New Solo 401(k) Contribution Deadlines: Rules, Steps, and Strategies

As 2019 comes to an end, it is critical that Solo 401(k) owners understand when and how to make their 2019 contributions. There are three important deadlines you must know if you have a Solo 401(k) or if you plan to set one up still in 2019. A Solo 401(k) is a retirement plan for small business owners or self-employed persons who have no other full-time employees other than owners and spouses. It’s a great plan that can be self-directed into real estate, LLCs, or other alternative investments, and allows the owner/participants to contribute up to $56,000 per year (far more and faster than any IRA).

New Solo 401(k) Set-Up Deadline is 12/31/19

First, in order to make 2019 contributions, the Solo 401(k) must be adopted by your business by December 31st, 2019. If you haven’t already adopted a Solo 401(k) plan, you should start now so that documents can be completed and filed in time. If the 401(k) is established on January 1st, 2020 or later, you cannot make 2019 contributions.

2019 Contributions Can Be Made in 2020

Both employee and employer contributions can be made up until the company’s tax return deadline including extensions. If you have a sole proprietorship (e.g. single member LLC or schedule C income) or C-Corporation, then the company tax return deadline is April 15th, 2020. If you have an S-Corporation or partnership LLC, the deadline for 2019 contributions is March 15th, 2020. Both of these deadlines (March 15th and April 15th) to make 2019 contributions may be extended another six months by filing an extension. This a huge benefit for those that want to make 2019 contributions, but won’t have funds until later in the year to do so.

W-2’s Force You to Plan Now

While employee and employer contributions may be extended until the company tax return deadline, you will typically need to file a W-2 for your wages (e.g. an S-Corporation) by January 31st, 2020. The W-2 will include your wage income and any deduction for employee retirement plan contributions will be reduced on the W-2 in box 12. As a result, you should make your employee contributions (up to $19,000 for 2019) by January 31st, 2020 or you should at least determine the amount you plan to contribute so that you can file an accurate W-2 by January 31st, 2020. If you don’t have all or a portion of the funds you plan to contribute available by the time your W-2 is due, you can set the amount you plan to contribute to the 401(k) as an employee contribution, and will then need to make said contribution by the tax return deadline (including extensions).

Example

Now let’s bring this all together and take an example to outline how this may work. Sally is 44 years old and has an S-Corporation for her online business. She is the only owner and only employee, and had a new Solo 401(k) established in 2019. She has $120,000 in net income for the year and will have taken $50,000 of that in wage income that will go on her W-2 for the year. That will leave $70,000 of profit that is taxable to her and that will come through to her personally via a K-1 from the business. Sally has not yet made any 2019 401(k) contributions, but plans to do so in order to reduce her taxable income for the year and to build a nest egg for retirement. If she decided to max-out her 2019 Solo 401(k) contributions, it would look like this:

  1. Employee Contributions – The 2019 maximum employee contribution is $19,000. This is dollar for dollar on wages so you can contribute $19,000 as long as you have made $19,000. Since Sally has $50,000 in wages from her S-Corp, she can easily make an $19,000 employee contribution. Let’s say that Sally doesn’t have the $19,000 to contribute, but will have it available by the tax return deadline (including extensions). What Sally will need to do is let her accountant or payroll company know what she plans to contribute as an employee contribution so that they can properly report the contributions on her payroll and W-2 reporting. By making an $19,000 employee contribution, Sally has reduced her taxable income on her W-2 from $50,000 to $31,000. At even a 20% tax bracket for federal taxes and a 5% tax bracket for state taxes that comes to a tax savings of $4,750.
  1. Employer Contributions – The 2019 maximum employer contribution is 25% of wage compensation not to exceed $56,000 total. Since Sally has taken a W-2 wage of $50,000, the company may make an employer contribution of $12,500 (25% of $50,000). This contribution is an expense to the company and is included as an employee benefit expense on the S-Corporation’s tax return (form 1120S). In the stated example, Sally would’ve had $70,000 in net profit/income from the company before making the Solo 401(k) contribution. After making the employer matching contribution of $12,500 in this example, Sally would then only receive a K-1 and net income/profit from the S-Corporation of $57,500. Again, if she were in a 20% federal and a 5% state tax bracket, that would create a tax savings of $3,125. This employer contribution would need to be made by March 15th, 2019 (the company return deadline) or by September 15th, 2019 if the company were to file an extension.

In the end, Sally would have contributed and saved $31,000 for retirement ($18,500 employee contribution, $12,500 employer contribution). And she would have saved approximately $7,750 in federal and state taxes. That’s a win-win.

Keep in mind, you need to start making plans now and you want to begin coordinating with your accountant or payroll company as your yearly wage information on your W-2 (self-employment income for sole props) is critical in determining what you can contribute to your Solo 401(k). Also, make certain you have the plan set-up in 2019 if you plan to make 2019 contributions. While IRAs can be established until April 15th, 2020 for 2019 contributions, a Solo K must be established by December 31st, 2019 if you want to make 2019 contributions. Don’t get the two confused, and make sure you’ve got a plan for your specific business.

Note: If you’ve got a single member LLC taxed as a sole proprietorship, or just an old-fashioned sole prop, or even or an LLC taxed as a partnership (where you don’t have a W-2), then please refer to our prior article here on how to calculate your Solo K contributions as they differ slightly from the s-corp example above.

We can help in establishing your solo(k) at KKOS Lawyers using our IRS pre-approved solo(k) plan documents where you can self-direct the solo(k) and have checkbook control right out of the plan. We also assist with the plan quarterly statements and IRS required plan document updates at Directed Trust Company.

 

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 to 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.

Stuck With a 401K Loan and Leaving Your Job

Have you taken a loan from your employer 401(k) plan and plan on leaving? Unfortunately, most company plans will require you to repay the loan within 60 days, or they will distribute the amount outstanding on the loan from your 401(k) account. Its one of the ways they try to keep their employees from leaving. “Don’t leave or we’ll distribute your 401(k) loan that you took from your money in your 401(k) account.”

How to Buy Yourself More Time & Avoid the Distribution

The good news is that following the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) you now have the option to re-pay the loan to an IRA to avoid the distribution and you have until your personal tax return deadline of the following year (including extensions) to contribute that re-payment amount to an IRA. By re-paying the amount outstanding on the loan to an IRA, you will avoid taxes and penalties that would otherwise arise from distribution of a participant 401(k) loan.

How It Works In Practice

Let’s say you left employment from your employer in February 2019 and that you had a 401(k) loan that was distributed by your employer’s plan following your termination of employment. You will have until October 15th of 2020 (if you extend your personal return, 6 month extension from April 15th) to make re-payment of the amount that was outstanding on the loan to an IRA. These funds are then treated as a rollover to your IRA from the 401(k) plan and your distribution and 1099-R will be reported on your federal tax return as a rollover and will not be subject to tax and penalty. While it’s not perfect it’s far great time than was previously allowed. Traditionally, you had 30 or 60 days at most to try to make re-payment.

Limitations

The ability to rollover an outstanding 401(k) loan amount to an IRA is only available when you have left an employer (for any reason). It does not apply in instances where you are still employed and have simply failed to re-pay the loan or to make timely payments.