Comments & Views

from our Members

One-person 401(k)s make a lot of sense for self-employed
Page 3B, USA Today, 21 May 2002
By Sandra Block
You give up a lot when you go to work for yourself. Paid vacations. Holiday parties. Free herbal tea. But starting this year, you don't have to give up a 401(k) plan.
Provisions in last year's tax-cut bill made one-person 401(k) plans, also known as individual or owner-only plans, less costly and more attractive for self-employed workers. Financial companies say the plans offer several advantages over traditional retirement programs for the self-employed, such as Keogh plans, SEP individual retirement accounts and Simple IRAs. Among them:
* Higher contribution limits. Self-employed workers can contribute up to $40,000 a year to a one-person 401(k) plan. That's more than double the maximum for some traditional self-employed retirement plans. If you're 50 or over, you can contribute even more: up to $41,000 in 2002, says Art Creel, senior vice president of John Hancock Funds.
The amount you can contribute is based on your income, so the maximum for many business owners will be less than $40,000. But in most cases, it will still be more than allowed by other plans for the self-employed (see box). As is the case with regular 401(k)s, contributions reduce your taxable income. You won't pay taxes on your contributions or investment gains until you take the money out.
* Borrowing privileges. You can borrow from a one-person 401(k), just as you can from an employer-provided plan. You must pay the money back, usually within five years, says Debra Zipp, manager of retirement sales for Waddell & Reed. Interest is based on market rates. She recommends making quarterly payments.
Borrowing from a 401(k) isn't always a good idea: It will slow the growth of your savings, and if you're unable to pay back the loan, you'll face taxes and early withdrawal penalties. But if a big customer is behind on payments and your mortgage is due, borrowing from your 401(k) beats pawning your guitar.
* Rollover options. You may be able to jump-start your one-person 401(k) by rolling over other retirement savings into your plan. For example, if you leave a job to start your own business, you can roll your employer's 401(k) into your individual plan, Zipp says. Many financial advisers are recommending self-employed clients roll their Keogh plans into one-person 401(k)s, says Christopher Guarino, president of BISYS Retirement Services, which helps financial companies set up the plans. Rollovers will help you consolidate your savings and increase the amount you can borrow. Not all retirement plans can be rolled into a one-person 401(k), so be sure you consult with an adviser first.
* Low cost. One-person 401(k)s have actually been around for years, but the administrative hurdles made the cost prohibitive. The new rules, combined with technology, have knocked down the price. John Hancock Funds, for example, charges $150 a year. And many providers require no minimum investment to start a one-person 401(k).
* Protection from creditors. Like regular 401(k) plans, one-person 401(k)s are covered by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which means they're protected from creditors and bankruptcy claims, Zipp says. If your business goes under, your creditors won't be able to go after your retirement savings to pay off your debts.
Who shouldn't invest
For all their advantages, individual 401(k) plans aren't appropriate for all business owners. If you're planning to expand your business and add more workers, you should probably stick with a traditional self-employed retirement plan.
Once you establish a 401(k) plan, you must make it available to all of your full-time employees, other than your spouse, says Elise Pilkington, a director for Principal Financial Group. You must meet these requirements even if you hire just one full-time employee. If your employee decides not to contribute, you can't either. In addition, the paperwork and administrative costs will increase the cost of maintaining the plan, she says.
If you violate the rules, the Internal Revenue Service could disqualify your plan, forcing you to pay taxes and penalties on your savings.
But for independent contractors and other one-person businesses, one-person 401(k)s ''are a great way to maximize retirement savings,'' Pilkington says.
So far, a handful of financial companies are offering one-person 401(k)s, but the number is expected to grow as demand increases. Layoffs and early retirement have forced many workers to start their own businesses. ''The market opportunity is huge,'' Guarino says.
George F. McClure
Ph. 407-647-5092
Fax 407-644-4076
1730 Shiloh Lane
Winter Park, FL 32789



Top of Page

Updated 05/30/02