the other hand equity financing may allow for more flexibility.

Another great way of financing your idea is your customers. Indeed, your clients are one of the best and inexpensive sources of financing. If your customers love your product, they will be willing to give you an advance payment, subscribe to your platform or consider a product/service exchange.

In any case, the entrepreneurs should seek to minimize the overall cost of capital of its business by exploring multiple financing channels.

Control cost

Even the best idea can fail if it doesn’t generate profit. In simple numerical terms, the company revenue should be higher than its expenses. Many ventures do not succeed because the company cannot generate enough revenue to cover all costs. Clearly, the first answer will be to generate more revenue. However, many successful companies are notorious with their focus on cost control. Business owners must stay on top of their expenses. They must track and analyze your cost. Owners should look for operational deficiencies and overlaps, result-based compensation, economies of scale and ways to increase productivity.

 

Manage liquidity

Businesses need cash to maintain healthy growth. Not surprisingly, the prominent investor Warrant Buffet prefers to invest in companies generating significant cash flows. The capacity to produce cash from its operations will determine the company’s ability to pay its employees, creditors, and vendors. Building a disciplined system of managing receivables and payables and maintaining a cash buffer for emergencies are keys for effective cash flow management.

Manage your taxes

Filing and paying taxes is a long and painful process. Tax law is very complex. Many hidden threats can trigger tax events for you. There are also many opportunities to save on taxes. Often, your tax bill depends on your company legal status. Sole proprietors have different taxation rule from c-corporation. Speak to an accountant or tax lawyer to find out what legal status works best for you. To avoid missed opportunities and last-minute mistakes, you have to prepare for the filing process in advance. Start early. Keep a clean record of all your expenses. Track all tax filing dates. Remember to pay all federal and state taxes, social security, Medicare, local permits, and fees. Consider using a professional bookkeeping software and working with a CPA.

 

Manage risk

Risk comes in all shapes and forms – business risk, operational risk, financial risk, disability risk and so on. Managing the risk from different sources is a mandatory skill for any successful business owner and executive.  External threats can impose significant obstacles to profitability and expansion but if managed successfully can create substantial opportunities for long-term growth.

Business threats can come from new competitors, new technology, changes in consumer demand, new regulatory requirements and so on. Business owners have to be on top of these changes and often even drive the change.

Operational risk impacts the companies’ ability to serve its customers.

Financial risk can come from interest rates, volatile stock markets, and liquidity crunches. Macroeconomic factors can affect your clients’ ability to pay off their debt. Having a solid financial strategy, building buffers and managing cash will allow the business to withstand unexpected financial turbulence.

Short-term and long-term disability will prohibit the owners and key employees to perform their duties. Injuries and sickness of key personnel can significantly hurt any business. Prolonged disability can limit owners’ ability to make a living, support their families and grow their business. Having disability insurance can help bridge the financial gap during a time of recovery. Moreover, having a disaster plan can save your business at times of emergencies and unforeseen circumstances.

 

Establish a retirement plan

Having a company retirement plan is an excellent way to save money in the long run. A pension plan contributions could reduce current taxes and boost employee’s loyalty.

While there are few alternatives – 401k, SEP IRA, and SIMPLE IRA. I am a big supporter of 401k plans. Although they are little more expensive to establish and run, they provide the highest contribution allowance over all other options.

The maximum employee contribution for 2016 is  $18,000. The employer can match up to $35,000 for a total of $53,000. Individuals over 50 can add a catch-up contribution of $6,000 for a total of $59,000 annual contribution.

Self-employed individuals can also take advantage of this option by setting up a solo 401k plan. Moreover, they can contribute up to $53,000, $18,000 as an employee of your company and $35,000 as an employer.

 

Build a safety net

Creating a safety net is a critical step to protecting your wealth. Many business owners hold a substantial amount of their assets tied up to their personal business. By doing it, they expose themselves to a concentrated risk in one company or industry. Any economic developments that can adversely impact that particular sector can also hurt their personal wealth.

The best way to build a strong safety net is asset diversification. Owners can significantly decrease the overall risk of their portfolio when investing in a broad and uncorrelated range of assets, sectors, and regions.

Start your estate planning

Estate planning is the process of arranging the disposal of your assets after your passing. It further involves your family members, other individuals, and charitable organizations. Estate planning starts with setting up a family trust and personal will and can also affect financial, tax, medical and business planning. Additionally, you can use estate planning to eliminate uncertainties over the administration of a probate and to maximize the value of the estate by reducing taxes and other expenses. The ultimate goal of estate planning can be determined by your specific goals and may be as simple or complex as your needs dictate.

 

Plan for business succession

A successful business can impact various parties such as owners, employees, contractors, vendors, clients, landlords, and suppliers. Therefore, creating a business succession plan will ensure that all parties interests are met in the event you decide to discontinue your business or pass it to another person.  Moreover, a robust plan will address numerous tax and financial issues which will result from the succession. The complexity of the succession plan will depend on the size, industry and legal status of your business.

About the author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to busy families and business owners.

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