Q: I own a small decorating business and I’ll be first to admit that I don’t know anything about taxes or retirement plans. I’d like to set up a 401(k) or an IRA or some other kind of retirement plan for me and my three employees. What are various retirement plan options available for a small business owner and in your opinion, which would work best for me? -- Wanda S.
A: Wanda, I appreciate your confidence in my humble opinion, but asking me for financial advice is like asking Donald Trump for a recommendation on hair care products. I can tell you what works best for me and my business, but you’ll need to do your homework and seek professional advice to figure out what would work best for you. As a side note, I hear that Donald Trump is coming out with his own line of hair care product soon to be called “Big Head.” The formula is 1% mousse, 1% liquid nails, and 98% hot air. It should be a big seller among high brow, comb-over crowd.
Here’s my best advice on retirement plans: find yourself a financial advisor (or financial planner) who is has experience working with small businesses and have him or her explain options available and make a recommendation as to type of plan best suited for you and your business. When I say “financial advisor” I’m not talking about your know-it-all brother-in-law or your accountant. I’m talking about a broker or financial planner (or other licensed professional) who has a proven track record of making his clients money and is an expert on IRAs, 401(k)s, mutual funds, etc.
The best way to find a good financial advisor is to ask for referrals from your most successful friends and associates. Find richest, stingiest man in town and ask who his advisor is. Meet with several advisors, explain your situation, and ask for their recommendations. You should also make sure advisor is a good fit for your personality and your business. If all goes well you will be doing business with this person for many years to come, so make sure relationship feels comfortable to you and that you are confident in advisor’s ability to manage your money.
Let me give you a quick overview of a few of retirement plans available to small businesses so you at least have an idea of what’s out there before you start your search for a good financial advisor.
As a small business you basically have three types of retirement plans that you can take advantage of: Self-Employed 401(k); Simplified Employee Pension Plan or SEP IRA, and Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees or SIMPLE IRA. Each allows you to make pre-tax contributions to plan, which lets you save for retirement and lessen your taxable income by amount of contribution. Your investments also grow tax-deferred until withdrawal.
A Self-Employed 401(k) is an option for self-employed individuals or business owners with no employees other than a spouse. The business can be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a corporation, including S corps. You can make salary deferrals to this type of plan of up to $14,000 for 2005.
Next is Simplified Employee Pension Plan or SEP IRA. A SEP is an option if you earn a self-employed income from a full or part time business, even if you are covered by a retirement plan at your fulltime job. A SEP allows you to contribute up to 25% of earned income, up to $41,000 for 2004 and $42,000 for 2005.