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Retirement Plans for Self-Employed People

Are you self-employed? Did you know you have many of the same options to save for retirement on a tax-deferred basis as employees participating in company plans?

Here some highlights of your retirement plan options.

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)

Establish the plan with a simple one-page form:

  1. complete
    • Form 5305-SEP, Simplified Employee Pension - Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement, or
    • an IRS-approved “prototype SEP plan” offered by many mutual funds, banks and other financial institutions, and by plan administration companies; and
  1. open a SEP-IRA through a bank or other financial institution.

Set up the SEP plan for a year as late as the due date (including extensions) of your income tax return for that year.

401(k) Plan

  • Make salary deferrals up to $17,500 in 2013 and 2014 (plus an additional $5,500 if you're 50 or older) of your compensation from the business either on a pre-tax basis or as a designated Roth contribution.
  • Contribute up to an additional 25% of your net earnings from self-employment (not including contributions for yourself), up to $51,000 for 2013 ($52,000 for 2014) including salary deferrals.
  • Tailor your plan to allow access to your account balance through loans and hardship distributions.

A one-participant 401(k) plan is sometimes referred to as a “solo-401(k),” “individual 401(k)” or “uni-401(k).” It is generally the same as other 401(k) plans, but because there are no employees other than your spouse who work for the business, it is exempt from discrimination testing.

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE IRA Plan)

You can put all your net earnings from self-employment in the plan: up to $12,000 in 2013 and 2014 (plus an additional $2,500 if you're 50 or older) in salary reduction contributions and either a 2% fixed contribution or a 3% matching contribution.

Establish the plan:

  1. complete
    • Form 5305-SIMPLE, Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE) – for Use With a Designated Financial Institution,
    • Form 5304-SIMPLE, Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE) - Not for Use With a Designated Financial Institution, or
    • an IRS-approved “prototype SIMPLE IRA plan” offered by many mutual funds, banks and other financial institutions, and by plan administration companies; and

  2. open a SIMPLE IRA through a bank or another financial institution.
    • Set up a SIMPLE IRA plan at any time January 1 through October 1. If you became self-employed after October 1, you can set up a SIMPLE IRA plan for the year as soon as administratively feasible after your business starts.

Learn more:

Other defined contribution plans

  • Profit-sharing plan: allows you to decide how much to contribute on an annual basis, up to 25% of compensation (not including contributions for yourself) or $51,000 for 2013 ($52,000 for 2014).
  • Money purchase plan: requires you to contribute a fixed percentage of your income every year, up to 25% of compensation (not including contributions for yourself), according to a formula stated in the plan.

Defined benefit plans

    • Traditional pension plan with a stated annual benefit you will receive at retirement, usually based on salary and years of service.
    • Benefit may also be defined based on a cash balance formula in a hypothetical individual account (a cash balance plan).
    • Maximum annual benefit can be up to $205,000 for 2013 ($210,000 for 2014).
    • Contributions are calculated by an actuary based on the benefit you set and other factors (your age, expected returns on plan investments, etc.); no other annual contribution limit applies.

What's a Keogh plan?

Retirement plans for self-employed people were formerly referred to as “Keogh plans” after the law that first allowed unincorporated businesses to sponsor retirement plans. Since the law no longer distinguishes between corporate and other plan sponsors, the term is seldom used.

Want prior year contribution amounts?

Dollar figures are subject to annual cost-of-living adjustments. Our chart and PDF file will show you contribution limits from 2012, 2011, and earlier years.

Additional resources

Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 19-Mar-2014