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Retirement Savings Options for Self-Employed

Unlike people who work for an employer and can set automatic deductions for their IRA accounts, self-employed people need to set up and contribute to retirement accounts. Two of the most frequently used accounts are the Simplified Employee Pension (SEP-IRA) and the Solo 401(k). Contributions to both are tax-deductible, allowing the entrepreneur to obtain tax-deferred growth and cut taxes.

Figuring out which retirement account is best for your circumstances will be easier after reviewing this article in Physician's Money Digest, "Self-Employed Can Still Cut 2014 Taxes with a Retirement Plan."It lists the pros and cons of each of these two accounts, along with a general description of each.

An SEP-IRAis similar to a traditional IRA in that the investment earnings grow taxed-deferred until they are withdrawn. However, a self-employed individual can save and deduct much more than the $5,500 ($6,500 if 50 and over) for contributions to a traditional IRA. SEP-IRA contribution limits are calculated as the lesser of 20% of net business income or $52,000 for 2014, $53,000 for 2015.

A Solo 401(k) is for self-employed individuals with no employees. Your spouse is not included in the employee count and is permitted to contribute to the plan if he or she is employed by the business. This 401k can be structured as a traditional 401(k) or as a Solo Roth. The maximum 2015 contribution is $53,000 or $59,000 for those 50 and older. The contribution includes (i) an annual employee deferral up to 100% of compensation or earned income for a self-employed individual (to a maximum of $18,000 and $24,000 if 50 or older), which allows some to contribute more to a Solo 401(k) than to a SEP-IRA; and (ii) an employer discretionary contribution of up to 25% of compensation as defined by the plan or 20% of earned income for a self-employed individual.

One advantage a 401(k) offers over an IRA is that you can borrow from a 401(k). If you opt for Solo Roth 401(k), there's no deduction, but withdrawals are tax-free if you wait until you're 59½. The plan lets you save much more than a Roth IRA. Another advantage for the Solo Roth 401(k) is that contributions aren't subject to income limits (unlike the Roth IRA).

Which is better... a Roth or traditional IRA?It depends on many factors. If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the future, the Roth version may make more sense, but if your current tax rate is low, it might be better to forgo a deduction now in order to withdraw money tax-free when you're in a higher bracket in the future. What's nice is that it doesn't have to be an "either-or" proposition: you can have both traditional and Roth 401(k) plans and divide contributions between them.

For most self-employed individuals, the SEP-IRA may be a better choice than a traditional IRA because the contribution limits are much higher. Also, deductions for traditional IRA contributions are limited by income for participants who are covered or whose spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work.

Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney to see how these IRA options may fit into your strategy.

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