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Tax Strategy for Self-Employment Income, Part 4: Individual 401(k) Introduction

Contributed by mm | August 30, 2005 12:23 PM PST

Let's begin our option-by-option analysis of best tax strategies for our household's self employment income at Individual 401(k). Individual 401(k), or so-called Solo 401(k), is a hidden gem in Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) that hasn't been fully appreciated yet. In a nutshell, it provides a mean for small family businesses with the owner and/or spouse as the only employee(s) to defer as much as $46,000 a year from self-employment income, making it a serious option for us to conside.

How It Works

Applicable To: Individual 401(k) can be adopted for all forms of businesses, including solo proprietorship, partnership, LLC, C corporation, S corporation, etc. The business entity should have no additional employees other than the spouse of the owner.

Contribution Limit: The limit of annual contribution is $42,000 for 2005, or $46,000 for people over 50. The combined contribution limit governs the sum of the two types of contribution:

Employee Contribution (Salary Deferral): Up to the lesser of 100% of pay, or $12,000. People over 50 can make a catch-up contribution of another $4,000.

Employer Contribution: Up to the lesser of 25% of pay (20% in the case of solo proprietorship, LLC or S corporation), or $42,000.

Tax Impact to Employee: employee pays only FICA tax, but no income tax on employee contributions. Employer contribution is not subject to FICA tax. Employee will pay income tax on withdrawals. (Like other 401(k) plans, penalty-free withdrawal is available at 59 1/2, early withdrawal penalty applies and mandatory withdrawal by 70.)

Tax Impact to Employer: Employee contribution can be deducted as usual as salary/wage expenses. Employer contribution can be deducted too.

Loans: Available to participants. Maximum loan limit is usually 50% of outstanding balance, up to $50,000. Normal term is 5 years, and loan to primary residence can be repaid during longer periods.

Rollover Options: Rollovers allowed from traditional IRA, SEP, Qualified Plans or Keoghs (Profit Sharing, Money Purchase Pension, Defined Benefit), 401k, 403(b) and governmental 457 plans.


Size: The amount that can deferred simply outshines any other plans like 401(k), traditional IRA, Roth IRA, etc.

Flexibility 1: For one, you can designate which financial institution is the custodian of the plan, which means you basically can make any investments you want.

Flexibility 2: You can take out a loan tax free and penalty free if you are in need of cash.

Flexibility 3: If you don't incorporate, you can usually wait till your tax filing deadline (or extended deadlines) to contribute. (Individual 401(k) account has to be opened by fiscal year end though.)


• Individual 401(k) will be a restraint if you want to hire an external employee. IRS has several rules that may severely limit the contribution made by highly paid employees and/or business owners.

• Be prepared for some paperwork.

In the next episode, I'll run the math and see how much tax I can save/defer, and discuss how to set up such a plan.

This post is part of the Tax Strategy for Self-Employment Income Series, please also read the rest of the series:

Part 1: The Tax Exposure
Part 2: The Framework
Part 3: The Major Options
Part 4: Individual 401(k) Introduction
Part 5: Individual 401(k) Analysis & Resources
Part 6: SEP IRA and SIMPLE Plans
Part 7: Forms of Doing Business
Part 8: LLC and S Corporation
Part 9: C Corporation
Part 10: The Conclusion

This Post Has Received 85 Comments. Share Your Opinions Too.

Rob Commented on August 30, 2005

I'm confused.
If your have a job with a 401(k) and a separate IRA, then you start up a individual 401(k) for your small business (and still keep your day job), what happens to your employer's 401(k) and IRA?
Can you have all 3?
Do you have new limits and restrictions?
Do you have to roll everything over into the new individual 401(k)?

MM Commented on August 30, 2005

Good question. The 401(k) from corporate job will share the same $14,000 quota as your individual 401(k)'s employee contribution, but the employer's contribution is extra.

You don't have to roll over everything to the new individual 401(k).

Was planning to calculate the impact in the next episode.

Wes Commented on August 31, 2005

Can you have an individual 401k at any brokerage? Don't forget to look at the brokerage's fees, also.


Brian Commented on August 31, 2005

If you are self employed and contribute to your own 401K, at what point can you make "employer" contributions? I ask because if the employer contributions are not taxed by FICA, these would contributions would provide an extra 12.5% tax break.

MM Commented on September 1, 2005

If you don't incorporate your business, you can contribute 20% of your net earnings. You can check out the calculations in the next installment.

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