SAVING OPTIONS FOR THE SELF-EMPLOYED

We live in a brave new world of work. Gone are the days where everyone worked a single job, one paycheck and the promise of a pension plan. Instead, an increasing number of us are earning a living by combining two or three different jobs or by plying our trade as consultants or contract employees.

One of the advantages of traditional full-time employment is the ability to participate in a 401k retirement savings plan, which allows you to both build a nest egg and lower your current year taxes. Did you know you can do the same thing if you are self-employed? Here are some options for setting up your own retirement plan, just like the big boys.

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SEP-IRA – The Simplified Employee Pension IRA is a good choice if you are a solo practitioner – a public relations consultant or freelance graphic designer. You can save up to 25% of your net self-employment income up to $53,000 per year. As with a regular IRA, this money grows tax-free until you withdraw it in retirement.

This is a great choice if you have a side gig because you can contribute to a SEP even if you have a 401k at a full-time job. What’s more, you can contribute to the account right up until the tax-filing deadline; so if you had a great year and realize that you could use a tax break, toss a few grand more into your SEP-IRA.

Solo 401k – This is a nice option if you are married and own a business. Both of you can contribute up to $18,000 per year to the account -- $24,000 if you are 50-plus. As the employer, you can kick in an additional 25% of your compensation up to an employee/employer total of $53,000.

You can also roll your existing 401k savings into a Solo 401k. In case of emergency, you can borrow up to 50% of the account’s value to a limit of $50,000, and take five years to pay it back. The Solo 401k may not be a good choice if you still have a full-time job with an employer 401k. Your contributions to that account will count against what you can put in the Solo 401k.

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Self-employed 401k profit sharing plan – This is a great plan for sole proprietor business owner as it allows you to contribute as both employee and employer. As an employee, you can kick in up to $18,000 -- $24,000 for 50-plus. Then, as the boss man, you can contribute a sum equal to 25% of your profits, up to $53,000. Your spouse can participate in the plan, too.

Simple IRA – This one is for aspiring tycoons, not moonlighters. The plan is designed to help small businesses provide a tax-deferred savings benefit. If you have, say, 6-8 employees this might be the way to go. You can contribute $12,500 per year, $3,000 more if you are 50-plus. As the employer, however, you are usually required to match your employees’ contributions up to as much as 3% of their salary.

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So, you have options. And options are good – if you act on them. The sooner you start saving for retirement, the better. We urge people to enroll in their employer’s 401k on the first day of their first job. The same advice applies if you are self-employed. No matter how tight your budget, set up a retirement account with a financial advisor or brokerage firm and begin making regular contributions. You’re not just the boss of your business; you’re the boss of your future.

Manage it well.