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Smart Strategies

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Self-Employed? Make the Most of Your 401(k)

Learn how your solo status could make you eligible for bigger savings.


If you’re planning for retirement, you’ve probably heard the saying "pay yourself first." And if you own your own business or work as a freelancer, it’s advice truly worth heeding.

Generally, pre-tax or Roth 401(k) contributions are limited to $24,000 a year for those older than age 50 ($18,000 plus $6,000 in catch-up contributions). But with a Solo 401(k), you can pile up as much as $59,000 annually for those older than age 50 ($53,000 for those under the age of 50), setting yourself up better for retirement and cutting your taxes—possibly so much that you lower your tax bracket, explains Scott Alan Turner, a personal finance expert and host of the Financial Rock Star podcast.

What is a Solo 401(k)? It’s a retirement saving option for anybody who has self-employment income. "You don’t need to be self-employed full-time to take advantage of a Solo 401(k), however, you cannot use this account if you have any full-time employees, other than your spouse," says David Weliver, a personal finance expert and editor at MoneyUnder30.com.

The reason a Solo 401(k) is so appealing to self-employed people is that in funding it you’re acting as both the employer and the employee, which allows you to contribute much more to the account than most employers will contribute for their employees.

"In most cases, someone using a Solo 401(k) can contribute up to 20 percent of their self-employment income (the employer contribution) plus $18,000 (the employee contribution), up to a combined maximum of $53,000 in 2016," says Weliver.

You’ll even have some flexibility as to when you need to come up with your contributions. For the employer portion of your contribution, you must deposit the money by the tax-filing deadline of the business, says Turner. However, the employee contribution depends on the structure of the business. Sole proprietor or single or multimember LLCs must elect to contribute by December 31. "S-Corp and C-Corp contributions are generally done through payroll deductions within 15 days of the period in which you are paying yourself. If the company does not use a payroll company, the employee can make contributions at any time during the year," explains Turner.

To find out more about your retirement savings options, contact your Athene agent or a financial advisor.