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How Self-Employed Workers Can Save for Retirement

If you work for yourself, these options let you make tax-deductible contributions that grow tax-deferred until you take the money in retirement.

I’m a self-employed consultant. What type of retirement savings account would be best for me?

The two best options for most self-employed workers are a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and a solo 401(k). You can make tax-deductible contributions to either plan, and the money grows tax-deferred until you withdraw it in retirement (you usually have to pay a 10% penalty for withdrawals before age 59½).

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1) SEPs: You still have until April 18, 2016, to open a SEP for 2015. You can make 2016 contributions to a SEP account now, although the maximum limits are calculated based on your self-employment income, so you will need to have an idea of how much you will earn for the year.

If you’re a sole proprietor, you can contribute up to 20% of your net self-employment income (business income minus half of your self-employment tax), with a maximum SEP contribution of $53,000 for 2015. The contribution limit is the same for 2016.

2) Solo 401(k)s: You needed to open a solo 401(k) account by December 31 for 2015, but you have until April 18, 2016, to make 2015 contributions. You can make 2016 contributions to a solo 401(k) account now, although, again, the maximum limits are calculated based on your self-employment income, so you will need to have an idea of how much you will earn for the year.

You may be able to contribute more to a solo 401(k) than to a SEP--up to $18,000 for 2015 or 2016 (or $24,000 if you’re 50 or older anytime during the year), plus up to 20% of your net self-employment income, with a total solo 401(k) contribution of $53,000 (or $59,000 if you’re age 50 or older). Your total contributions cannot exceed your self-employment income for the year.

Some solo 401(k)s give you the option to make Roth contributions, which are not tax-deductible now but can be withdrawn tax-free after age 59½ (see Get Tax-Free Retirement Income via a Roth Solo 401(k) for the rules, which are a bit tricky).

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