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What is a SEP IRA?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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If you’re a freelancer or you run your own business, odds are you’ve heard about SEP IRAs, which are individual retirement accounts for self-employed individuals and small-businesses owners. A simplified employee pension (SEP) IRA gives you the ability to save for retirement while lowering your taxable income.

According to a survey by small-business site Manta, of the 66% of small-business owners who have a retirement plan, about 1 in 10 have a SEP IRA. Experts predict contract and freelance workers will make up half the workforce within the next 10 years.

Who can get a SEP IRA?

If you have freelance income, are a sole proprietor, or own a business with one or more employees, you can open a SEP IRA. If you’re a business owner and you open a SEP for yourself, you must open a SEP for each eligible employee.

According to the IRS, an eligible employee is anyone who is at least 21 years old, has worked for the same employer for three of the previous five years, and has received at least $600 in compensation from that employer during the current year. Employers can offer accounts to employees who don’t meet all the criteria, but they can’t withhold an account from any employee who does meet the criteria.

If a business owner offers a SEP IRA to employees, all contributions are funded by the employer — not by the employees.

Employee SEP IRA contribution limits

You can save up to 25% of your gross annual salary if you’re self-employed. That typically comes out to about 20% of your adjusted net earnings from self-employment, up to a maximum of $56,000 in 2019 (or $55,000 in 2018). You can calculate your sole proprietor contribution here.

SEP IRA contribution limits may hamper how much you can save toward retirement compared to other types of accounts — but that depends on your income and how much you wish to save. In nearly all cases, you’ll be able to save more with a solo 401(k), but you’ll first need to understand if you can save more than the SEP will allow.

“If someone is self-employed, they could be limited in their SEP contribution,” said Ted Toal, a financial planner in Annapolis, Md. “If they want to save more but the SEP formula doesn’t allow them to, they should instead look to open a solo 401(k).”

Here’s how the plans compare for a 40-year-old sole proprietor:

Self-employed net profitMax you can save to a SEP IRAMax you can save to a SIMPLE IRAMax you can save to a solo 401(k)

$50,000

$9,294

$13,853

$27,794

$100,000

$18,587

$15,207

$37,087

$200,000

$37,872

$18,015

$55,000

$300,000

$55,000

$20,750

$55,000

Source: National Life Group

Employer SEP IRA contribution limits

If you are a business owner, you must save the same percentage of compensation to both your plan and your employees’ plans. Additionally, you must save the lesser of 25% of each worker’s compensation or $56,000 in 2019 (or $55,000 in 2018). When calculating your contribution limit, do not count any compensation over $280,000 for 2019 (or $275,000 in 2018) or your SEP contribution.

Although you must save the same percentage to each employee’s account, you may change the percentage from year to year. As an added bonus, employer contributions to employee SEP accounts are 100% deductible as a business expense.

SEP IRA tax and withdrawal rules

Like an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, your contributions to a SEP IRA are pre-tax, lowering your taxable income for the year you contribute. Your money (hopefully) will grow over time in the SEP IRA, and when you’re ready to withdraw the money during retirement, you’ll be taxed on distributions (based on your tax bracket at the time of withdrawal).

If you withdraw any funds before the age of 59 and a half, you’ll pay a penalty on top of taxes for the withdrawal. Once you reach the age of 70 and a half, you must start taking distributions, even if you aren’t retired yet. “For an owner who is over 70 and a half but still working, they don’t avoid the required distribution in the SEP IRA,” said Toal. “You always have to take it once you’re over 70 and a half.”

How to open a SEP IRA

Opening a SEP IRA is fairly simple, and typically there are no fees to establish the account. Here’s what you should know about opening a SEP IRA:

  • You can open a SEP IRA at any point up to your tax-filing deadline for that tax year, including extensions. “You have until October of the following year if you file an extension,” said Toal.
  • Find a reputable provider to work with, such as a brokerage firm or mutual fund company. Some examples include Vanguard, Fidelity and TD Ameritrade.
  • Most providers have a website where you can quickly and conveniently fill out a quick online application.
  • Once your account is established and funded (which may take a couple of business days) it’s time to choose your investments. The right investment mix for you will depend on your age and risk tolerance. Consider a balanced fund or target-date retirement fund that will conservatively grow as you approach your retirement date.

Is a SEP IRA right for you?

A SEP IRA is one of the simplest retirement accounts for freelancers or business owners to open, and it may allow you to save enough to live comfortably during retirement. “It’s very easy to administer in comparison to employer sponsored plans like 401(k)s,” explained Darin Shebesta, a financial planner in Scottsdale, Ariz.

That being said, if you’re a sole proprietor with modest income, you may find a SEP IRA is limiting in terms of its allowable contributions. In the short term, you can separately fund a Roth or traditional IRA for an additional $6,000 a year if you’re under the age of 50 or $7,000 if you’re 50 years of age or older in 2019 (or $5,500 and $6,500, respectively, in 2018). If you have grander savings aspirations, a solo 401(k) may be a better solution for you.

You can open a solo 401(k) only if you’re a sole proprietor or if your only employee is your spouse. It’s also worth noting that you can take out a loan from some solo 401(k)s, which isn’t possible with SEP IRAs.

If you have employees, a SEP allows you to make contributions for your workers without the hassle of administering a 401(k) plan. But you must contribute the same percentage amount for your employees as you do for yourself. If you wish for employees to make their own contributions or would prefer to contribute a different amount toward your own retirement than toward your employees’ accounts, consider researching a savings incentive match plan for employees (SIMPLE) IRA or traditional 401(k) plan.

Bottom line

It’s important to keep in mind that whatever account you open, it isn’t a life sentence and can be changed later. “I’ve had clients who started out doing a traditional IRA,” said Marguerita Cheng, a financial planner in Potomac, Md. “Their business grew, and they did a SEP IRA, and then their business really grew, and they did a solo 401(k). Their needs changed as their business grew.”

If you’re just starting out, a SEP IRA can be an easy way to sock money away for retirement while also providing a tax break. It’s also a nice benefit to your employees. “It provides a lot of flexibility,” said Cheng.

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SIMPLE IRA Contribution Limits 2020

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

SIMPLE IRAs are tax-advantaged retirement savings accounts that benefit small business owners and the people who work for them. In addition, you can use the SIMPLE IRA to save for retirement if you are self-employed. Like many other retirement savings vehicles, SIMPLE IRAs are subject to annual contribution limits.

SIMPLE IRA contribution limits

The annual SIMPLE IRA contribution limits for employees and employers in 2020 are as follows:

Annual SIMPLE IRA Contribution Limits

Employees under the age of 50

$13,500

Employees 50 years and older

$13,500, plus $3,000 in catch-up contributions

Employer matching contributions

Up to 3% of employee’s salary

Employer non-elective contributions

2% of the employee’s salary

SIMPLE IRA contribution limits 2020 for employees

For 2020, the amount employees may contribute to a SIMPLE IRA plan is capped at $13,500 per year. That’s an increase from 2019’s limit of $13,000, and an even bigger leap from the $12,500 limit imposed from 2015 to 2018.

It’s worth noting that for employees who are also participating in other employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k) or 403(b) plans, aggregate annual contributions to all plans cannot exceed $19,500 in 2020. For those 50 and older, the overall annual limit for catch-up contributions is $6,500 for 2020, for a total ceiling of $26,000.

SIMPLE IRA contribution limits 2020 for employers

If a small business owner chooses to offer a SIMPLE IRA plan, they are required to make contributions to their employees’ accounts. They may choose to either match their employees’ contributions, up to a certain limit, or make non-elective contributions.

If an employer chooses matching contributions, their match is capped at 3% of an employee’s annual compensation. While an employer can make matching contributions of less than 3%, the match cannot be less than 1% of the employee’s annual compensation — and it cannot be less than 3% for more than two out of five consecutive years.

If an employer chooses non-elective contributions, they are required to put money into their employees’ SIMPLE IRAs regardless of whether the employees themselves make contributions. With non-elective contributions, the employer must make fixed contributions of 2% of their employees’ compensation. For 2020, the maximum amount of an employee’s total compensation that can be considered for calculating a non-elective contribution is capped at $285,000, up from 2019’s cap of $280,000.

What are the contribution deadlines for a SIMPLE IRA?

Employers are required to deposit their employees’ SIMPLE IRA contributions within 30 days after the end of the month in which those contributions were withheld. Employers are required to make their matching or non-elective SIMPLE IRA contributions by their tax return filing deadline, including extensions.

For people who are self-employed, the deadline for depositing SIMPLE IRA contributions for a calendar year is 30 days after the end of year, or Jan. 30.

SIMPLE IRA contribution limits vs. Roth contribution limits

While SIMPLE IRA contributions are capped at an annual limit of $13,500, annual Roth IRA contribution limits are much lower. For 2020, Roth IRA contributions are capped at $6,000, with an additional $1,000 allowed for catch-up contributions for those 50 and older.

Another differentiating factor of Roth IRAs is that they have income phaseout limits. Depending on how much you make, you may be limited to how much you can contribute or whether you can contribute at all. For 2020, single filers cannot contribute to a Roth IRA if they make more than $139,000, and if married and filing jointly, you’re only able to contribute if you earn less than $206,000.

Can you contribute to both a SIMPLE IRA and a Roth IRA?

You can contribute the maximum allowed amounts to both a SIMPLE IRA and a Roth IRA, as their contribution limits are not cumulative. In fact, most financial advisors recommend you max out both your SIMPLE IRA and Roth IRA if you can afford to do so, as they offer different tax benefits.

While SIMPLE IRA contributions are made pre-tax, and therefore lower your taxable income, your Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax dollars, so qualified distributions are tax-free.

“Advisors talk about diversification all the time, and usually they are talking about stocks and bonds,” said Gregory Kurinec, a certified financial planner with Bentron Financial Group in Downers Grove, Ill. “But investors will want to diversify their accounts into different tax categories as well. By having a combination of pre-tax (SIMPLE IRA), after-tax advantage (Roth IRA) and non-qualified, this will allow the investor to pick and choose which account to take funds from to best impact their tax situation.”

What is a SIMPLE IRA?

A SIMPLE IRA is an effective retirement savings match plan, especially for small business owners. SIMPLE IRAs are available to small businesses with 100 employees or fewer.

SIMPLE IRAs require employers to make contributions on behalf of their employees, either up to 3% of their employee’s compensation as an employer match or a flat 2% of the employee’s compensation.

As with most financial products, when it comes to saving for your golden years, a SIMPLE IRA is just one of the many options available to you. Explore all of the options at your disposal when deciding how to build your nest egg.

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Review of Altfest Personal Wealth Management

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Altfest Personal Wealth Management is an investment management firm based in New York City. The firm typically only accepts clients with a minimum investment of $1 million. For these high net worth clients, Altfest Personal Wealth Management provides customized investment portfolios with comprehensive financial planning services. The firm has 16 employees who provide investment advisory services, and currently oversees $1.21 billion in assets under management (AUM).

All information included in this profile is accurate as of February 10th, 2020. For more information, please consult Altfest Personal Wealth Management’s website.

Assets under management: $1,210,000,000
Minimum investment: $1 million (waivable at the firm’s discretion for young professionals)
Fee structure: A percentage of AUM, ranging from 0.50% to 1.40%, depending on account size; hourly fees; fixed fees
Headquarters:445 Park Avenue
Sixth Floor
New York, NY 10022
www.altfest.com
212-406-0850

Overview of Altfest Personal Wealth Management

Dr. Lewis Altfest launched Altfest Personal Wealth Management in 1983. He is still the majority owner of the firm and acts as CEO. He runs the organization along with his wife, Dr. Karen Altfest, the firm’s executive vice president, and their son, Andrew Altfest, the firm’s president. Both Lewis and Karen hold Ph.Ds; Lewis is an associate professor of finance at Pace University.

Including the Altfests, the firm has 37 total employees, 16 of whom provide investment advisory services. Altfest Personal Wealth Management specializes in creating customized, actively managed investment portfolios for high net worth clients. The firm and the Altfest family have won numerous awards for their performance, and both Lewis and Karen are regular contributors to financial news programs and publications.

What types of clients does Altfest Personal Wealth Management serve?

Altfest Personal Wealth Management primarily works with individual investors. A client usually needs a portfolio of at least $1 million to open an account with the firm — however, Altfest does make exceptions to this account minimum for “young professionals” who they believe will become high net worth clients in the future. The firm’s individual client base is currently split 40/60 between individuals and high net worth individuals, with the SEC defining high net worth individuals as those with at least $750,000 under management or a net worth of at least $1.5 million.

While the firm works with a diverse range of clients, it specializes in advising women, executives and healthcare professionals. In addition to individual investors, Altfest Personal Wealth Management also works with pension plans, profit-sharing plans, trusts, estates, corporations and other business entities.

Services offered by Altfest Personal Wealth Management

Altfest Personal Wealth Management specializes in investment management and financial planning. However, the firm’s investment management services are available to individuals and small businesses only; these services are not offered to investment companies, pooled investment vehicles, large businesses and institutional clients.

Most of the firm’s investment accounts are run on a discretionary basis, meaning that Altfest Personal Wealth Management advisors can make trades on behalf of the client. The firm does have a few nondiscretionary accounts, where the client must approve all trades themselves.

If a client only wants a few investment recommendations, rather than the management of their entire portfolio, the firm can provide this service as well.

Altfest Personal Wealth Management also offers comprehensive financial planning, as many of its advisors hold the certified financial planner (CFP) designation, a professional certification for financial planners. The firm’s financial planning services include the creation of a detailed financial plan outlining the necessary steps to achieve their goals and objectives. The plan can address specific areas, such as college savings, estate planning and debt management.

More specifically, Altfest’s services include:

  • Investment advisory services and portfolio management (mainly discretionary but some non-discretionary)
  • Financial planning
    • Retirement planning
    • Trust and estate planning
    • Charitable planning
    • Education planning
    • Tax planning
    • Cash flow forecasting
    • Budgeting and strategic planning
    • Long-term care planning
    • Debt management
    • Divorce planning
  • Insurance and risk management
  • Workshops and seminars
  • Newsletters and publications

How Altfest Personal Wealth Management invests your money

Altfest Personal Wealth Management builds unique, customized portfolios for each client based on their time horizon, risk tolerance, income level and long-term goals.

As part of this analysis, the firm follows a system called Total Portfolio Management. Rather than only looking at a client’s investment history, the firm also gets to know their entire financial plan, including income, debts, spending requirements and future earnings potential. The firm uses this information to finetune a portfolio comprised of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs and private funds.

Altfest Personal Wealth Management follows an active investment approach: this means the firm is regularly trading in an attempt to earn above-average portfolio returns.

Fees Altfest Personal Wealth Management charges for its services

For portfolio management services, Altfest Personal Wealth Management charges a fee based on a percentage of assets under management, with the rate ranging from 0.50% to 1.00%, depending on the size of the client’s portfolio. Altfest does not charge trading commissions or performance-based fees.

Portfolio SizeAnnual Asset-Based Fee
First $3 million*1.00%
Between $3,000,001 and $6,000,0000.75%
Over $6,000,0000.50%
*If a portfolio falls below $2 million in value at the end of the quarter, the firm will assess an additional 0.10% fee on top of the asset-based fee listed above.

For “young professional” clients who don’t meet the firm’s portfolio minimums, Altfest charges the following fee schedule:

  • In the first year, the firm charges an annual fee of either 1.10% of assets under management or $2,500 whichever is greater.
  • After the first year, the firm charges 1.10% of the portfolio value or $1,500 per year whichever is greater.

This rate includes cash flow analysis, investment analysis, investment management and 401(k) recommendations. Clients who want additional financial planning services will be billed at a rate of $250 per hour.

If a client only wants standalone investment recommendations, Altfest Personal Wealth Management charges either an hourly fee ranging from $500 to $800 an hour, or a fixed fee of at least $3,500 for specific investment recommendation requests.

Finally, some of the investments included in Altfest’s portfolio recommendations may carry additional fees. Clients are responsible for covering these costs, though the money won’t go to Altfest Personal Wealth Management.

Altfest Personal Wealth Management’s highlights

  • Wide range of awards: Over the past few years, Altfest Personal Wealth Management has been recognized as a top investment advisor by publications including Barron’s, Forbes, Financial Times and Financial Advisor magazine.
  • Highly educated management team: The heads of the firm, Dr. Lewis Altfest and Dr. Karen Altfest, both hold Ph.Ds; Lewis is also an associate professor of finance at Pace University. In addition, many of the financial advisors at the firm hold the CFP designation.
  • Customized investment approach: Altfest Personal Wealth Management designs a customized portfolio for every client, tailored to their specific needs, and don’t lump people into one-size-fits-all funds as some firms may do.
  • Extensive financial planning in addition investing: Altfest Personal Wealth Management also specializes in financial planning. When the firm creates a portfolio recommendation, it goes over a client’s entire financial situation before designing the portfolio, not just their existing investments.
  • Specialty in advising women, executive and healthcare clients: The firm specializes in advising women, executives and professionals in healthcare. Additionally, Forbes named Dr. Karen Altfest one of the top women advisors in the country in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Altfest Personal Wealth Management’s downsides

  • Above-average investment fees: Altfest Personal Wealth Management charges an annual 1.00% asset-based fee on the first $3 million in a client’s account (plus an additional 0.10% per quarter if their portfolio value falls below $2 million). In comparison, the median investment management fee charged by firms for accounts over $2 million is 0.75%, according to Kitces.
  • High minimum to open an account: It takes at least $1 million to open an account with Altfest Personal Wealth Management. While the firm does waive the minimum at its discretion for “young professionals,” the typical investor would need to be quite wealthy to make use of the firm’s services.
  • Only has one location in New York City: The only way to visit the Altfest Personal Wealth Management office in person is in New York City, the firm’s only location.

Altfest Personal Wealth Management disciplinary disclosures

Whenever an SEC-registered firm or its employees or affiliates face disciplinary action, including a criminal charge, a regulatory infraction or a civil lawsuit, the firm is required to report that incident in its Form ADV, paperwork filed with the SEC. Altfest Personal Wealth Management reports in its Form ADV that it has faced no such incidents over the past 10 years, indicating a clean disciplinary record.

Altfest Personal Wealth Management onboarding process

To start the onboarding process with Altfest Personal Wealth Management, you can request a free consultation with one of its advisors. You can contact the firm either by phone at 212-406-0850, by email at [email protected] or by filling out a form on the firm’s website. As part of the onboarding form, the firm asks you to share your story, which helps the firm start determining whether you are a good fit based on your income and profession.

If it seems like a good match, the firm’s advisors will then get to work designing your customized investment portfolio based on your goals, risk tolerance and overall financial situation. When you’re ready to launch, the firm’s advisors would then take care of opening your new accounts, transferring over your existing accounts, making the necessary investments and keeping up with the records for your portfolio.

The bottom line: Is Altfest Personal Wealth Management right for you?

If you’re a high net worth individual or a young professional who wants personalized investment recommendations combined with financial planning, Altfest Personal Wealth Management could be a good choice. This may be especially true if you are in one of the firm’s specialty client categories: women, executives and healthcare professionals. Since Altfest Personal Wealth Management only has one location in New York City, however, the firm might be a better choice if you live in the Northeast rather than other parts of the country.

On the other hand, Altfest Personal Wealth Management’s comprehensive services do not come cheap. The firm’s fees are higher than average, and you’d need at least $1 million to open an account (unless Altfest waives the minimum because you’re a young professional). If you want a simpler investment strategy or prefer to manage your portfolio more on your own, you could find less expensive advisors than Altfest Personal Wealth Management.

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.