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.

 

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 trusteed, 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.