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Set Up a Solo 401(k) With Low Fees

A variety of brokerage firms and mutual fund companies offer self-employed workers solo 401(k) accounts that are versatile and charge low fees.

I am self-employed and want to open a solo 401(k), but most of the firms I’ve investigated charge hundreds of dollars in setup fees and a yearly fee of 1% to 2% or higher. Can you help me find a company where I can get this set up more economically?

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The first generation of administrators offering solo 401(k)s -- back in the early 2000s -- tended to charge high fees for the accounts. But you now have many less-expensive options from a variety of brokerage firms and mutual fund companies.

Fidelity, Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade, for example, have no setup or annual fees for solo 401(k)s and let you invest in anything available to their IRA and brokerage customers, including many no-transaction-fee mutual funds and commission-free exchange-traded funds. Contact the brokerage firms and mutual fund companies where you have other accounts to see if they offer low-fee solo 401(k)s.

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Self-employed people may be able to save more in a solo 401(k) than they can in a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP). Solo 401(k)s let you make both employee and employer contributions, meaning you can contribute up to $18,000 for 2015 (or $24,000 if you're 50 or older) as an employee, even if that is 100% of your self-employed earnings for the year, and you can also contribute 20% of your net self-employment income. Your total contributions can't exceed your self-employment income for the year, up to a total of $53,000 for both types of contributions (or $59,000 if age 50 or older).

SEP contributions for sole proprietors, on the other hand, are limited to 20% of your net self-employment income (business income minus half of your self-employment tax), up to a maximum contribution of $53,000 for 2015.

"For a lot of small-business owners who are looking for ways to maximize their retirement savings, this is a great way to accelerate their savings," says Brian Hogan, director of small-business retirement products for Fidelity. Self-employed people can calculate the amount they can contribute to a solo 401(k) or a SEP with Fidelity's Self-Employed Plan Contribution Calculator.

If you already have a solo 401(k) that has high fees or limited investment options, you can transfer your account to a different administrator; the new company can provide the forms to make the tax-free transfer.

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If you don't already have a solo 401(k), you need to open the account by December 31 to count for 2015, but then you have until the tax-filing deadline (April 18, 2016) to make your contributions for 2015.

For more information about your options, see the IRS's Retirement Plans for Self-Employed People.

See Also: 6 Costly Retirement Saving Setbacks

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.