When you’re hard at work as a self-employed entrepreneur or freelancer, retirement can seem like something that’s miles away. It can not only feel less important than getting your business or trade off the ground, but also seem like you won’t have spare money to set aside for a good, long time. You can save for your future, however. Here are some steps self-employed individuals can take to plan for their retirement.
1. Enroll in a Retirement Plan
Yes, there are retirement plan options out there for self-employed people like you. These include:
One-Participant 401K Plan: The one-participant or “solo” 401K is essentially the same as a traditional 401K designed to cover a business owner with no employees. (Note: You can hire your spouse and include them in this plan as well.) According to the IRS, you can contribute elective deferrals up to 100% of your earned income and employer non-elective contributions (determined by a special computation). Contributions are made pre-tax (you’ll be taxed when you withdraw the money, which you typically can’t do without a penalty until age 59½) and give you great flexibility in how much (or how little) you contribute. The contribution limits for 2017 are $18,000 and 25% of compensation up to the amount that’s defined in your plan, respectively, according to the IRS.
Traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA): Many self-employed people can see immediate rewards from contributing to a traditional IRA, as these are tax-deductible in certain situations, giving you an immediate break on your taxable income. For example, if your income is $60,000, and you contribute $4,000 to a traditional IRA, you’ll only be taxed on $56,000 for that year. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll have to pay taxes when withdrawing the money and tax penalties can arise if you withdraw your retirement dollars early.
Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA: To set this plan up, you simply fill out a form — no annual reporting to the IRS is required. The IRS notes that you can open a SEP IRA through your bank or other financial institution and can contribute up to 25% of your net earnings from self-employment. This type of plan is generally best if your business has no employees, or very few, because you have to include all employees in the plan — and everyone has to receive the same amount, which can get pricey if you have a lot of people working for you.
Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA: Per the IRS, a SIMPLE IRA plan is best suited as a start-up retirement savings plan for small employers. Under this plan, both employees and employers can contribute to traditional IRAs.
2. Budget By Percentages, Not Dollars
As a self-employed person, your income likely fluctuates from month to month, meaning you can’t budget the same way that a non-self-employed person would. It can help to think about budgeting for non-fixed expenses in percentages, instead of dollars, personal finance expert AJ Smith suggested in a blog post on Credit.com.
“If, for example, you want to save for retirement, try putting aside a certain percentage of your income rather than a certain dollar amount,” Smith wrote. “A dollar amount can lead you to save too little in high-income months and more than you can realistically afford in low-income ones.”
3. Be Vigilant About Your Taxes
Paying taxes can be a lot more complicated when you’re self-employed. For instance, throughout the year, you’ll have to estimate how much you owe for Medicare, Social Security and income tax and pay it in quarterly installments — and face penalties if you do so incorrectly. Plus, you’ll have to a pay a self-employment (SE) tax, which is essentially a combination of the Social Security and Medicare tax.
It’s important to properly work your tax payments into your budget, so you don’t wind up spending dollars you don’t really have. You may also want to consult with a tax accountant or other financial expert about your taxes, so you don’t miss out on important deductions or credits that could drive more money to your bottom line — and subsequently your retirement plans.
4. Stay on Top of Your Credit
Similarly, you’ll want to monitor your credit scores to make sure they’re in good shape and that you don’t wind up paying extra in interest on personal and business financing. Those dollars can severely hamper your ability to save for your eventual happy golden years. (You can see how your credit is doing by getting two free credit scores every 14 days on Credit.com.)
Remember, too, many business lines of credit require a personal guarantee, meaning you’ll be personally liable for any debts your business has that go unpaid. As such, you’ll want to carefully consider all loans you’re thinking of taking on to finance your business. Overextending yourself can make it harder to save not just for retirement, but also for future bills and/or emergencies that may come your way.