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Self-Directed IRA Versus Solo 401(k)

Many self-directed investors have the option of choosing between a self-directed IRA or a self-directed solo 401k. Both accounts can be self-directed so that you can invest into any investment allowed by law such as real estate, LLCs, precious metals, or private company stock. However, depending on your situation, you may choose one account type over the other. What are the differences? When should you choose one over the other?

We’ve been advising clients for over a decade on self-directed IRAs and solo 401(k)s and what we’ve learned is that there is no universal answer to the question. Instead, you need to learn what is best based on your personal situation and investment objectives. Do you even qualify for a solo(k)? What investments do you plan to make and does one account type make a difference for your investments? The good news is that either way you go, we can help with a self-directed IRA at Directed IRA, where we are a licensed trust company and can serve as custodian of your IRA. Or, we can set-up a solo(k) at KKOS Lawyers using our pre-approved plan documents.

 IRA Solo 401K
Qualification Must be an individual with earned income or funds in a retirement account to rollover. Must be self-employed with no other employees besides the business owner and family/partners.
Contribution Max $6,000 max annual contribution. Additional $1,000 if over 50. $56,000 max annual contribution (it takes $140K of wage/se income to max out). Contributions are employee and employer.
Traditional & Roth You can have a Roth IRA and/or a Traditional IRA. The amount you contribute to each is added together in determining total contributions. A solo 401(k) can have a traditional account and a roth account within the same plan. You can convert traditional sums over to Roth as well.
Cost and Set-Up You will work with a self-directed IRA custodian who will receive the IRA contributions in a SDIRA account. Most of the custodians we work with have an annual fee of $300-$350 a year for a self-directed IRA. You must use an IRS pre-approved document when establishing a solo 401k. This adds additional cost over an IRA. Our fee for a self-directed and self-trusteed solo 401(k) is $995 with atty consultation or $495 for the plan only.
Custodian Requirement An IRA must have a third party custodian involved on the account (e.g. bank. Credit union, trust company) who is the trustee of the IRA. Of course we recommend our company, www.directedira.com. A 401(k) can be self trustee’d, meaning the business owner can be the trustee of the 401(k). This provides for greater control but also greater responsibility.
Investment Details A self-directed IRA is invested through the self directed IRA custodian. A self-directed IRA can be subject to a tax called UDFI/UBIT on income from debt leveraged real estate. A Solo 401(k) is invested by the trustee of the 401(k) which could be the business owner. A solo 401(k) is exempt from UDFI/UBIT on income from debt leveraged real estate.

 

Keep in mind that the solo 401(k) is only available to self-employed persons while the self-directed IRA is available to everyone who has earned income or who has funds in an existing retirement account that can be rolled over to an IRA.

Conclusion

Based on the differences outlined above, a solo 401(k) is generally a better option for someone who is self-employed and is still trying to maximize contributions as the solo 401(k) has much higher contribution amounts. On the other hand, a self-directed IRA is a better option for someone who has already saved for retirement and who has enough funds in their retirement accounts that can be rolled over and invested via a self-directed IRA as the self-directed IRA is easier and cheaper to establish.

Another major consideration in deciding between a solo 401(k) and self-directed IRA is whether there will be debt on real estate investments. If there is debt and if the account owner is self-employed, they are much better off choosing a solo 401(k) over an IRA as solo 401(k)s are exempt from UDFI tax on leveraged real estate.

Choosing between a self-directed IRA and a solo 401(k) is a critical decision when you start self-directing your retirement. Make sure you consider all of the differences before you establish your new account.

Mat has been at the forefront of the self-directed IRA industry since 2006. He is the CEO of Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company where they handle all types of self-directed accounts (IRAs, Roth IRAs, HSAs, Coverdell ESA, Solo Ks, and Custodial Accounts) which are typically invested into real estate, private company/private equity, IRA/LLCs, notes, precious metals, and cryptocurrency. Mat is also a partner at KKOS Lawyers and serves clients nationwide from its Phoenix, AZ office.

He is published regularly on retirement, tax, and business topics, and is a VIP Contributor at Entrepreneur.com. Mat is the best-selling author of the most widely used book in the self-directed IRA industry, The Self-Directed IRA Handbook: An Authoritative Guide for Self-Directed Retirement Plan Investors and Their Advisors.

Your Free Self-Directed Investor Toolkit

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SEP IRA Versus Solo 401(k): Which is Best For You?

sep-ira-vs-solo-401kSelf-employed persons have two options when it comes to establishing a retirement account. If you are self-employed and you want to save for retirement, two of your primary options will be a SEP IRA or a Solo 401K. The SEP IRA is a super-charged IRA account that runs off of IRA rules while the Solo 401(K) is an employed based retirement plan used solely for the business owner(s) when they have no other employees.

Both a SEP IRA and a Solo 401(k) can be self-directed and invested into real estate, private company stock, or precious metals. Under a SEP IRA, you will have a self-directed IRA custodian. Under a Solo 401K, you can serve as your own trustee and administrator or you could use a custodian.

While a SEP IRA and a 401(k) can be used by business owners with employees other than the business owners, this article compares the two account options for those who are self-employed with no other employees other than themselves (and partners and family).

 

SEP IRA Solo 401K
Contribution Max $53,000 max annual contribution (it takes $265K of self-employment income to max out). Contributions are all employer contributions. $53,000 max annual contribution (it takes $140K of wage/se income to max out). Contributions are employee and employer.  Because a solo K is easier to max out each year on less income, it gives greater opportunity for utilization over the SEP IRA.
Traditional & Roth All SEP contributions are traditional dollars and all funds in a SEP must be traditional dollars. SEP IRA funds can be converted to a Roth IRA though. A solo 401(k) can have a traditional account and a roth account within the same plan. You can convert traditional sums over to Roth as well. Because you can have Roth accounts and Traditional account in the 401K, that provides more options in the solo 401(k).
Contribution & Establishment Deadline Date of the company tax return INCLUDING extensions. You may also establish a new SEP IRA at the time you make the first contributions even if that is for the prior tax year. For people making contributions for the first time for a prior year (e.g. in April of 2015 for 2014 contributions), this is a big benefit as a 401K) cannot be used unless it was set up in the tax year of the contribution. Date of the company tax return INCLUDING extensions. However, for new plans, they must be established by December 31 of the year you are seeking to make contributions. This means you have to plan ahead and establish the 401(k) before the end of the year.
Custodian Requirement An IRA must have a third party custodian involved on the account (e.g. bank. Credit union, trust company) who is the trustee of the IRA. A 401(k) can be self trustee, meaning the business owner can be the trustee of the 401(k). This provides for greater control but also greater responsibility.
Investment Details A SEP IRA is invested through the self directed IRA custodian. A SEP IRA can be subject to a tax called UDFI/UBIT on income from debt leveraged real estate. A Solo 401(k) is invested by the trustee of the 401(k) which could be the business owner. A solo 401(k) is exempt from UDFI/UBIT on income from debt leveraged real estate.

 

In sum, there are many differences between a solo 401(K) and a SEP IRA but the solo 401(k) has proven to be an excellent tool that provides greater flexibility when saving and investing for retirement.