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Ask a Fool: I'm Self-Employed. How Should I Save for Retirement?

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® – Jun 30, 2017 at 12:00PM

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Self-employed individuals have several retirement savings options available.

Q: I started my own business this year and want to invest more than the $5,500 IRA maximum for my retirement. What are my options?

Self-employed individuals have several retirement savings options available. For starters, the SIMPLE IRA is available to small businesses and self-employed individuals, and as the name suggests, is a simple type of account to use. For 2017, a self-employed individual can contribute up to $25,000 or 100% of compensation, whichever is lower, half of which is considered an employee contribution and half of which is considered as an employer contribution since self-employed individuals are considered to fill both roles. There is also a $6,000 additional catch-up contribution allowed if you're 50 or older.

If you want to save even more, the SEP-IRA could be a better choice for you. SEP stands for "simplified employee pension." You can contribute one-quarter of your earnings up to $54,000 to a SEP-IRA in 2017, with a $6,000 catch-up allowance for those 50 and older. With these first two account types, you can also help your employees save for retirement through matching contributions. One caveat: You can't contribute a high percentage of your salary to your SEP-IRA without doing the same for your employees. SIMPLE IRAs are more flexible.

Finally, you might want to consider the solo 401(k). Also known as an individual 401(k), these are designed for a single employee. You can contribute up to $18,000 per year plus 25% of your self-employment income, up to the same $54,000 maximum as the SEP-IRA, plus an extra $6,000 if you're over 50. There are additional possible benefits to a solo 401(k) as well, such as the availability of a Roth option and the ability to borrow from your account.

All three types of accounts are relatively easy to set up, and are available through most major brokers. Contributions up to the limits can be tax-deductible, and you can choose from a wide variety of investments, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs.

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