For most American workers and business owners, the first vehicle to save and invest in is your 401(k). The tax benefits and the typical company matching that offers free company money make a 401(k) a great place to save and invest for the long-haul. But what if you’ve maxed out your 401(k) contributions? What else can you do?
Here are the three options you should consider that provide significant tax and financial benefits:
1. Back-Door Roth IRA
This is a really cool option that many clients utilize every year. (I do too.) First, you may be thinking that you can’t do a Roth IRA because your income is too high or because you already maxed out your 401(k). WRONG: It is still possible to do a Roth IRA, but you just have to know the back-door route. The reason it’s called a back-door Roth IRA is because you make a non-deductible traditional IRA contribution (up to $5,500 annual limit, $6,500 if 50 or older). Then, after the non-deductible traditional IRA contribution is made, you then convert the funds to Roth. There is no income limit on Roth conversions, and since you didn’t take a deduction on the non-deductible traditional IRA contribution, there is no tax due on the conversion to Roth. And now, voila, you have $5,500 in your Roth IRA. That’s the back-door route.
There is a road block though for some who already have funds already in traditional IRAs. The Roth conversion ordering rules state that you must first convert your pre-tax traditional IRA funds, which you got a deduction for and now pay tax when you convert, before you are able to convert the non-deductible traditional IRA funds. So, if you have pre-tax traditional IRA funds and you want to do the back-door Roth IRA, you have two options:
- First, convert those pre-tax traditional IRA dollars to Roth and pay the taxes on the conversion.
- Second, if your 401(k) allows, you can roll those pre-tax traditional IRA dollars into your 401(k). If you don’t have a traditional IRA, you’re on easy street and only need to do the two-step process of making the non-deductible traditional IRA contribution and then convert it to Roth.
You have until April 15th of each year to do this for the prior tax year. Additionally, while the GOP tax-reform restricted Roth re-characterizations, Roth conversions and the back-door Roth IRA route were unaffected. For more detail on the back-door Roth IRA, check out my prior article here.
2. Health Savings Account (HSA)
If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan, you can make contributions to your HSA up until April 15th of each year for the prior tax year. Why make an HSA contribution? Because you get a tax deduction for doing it, and because that money comes out of your HSA tax-free for your medical, dental, or drug costs. You can contribute and get a deduction, above the line, of up to $3,400 if you’re single or for up to $6,750 for family. We all have these out-of-pockets costs, and this is the most efficient way to spend those dollars (from an account you got a tax deduction for putting money into). If you didn’t have a high deductible HSA-qualifying plan by December 1st of the prior year, then the HSA won’t work.
Any amounts you don’t spend on medical can be invested in the account and grow tax-free for your future medical or long-term care. Health savings accounts can also be invested and self-directed into real estate, LLCs, private companies, crypto-currency or other alternative assets. We’ve helped many clients invest these tax-favored funds using a self-directed HSA.
For more details on health savings accounts, check out my partner Mark’s article here.
3. Cash Balance Plan or Defined Benefit Plan
If you’re self-employed you may consider establishing a cash balance plan or a defined benefit plan (aka “pension”), where you can possibly contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. The amount of your contribution depends on your income, age, and the age and number of employees you may have. A cash balance plan or defined benefit plan/pension will cost you ten thousand dollars or more in fees to establish, and is far more expensive to maintain and administer. But, if you have the income, it’s a valuable option to consider. For more details on cash balance plans, check out Randy Luebke’s article here.
As 2017 comes to an end, it is critical that Solo 401(k) owners understand when and how to make their 2017 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 2017. 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 $54,000 per year (far faster than any IRA).
New Solo 401(k) Set-Up Deadline is 12/31/17
First, in order to make 2017 contributions, the Solo 401(k) must be adopted by your business by December 31st, 2017. 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, 2018 or later, you cannot make 2017 contributions.
2017 Contributions Can Be Made in 2018
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, 2017. If you have an S-Corporation or partnership LLC, the deadline for 2017 contributions is March 15th, 2018. Both of these deadlines (March 15th and April 15th) to make 2017 contributions may be extended another six months by filing an extension. This a huge benefit for those that want to make 2017 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, 2018. 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 $18,000 for 2017) by January 31st, 2018 or you should at least determine the amount you plan to contribute so that you can file an accurate W-2 by January 31st, 2018. 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).
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 as an online business. She is the only owner and only employee, and had a Solo 401(k) established in 2017. 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 2017 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 2017 Solo 401(k) contributions, it would look like this:
- Employee Contributions – The 2017 maximum employee contribution is $18,000. This is dollar for dollar on wages so you can contribute $18,000 as long as you have made $18,000. Since Sally has $50,000 in wages from her S-Corp, she can easily make an $18,000 employee contribution. Let’s say that Sally doesn’t have the $18,000 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 $18,000 employee contribution, Sally has reduced her taxable income on her W-2 from $50,000 to $32,000. At even a 20% tax bracket for federal taxes and a 5% tax bracket for state taxes that comes to a tax savings of $4,500.
- Employer Contributions – The 2017 maximum employer contribution is 25% of wage compensation. For Sally: Up to a maximum employer contribution of $36,000. 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, 2018 (the company return deadline) or by September 15th, 2018 if the company were to file an extension.
In the end, Sally would have contributed and saved $30,500 for retirement ($18,000 employee contribution, $12,500 employer contribution). And she would have saved $7,625 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 2017 if you plan to make 2017 contributions. While IRAs can be established until April 15th, 2018 for 2017 contributions, a Solo K must be established by December 31st, 2017. 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.
Its official: We have tax reform. But, how does it affect your IRAs, 401(k)s, 529s, Coverdells, and other retirement and education savings accounts? Let’s break down what’s new, what was proposed and didn’t make it, and what stays the same.
New Changes for 2018
There are two major changes effecting retirement, health, and education savings accounts in the bill:
1. Roth re-characterizations are dead.
Account holders will no longer be able to conduct what is known as a Roth re-characterization. A Roth re-characterization occurs when you convert from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, and then later decide that you would like to go back. This helped those who couldn’t pay the tax on the conversion, or those who saw their account value go down after the conversion as they were able to undo the conversion, wait a period of time, and then reconvert and alter tax years at a lower value. The strategy will still be allowed for those who converted in 2017 and want to undo in 2018, but is unavailable after that. For my prior article outlining how the Roth re-characterization works please refer to my article here.
2. 529s can be used for K-12 private school.
College savings plans known as 529s have been expanded, and can now be used for K-12 expenses up to $10,000 per year. 529 plans remain unchanged as to college expenses, and the $10,000 cap only applies to K-12. Although you do not get a deduction for 529 plan contributions, 529 plans allow for tax-free growth and the funds can be used for education expenses. For a summary of 529 plans, and the differences between 529s and Coverdell ESAs (aka Coverdell IRAs) please refer to my prior article here.
What Was Proposed and Didn’t Make It in the Final Bill
There were a number of proposals that were part of one bill, but were removed before passing through Congress and getting signed by President Trump. These proposals include:
1. Ending Coverdell ESAs (aka Coverdell IRAs).
This proposal was part of the House bill – not included in the Senate bill – and, in the end, changes to Coverdell accounts were removed from the final bill. This is good news as Coverdell ESAs have been used by many as a means to save for their kids’ or grandchildrens’ college expenses. Similar to a 529, there is no tax deduction on contributions, but the funds grow tax-free and are used for college education expenses. The nice thing about a Coverdell, as opposed to a 529, is that you can decide what to invest the account into whether they are stocks, real estate, private companies (LLCs, LPs), or cryptocurrency.
2. Restrict deductible traditional retirement plan contributions.
There were proposals to restrict deductible traditional retirement plan contributions and to force the majority of 401(k) or other employer plan contributions to be Roth. The goal: Raise revenue now. Thankfully, these proposals never made it into the House nor Senate bills.
There were some minor hardship distribution changes for employer plans but other that the items outlined above, Tax Reform was neutral on retirement plans and savings for Americans and sometimes that’s the best you can hope for.
How does the proposed Republican tax reform impact your retirement account? Well, if you save for education expenses for your kids or grand-kids using a Coverdell Education Savings Account, you’re not going to be happy as new contributions to Coverdell accounts are eliminated in the House Plan. Also, both House and Senate bills eliminate the ability to re-characterize Roth IRA conversions back to Traditional IRAs. This was a nice “do-over” the IRS allowed you to use if you regretted converting your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, and switched it back to a traditional IRA within certain time limitations. For my prior article on how a Roth IRA re-characterization works, at least for now, check it out here.
The only good news: It could’ve been worse. There was talk of drastic changes that would have essentially called an end to Traditional IRA and 401(k) contributions in favor of Roth-only contributions (or limiting Traditional dollars to $2,400 annually). Luckily, those ideas never made it into the legislation.
Here’s a brief summary of the two major changes effecting IRAs. In addition to the changes effecting IRAs, there are numerous proposals regarding employer retirement plans such as 401(k)s, but those changes only slightly alter the ways those plans function.
||Change to IRAs
||No More Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) Contributions
||Coverdell accounts are used as a vehicle to contribute funds (up to $2k annually per beneficiary) for education expenses. It is usually used by parents or grandparents as an account to invest the money tax-free whereby the money in the account grows without being subject to tax and comes out tax-free for the beneficiary’s education expenses. There is no deduction for the contribution. The current proposal would eliminate the ability to make future Coverdell contributions. Existing accounts may still exist without new contributions or may be rolled to a 529.
|House Bill & Senate Amendment to Senate Bill
||End Roth IRA Re-characterizations
||Under current rules, you can convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, and if you later decide that such conversions (and tax due) wasn’t a good idea, you are allowed to undo the conversion and go back to a Traditional IRA.
So what should you do now? If you’ve used Coverdell accounts or wanted to, make 2017 Coverdell contributions because they may be the last time you can do them. Also, if you’ve been thinking of converting a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, 2017 may be the last year you can do so, and still have the ability to re-characterize back to Traditional if you later decide against it.
If you are self-employed and use a SEP IRA to save for retirement, you should carefully consider moving those funds to a new Solo 401(k) (aka “Solo K”).
Both SEP IRAs and Solo Ks are retirement plans commonly used by self-employed persons with no employees, such as: Real estate professionals, investors, consultants, direct-marketing professionals, 1099 salespersons, and other small business owners. Here’s why: Both the SEP IRA and the Solo K offer big annual contribution amounts that far exceed the $5,500 ($6,500, if over 50) that you can put into a Roth or Traditional IRA. In fact, in both the SEP IRA and Solo K, you can contribute, depending on your income, up to $54,000 annually – $60,000, if over 50 in a Solo K. That’s almost ten times the contribution limit of an IRA. And, if you’re really trying to build up a retirement account you can retire on, you’re going to need to contribute more than $5,500 a year.
Now, if you have a SEP IRA, you should really look at changing that SEP IRA to a Solo K. Sure, SEP IRAs are good, but Solo Ks are great. Here are four major reasons why you should make the switch:
1. You Can Contribute More to a Solo K on Less Income
You can contribute more to a Solo K each year on less income. Let’s consider the following example: Sally is 41 and the 100% owner of Sally, Inc. She sells products online and Sally, Inc. is taxed as an S-Corp. The total cash flow income from her company is $8,000 and she ends up paying herself a W-2 of $40,000 for the year. Based on the $40,000 W-2, she could contribute the following amounts:
- SEP IRA – 25% of Wage Income: $10,000
- Solo 401(k) – $18K on the first $18K Wage Income, plus 25% of Wage Income: $28,000
That’s right: Sally can contribute $28K a year to her Solo K on a $40,000 W-2. If she was using a SEP, she’d only be able to contribute $10,000. The significant difference is that, under a Solo K, you get to contribute $18K on the first $18K ($24k, if 50 or over), plus you get to contribute 25% of the wage income.
Also, if you are looking to max out the Solo K contribution amount of $54,000, then you’d need to have a W-2 from the S-Corp of $144,000. However, if you were looking to max out contributions at $54,000 using a SEP IRA, then you would need to have a W-2 of $216,000. Bottom line: It’s easier to max out your retirement plan contributions with a Solo K. And, at lower W-2 levels, something S-Corp owners strive for, the contribution difference is significant. For more details on Solo K contributions, please refer to my prior blog article.
2. You Can Self-Trustee and Administer Your Solo K
All IRAs, including SEP IRAs, must have a third-party custodian – a bank, credit union or trust company – for the account. However, with a Solo K, you can self-trustee and can have control of the bank checking account and/or a brokerage account without having a third party as the trustee. This allows you to invest directly out of the Solo K and gives checkbook control. A valuable tool when investing a retirement account into alternative assets like real estate, notes, or private companies, as you can sign off on investments or process funds without waiting on a third party to process and approve your own funds.
3. You Can Loan Yourself Up to $50K from a Solo K
Under a Solo K, you can loan yourself half of the balance of the Solo K not to exceed $50,000. This is known as a “participant loan,” and is a great option to use when you need to access funds you’ve contributed and saved for retirement. Maybe you need funds to grow the business, pay for school expense, or take a trip to Vegas. Whatever the reason, good or bad, your hard-earned money can be accessed without penalty under a Solo K using the participant loan. Now, you will need to pay the funds back over five years with a set interest. But, this money goes back into the Solo K you’ve been building. For more details on the 401(k) loan, please refer to my prior blog article. Unfortunately, the participant loan cannot be done with a SEP IRA, and would actually result in a distribution, penalty and taxes.
4. No UDFI Tax on Leveraged Real Estate with a Solo K
If you self-direct your SEP IRA plan into real estate, you may have heard of a tax called “unrelated debt financed income” (or “UDFI”). This tax applies when you leverage your SEP IRA’s cash with debt. For example, you buy a rental property with your SEP IRA for $100,000. Of this $100,000, $40,000 comes from your SEP IRA’s cash and $60,000 is from the bank loaning your SEP money on the deal. By bringing in 60% debt to the investment, the IRS will require tax on 60% of the net income from the profits of the property. However, this tax on leveraged real estate does NOT apply to Solo Ks as Congress created an exemption for Solo Ks, but not SEP IRAs. So, if you self-direct and leverage real estate investments with debt, you’d be crazy to use a SEP IRA over a Solo K. The tax can be tricky to calculate for IRAs and requires a separate 990-T tax return. Check out my detailed webinar on the topic if you’d like to learn more.
There are a couple of downsides to the Solo K over a SEP IRA:
1. Solo Ks are more expensive to set up, as it requires an IRS-compliant plan document. Expect to pay around $1,000 – $2,000 for an IRS-compliant Solo K that you can self-direct and self-trustee. Under both a SEP IRA and a Solo K, you will have similar on-going annual fees to keep them compliant.
2. The other downside to a Solo K is that once you have $250,000 in assets or more in a Solo K, you must file a 5500-EZ tax return to the IRS each year. This return isn’t overly complex, but it is an annual filing requirement you’ll need to handle, or hire someone else to handle if you are self-administering your Solo K.
So, what if you have a SEP IRA and you want to move over to a Solo K? You’ll first need to establish a Solo K for your business by adopting an IRS-compliant Solo K plan. Once you do that, you can start making your new contributions into the Solo K and also roll over the existing funds from your SEP IRA (or other traditional IRAs).