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Investing

Retirement Plan Options When You’re Self-Employed

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Self-employment is a dream for many who crave the flexibility and sense of autonomy being your own boss provides. No more worrying about taking those long lunches or running out of vacation days. On the flipside, it also means you’re on your own when it comes to saving for retirement. There are no company-sponsored plans or matching funds, and no human resources department to consult about your best options — it’s all up to you.

The good news is there are a host of great investment tools to help you plan for your future and build a solid nest egg for retirement, many of which have similar benefits as employer-sponsored plans. Here are six of the most common retirement plans for self-employed individuals.

1. Traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

How it works

There are several types of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) you can establish if you’re self-employed. First up is a traditional IRA, which allows you to deposit money in an investment account before paying taxes on it. Your funds then grow — tax-deferred — over the years until you reach retirement, at which point you will have to pay taxes on the funds as you withdraw them.

IRAs are more flexible than 401(k)s in that you can withdraw money from them at any time without paying a penalty to cover certain costs, including higher education, buying your first home and medical costs. You will, however, need to pay taxes on the funds in the year in which they’re withdrawn with a traditional IRA. You also can’t leave your funds in an IRA forever. Required minimum distributions begin at age 70 and a half.

Contribution limits

You can invest up to $6,000 in a traditional IRA in 2019 (an increase of $500 in 2018). If you’re over the age of 50, you can contribute an additional $1,000 a year ($6,500 in 2018 and $7,000 in 2019) as “catch-up” contributions. Note: This is the total yearly limit for all Roth and traditional IRA contributions.

Some additional limitations may apply depending on your income and you or your spouse’s participation in other work-sponsored retirement plans.

How it’s taxed

A traditional IRA allows you to invest the maximum amount for growth (as opposed to paying taxes up front, which is the case with a Roth IRA) because the funds aren’t taxed until after they’re withdrawn.

Your contributions may also be fully or partially tax deductible in the year in which you make them, so that may also decrease your taxable income.

Who it’s best for

Typically, traditional IRAs are a good option if you’re currently in a higher tax bracket and expect to be in a lower one when you retire. They’re also an attractive option if you want the ability to access funds before retirement for certain expenses without paying a penalty.

2. Roth IRA

How it works

A Roth IRA works much like a traditional IRA, but there’s one big difference: when you actually pay taxes. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on your contributions in the year in which they’re made. Those funds then grow tax-free over the years until you reach retirement. When you’re ready to withdraw them — as long as you’ve reached the age of 59 and a half — they’re yours, tax-free.

IRAs are more flexible than 401(k)s in that you can withdraw money from them at any time without penalty to cover certain costs, including higher education, buying a home and paying for medical costs. There are no required minimum distributions.

Contribution limits

You can invest up to $6,000 in a Roth IRA in 2019 (an increase of $500 from 2018). If you’re over age 50, you can contribute an additional $1,000 a year ($6,500 in 2018 and $7,000 in 2019). Note: This is the total yearly limit for Roth and traditional IRAs combined.

How it’s taxed

Contributions to a Roth IRA aren’t tax-deductible, so you don’t get a tax break in the year they’re made. However, because you pay taxes up front, those funds are not counted as taxable income when you retire.

Who it’s best for

In general, Roth IRAs are a good option if you’re currently in a lower tax bracket and expect to be in a higher one when you retire. They’re also good if you want the ability to access your funds before retirement for certain expenses without paying a penalty or paying taxes on the funds when needs arise.

3. Solo-401(k)

How it works

A solo-401(k), also referred to as a one-participant 401(k) plan, works much like a traditional, employer-sponsored 401(k); however, it’s designed for individual business owners or the owner and their spouse. It allows you to invest funds in a retirement savings account that then grows tax-deferred — traditional solo-401(k) or tax-free (Roth solo-401(k) — over the years until you withdraw them at retirement.

Penalties apply for early withdrawal if the account is less than five years old and you haven’t reached the age of 59 and a half. However, you may be able to take out a loan from your 401(k).

Contribution limits

Like a traditional 401(k), you can contribute up to $19,000 in 2019 ($18,500 in 2018). If you’re over the age of 50, the limit increases to $25,000 in 2019 ($24,500 in 2018).

One notable upside to this plan is you’re allowed to contribute additional funds because you act as both the employer and employee when you’re self-employed. Total contributions can’t exceed $56,000 for 2019 ($55,000 for 2018), unless you’re over the age of 50, when there are allowances for “catch-up” contributions.

How it’s taxed

Like IRAs, you can choose either a Roth or a traditional solo-401(k). With a traditional solo-401(k), taxes are deferred on the money you contribute to your account until you withdraw funds in retirement.

If you choose to designate some of your funds as Roth contributions, however, you will pay taxes on them up front, with tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Contributions to a traditional solo-401(k) aren’t counted as taxable income in the year they are made, while Roth solo-401(k) contributions are.

Who it’s best for

A solo-401(k) is a good option if your income surpasses the IRA limits and you want to invest more for your future.

4. Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA

How it works

Traditional and Roth IRAs are funded entirely by employee contributions, whereas SIMPLE IRAs allow contributions from both the employer and employee, which means you’re playing both roles if you’re self-employed.

Like with other IRAs, there are penalties for early withdrawal (before the age of 59 and a half), and there are exceptions for many expenses, including education, health care costs and buying a first home. If you withdraw funds before your plan is two years old, however, that withdrawal is subject to a hefty 25 percent tax penalty.

Contribution limits

You can contribute up to $13,000 in 2019 (an increase of $500 from 2018) to a SIMPLE IRA, but not more than the amount you earn. Additional “catch-up” contributions up to $3,000 can be made if you’re 50 or older.

As the employer, you can also contribute dollar-for-dollar matching funds up to 3 percent of your net earnings or make an additional non-elective contribution equal to 2 percent of your income, up to $280,000 in 2019 (an increase of $5,000 from 2018).

How it’s taxed

Contributions to a SIMPLE IRA aren’t taxed in the year in which they are made, but they are taxed when they’re withdrawn in retirement. Contributions are also tax deductible by the employer in the year in which they are made.

Who it’s best for

A SIMPLE IRA is a good option if you want to contribute funds in excess of the limits of traditional and Roth IRAs. They’re also worth considering if you have 100 employees or less, as they’re easy to set up and don’t come with the same startup and operating costs that other plans may have.

5. Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA

How it works

Like other IRAs, a SEP IRA allows you (as the employer) to invest funds, tax-deferred, until you need them in retirement. There are penalties for early withdrawal (before the age of age 59 and a half) and there are minimum distribution requirements.

There are two primary differences that set the SEP IRA apart from others:
1. A SEP IRA has higher contribution limits than traditional and Roth IRAs, and;
2. If you have employees who meet certain qualifications, you must make contributions to their SEP IRA in equal amounts for all employees. Contributions are only made by the employer (which is you) if you’re self-employed.

Contribution limits

You can contribute up to 25 percent of your net earnings to a SEP IRA, up to a certain limit. In 2019, the limit is $56,000, an increase of $1,000 from the prior year (2018). There’s no extra allowance for catch-up contributions as there is with other retirement accounts.

How it’s taxed

Contributions to a SEP IRA are tax deductible, as funds are taxed when they’re withdrawn in retirement. There’s no Roth option to pay taxes up front, as the contributions are made by the employer.

Who it’s best for

A SEP IRA is a good option if you’re self-employed and want to save a large amount of money for retirement. It’s also a good option if you have 100 employees or less and want to establish a retirement plan without the associated costs of other plans.

6. Defined benefits plan

How it works

Like an employer-sponsored pension, an individual defined benefits plan lets you put away a certain amount of money for a guaranteed return in retirement. The amounts are based on a formula that takes into account the number of years you’ve worked and how much you earn. You must enlist the help of an actuary to help determine your contribution and benefits.

Contribution limits

The amount you may contribute is based on a formula and will vary from person to person. Generally, however, the annual benefit can’t be more than the highest salary they were paid for three years in a row, or surpass the annual limit of $225,000 in 2019 (a $5,000 increase from 2018).

How it’s taxed

Taxes are deferred up front and paid on the funds when they’re withdrawn during retirement. The contributions are tax deductible in the year in which they are made.

Who it’s best for

A defined benefits plan may be a good option if you’re a high earner and want to save aggressively for retirement.

How to open a self-employed retirement plan

To open any of these retirement plans, there are numerous online brokerages that can help, or if you prefer a more personal approach, you can seek out a financial advisor in your area. Banks can also help you establish some of these accounts as well. It may also be wise to work with an accountant to make sure you file the proper forms and pay the correct amount of taxes.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Julie Ryan Evans
Julie Ryan Evans |

Julie Ryan Evans is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julie here

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Investing

Should You Pay Off Debt or Save Your Money?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

You have a regular source of income, you’re paying your bills on time and you have some extra dollars left over each month. What should you do with that extra cash?

If you don’t have debt (lucky you!), then the choice is simple — save or invest as much as possible. If you have debt, however, the choice can be a bit murkier: Should you pay off your debt first or save? Here are some things to consider when asking yourself that question.

Three times that saving your money might be smarter

1. If you don’t have an emergency savings fund

Just when you’re cruising along, life can throw some unexpected and expensive curves your way. A sudden job loss, medical bills or car repairs can pop up out of the blue, and if you don’t have the funds to pay for them, you can end up seriously in the red. To cover unexpected costs, some may resort to high-interest credit cards and loans. Those kinds of moves can dig you into a financial hole that can take years to pay your way out of.

Saving up a healthy emergency fund can protect you in instances like these. How much should you save? Experts generally suggest that you should save an amount equal to between three and six months of living expenses. Depending on your individual circumstances, however, you may need more than that. (Check out this article to figure out how much to save and where to keep it.)

2. Your employer offers matching retirement contributions

If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that offers a retirement plan with matching contributions, then consider making that method of saving a priority.

For example, if your employer offers to match your contributions dollar-for-dollar up to 6% of your salary in a 401(k) plan, then contribute at least that much, if possible. The money can then grow in a tax-free or tax-deferred 401(k) until you withdraw it in retirement — all that compound interest can really add up over the years. If you don’t contribute up to that amount, you’re leaving free money on the table.

Note, however, that If you need to withdraw these funds early (before the age of 59 and a half and before the account is five years old) there will be penalties to pay. That makes this a better tool for long-term savings rather than for the short-term or as an emergency savings fund.

3. Your debt has a very low interest rate

Debt gets a bad rap — often for good reason — but in some cases, carrying your low-interest debt and investing or saving your funds instead may be more beneficial. For example, the current fixed interest rate for direct subsidized and unsubsidized student loans is 5.05%, and the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate is about 4.3%. The stock market, on the other hand, has gone up an average of 10% a year since 1926.

Beyond comparing interest rates, however, you also need to assess how much risk you’re willing to take and how much access to your savings that you’ll need. Of course, there are no guarantees that your investments will perform well, and paying down debt comes with zero risk. Savings accounts are a less risky saving option, but the average interest rate is often less than 1 or 2%. Other options, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs), have restrictions on how the funds can be used outside of retirement.

Four times debt repayment may be more beneficial

1. You have high-interest debt

It’s hard to get ahead of high-interest debt, because compound interest is working against you. Credit card interest rates, for example, average between 15 and 20% — an amount which adds up quickly. If you make the minimum payment, you may not even be making a dent in the principal amount owed, and you can spend years just paying interest. Calculators like this one can help you figure out just how much interest you’ll pay and how long it will take to pay off.

If you have high-interest debt, make sure you explore all the options for paying it down, including consolidating your debt and researching balance transfer cards.

2. Your debt doesn’t offer any benefits

Though your debt is costing you in interest, you might find that some loans may offer useful perks. For example, federal student loans may offer tax benefits and even loan forgiveness programs for eligible borrowers. Similarly, there are tax write-offs for mortgages and in many cases, the money you invest in a home will pay off down the line when you sell your property.

On the other hand, the debt on the credit card you maxed out to pay for that trip to Cabo comes with no benefits — just a bunch of interest. High-interest debt with no benefits should be at the top of your pay-off priority list.

3. You want to raise your credit score

While there are many factors that go into determining your credit score, the amount of debt you carry is an important component. If you plan to buy a home or secure a loan in the near future, take a look at your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which many lenders consider before approving you for a loan. If your DTI is high, you may want to consider paying off some debt before applying for that new loan, which may result in lower interest rates for you later.

4. Your debt stresses you out

Debt can take an emotional and physical toll on people, ranging from depression to insomnia and more. When it feels like a black cloud hanging over your head and it’s affecting your life in negative ways, it may be in your best interest to prioritize paying debt off first.

Should you pay off debt or save?

Of course, saving vs. paying off debt early doesn’t have to be an either/or situation — ideally, you can do both at the same time. If, however, a choice must be made between the two, there are many factors to consider. As with most financial moves, there are no cut-and-dry rules, and the best one for you will depend on your individual circumstances.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Julie Ryan Evans
Julie Ryan Evans |

Julie Ryan Evans is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julie here

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Investing

How to Make Money in Stocks

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Putting money in the market is well-worn financial advice for a reason: Investing in stocks is one of the best steps you can take toward building wealth.But how, exactly, is that wealth built? How is money earned by purchasing stock market holdings, and what can you do to maximize the gains you make from your own portfolio?

How to make money in stocks: 5 best practices

The way the stock market works — and works for you — is as simple as a high school economics class. It’s all about supply and demand, and the way those factors affect value.

Investors purchase market assets like stocks (shares of companies), which increase in value when the company does well. As the company in question makes financial progress, more investors want a piece of the action, and they’re willing to pay more for an individual share.

That means that the share you paid for has now increased in price, thanks to higher demand — which in turn means you can earn something when it comes time to sell it. (Of course, it’s also possible for stocks and other market holdings to decrease in value, which is why there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment.)

Along with the profit you can make by selling stocks, you can also earn shareholder dividends, or portions of the company’s earnings. Cash dividends are usually paid on a quarterly basis, but you might also earn dividends in the form of additional shares of stock.

Micro-mechanics of how stocks earn money aside, you likely won’t see serious growth without heeding some basic market principles and best practices. Here’s how to ensure your portfolio will do as much work for you as possible.

1. Take advantage of time

Although it’s possible to make money on the stock market in the short term, the real earning potential comes from the compound interest you earn on long-term holdings. As your assets increase in value, the total amount of money in your account grows, making room for even more capital gains. That’s how stock market earnings increase over time exponentially.

But in order to best take advantage of that exponential growth, you need to start building your portfolio as early as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to start investing as soon as you’re earning an income — perhaps by taking advantage of a company-sponsored 401(k) plan.

To see exactly how much time can affect your nest egg, let’s look at an example. Say you stashed $1,000 in your retirement account at age 20, with plans to hang up your working hat at age 70. Even if you put nothing else into the account, you’d have over $18,000 to look forward to after 50 years of growth, assuming a relatively modest 6% interest rate. But if you waited until you were 60 to make that initial deposit, you’d earn less than $800 through compound interest — which is why it’s so much harder to save for retirement if you don’t start early. Plus, all that extra cash comes at no additional effort on your part. It just requires time — so go ahead and get started!

2. Continue to invest regularly

Time is an important component of your overall portfolio growth. But even decades of compounding returns can only do so much if you don’t continue to save.

Let’s go back to our retirement example above. Only this time, instead of making a $1,000 deposit and forgetting about it, let’s say you contributed $1,000 a year — which comes out to less than $20 per week.

If you started making those annual contributions at age 20, you’d have saved about $325,000 by the time you celebrated your 70th birthday. Even if you waited until 60 to start saving, you’d wind up with about $15,000 — a far cry from the measly $1,800 you’d take out if you only made the initial deposit.

Making regular contributions doesn’t have to take much effort; you can easily automate the process through your 401(k) or brokerage account, depositing a set amount each week or pay period.

3. Set it and forget it — mostly

If you’re looking to see healthy returns on your stock market investments, just remember — you’re playing the long game.

For one thing, short-term trading lacks the tax benefits you can glean from holding onto your investments for longer. If you sell a stock before owning it for a full year, you’ll pay a higher tax rate than you would on long-term capital gains — that is, stocks you’ve held for more than a year.

While there are certain situations that do call for taking a look at your holdings, for the most part, even serious market dips reverse themselves in time. In fact, these bearish blips are regular, expected events, according to Malik S. Lee, CFP® and founder of Atlanta-based Felton & Peel Wealth Management.

So-called market corrections are healthy, he said. “It shows that the market is alive and well.” And even taking major recessions into account, the market’s performance has had an overall upward trend over the past hundred years.

4. Maintain a diverse portfolio

All investing carries risk; it’s possible for some of the companies you invest in to underperform or even fold entirely. But if you diversify your portfolio, you’ll be safeguarded against losing all of your assets when investments don’t go as planned.

By ensuring you’re invested in many different types of securities, you’ll be better prepared to weather stock market corrections. It’s unlikely that all industries and companies will suffer equally or succeed at the same level, so you can hedge your bets by buying some of everything.

5. Consider hiring professional help

Although the internet makes it relatively easy to create a well-researched DIY stock portfolio, if you’re still hesitant to put your money in the market, hiring an investment advisor can help. Even though the use of a professional can’t mitigate all risk of losses, you might feel more comfortable knowing you have an expert in your corner.

How the stock market can grow your wealth

Given the right combination of time, contribution regularity and a little bit of luck, the stock market has the potential to turn even a modest savings into an appreciable nest egg.

Ready to get started investing for yourself? Check out the following MagnifyMoney articles:

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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