Do you have a solo 401(k)? Have you been filing form 5500-EZ each year for the solo 401(k)? Are you aware that there is a penalty up to $15,000 per year for failure to file? While some solo 401(k)s are exempt from the 5500-EZ filing requirement, we have ran across many solo 401(k) owners who should have filed and who have failed to do so.
The return a Solo 401(k) files is called a 5500-EZ and it is due annually on July 31st for the prior year. If you have a solo 401(k) and you have no idea what I’m talking about, stay calm, but read on.
Benefits of Solo 401(k)s
One of the benefits of a solo 401(k) is the ease of administration and control because you can be the 401k trustee and administrator. However, as the 401(k) administrator and trustee it is your own responsibility to make the appropriate tax filings. This would include filing any required tax returns for the 401(k). Solo 401(k)s with less than $250,000 in assets are exempt and do not need to file a 5500-EZ. All plans with assets valued at $250,000 or greater must file a form 5500-EZ annually. A tax return is also required for a Solo 401(k) when the plan is terminated, even if the plan assets are below $250,000. Recently, more and more Solo 401(k) owners have contacted us because they set up their solo 401(k) online or with some other company and they were never made aware that they are supposed to file a 5500-EZ when their plan assets exceed $250,000. Some of these individuals have multiple years in which they should have filed the 5500-EZ but failed to do so. The penalties for failing to file a 5500-EZ when it is required can be quite severe, with fees and penalties as high as $15,000 for each late return, plus interest.
Failure to File Relief
Fortunately, the IRS has a temporary pilot program that provides automatic relief from IRS Late filing penalties on past due 5500-EZ filings. The penalty relief began as a temporary program in 2014 and was made permanent via Rev Proc 2015-32.
In order to qualify for this program, your solo 401(k) plan must not have received a CP 283 Notice for any past due 5500-EZ filings, and the only participants of your solo 401(k) plan can be you and your spouse, and your business partner(s) and their spouse. There is a $500 fee due for each delinquent return up to a total of $1,500 or three years. This program is available to all solo 401(k) plans, regardless of whether it is a self-directed plan.
The IRS has provided details via Rev Proc 15-32. In order to qualify and receive a waiver of penalties under the program, you must follow the program exactly. In short, you must do all of the following:
- File all delinquent returns using the IRS form in the year the filing was due. This must be via paper form.
- Mark on the top margin of the first page, “Delinquent Return Submitted under Rev. Proc. 2015-32.”
- Complete and include IRS Form 14704.
- Mail all documents to the IRS, Ogden, UT office.
In sum, if you have a solo 401(k) plan that should have filed a 5500-EZ for prior years, then you should take advantage of this program, which will save you literally thousands of dollars in penalties and fees. If you have any questions about this program or would like assistance with submitting your late 5500-EZ filings under this program, please contact the law firm as we are assisting clients with current and past due 5500-EZ filings for their solo 401(K)s.
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).