Retirement Plans for Small Businesses and the Self-Employed: Exploring Your Options

Planning for retirement is essential, whether you are an employee of a small business or self-employed. Fortunately, there are various retirement plan options available specifically designed for small businesses and self-employed individuals. In this article, we will explore some of these plans and highlight their key features to help you make informed decisions about your retirement savings.


The savings incentive match plan for employees (SIMPLE) was introduced in 1997 with the aim of providing a simpler and more cost-effective retirement plan for small businesses. SIMPLE plans can be set up as either a 401(k) plan or individual IRA plans. They offer several advantages, such as easy administration and lower costs compared to traditional 401(k) or pension plans.

For employees to participate in a SIMPLE plan, the employer must have no more than 100 employees earning at least $5,000 from the employer in the preceding year. Employees can contribute up to $15,500 each year or 100 percent of their total compensation, whichever is less (subject to inflation indexing). Those aged 50 or older can make additional catch-up contributions up to $3,500.

Senior couple meeting with agent

One key requirement of SIMPLE plans is that employers are required to make contributions. Employers can choose to match employee contributions up to a maximum of 3 percent of the participating employee’s total compensation. Alternatively, employers can contribute a fixed percentage amount equal to 2 percent of compensation each year for eligible employees earning more than $5,000, irrespective of whether the employee personally contributes to the plan.

Withdrawals from SIMPLE plans are subject to similar restrictions as conventional 401(k) plans. Generally, withdrawals made before age 59½ are subject to a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. However, with SIMPLE plans, the penalty increases to 25 percent if the withdrawal is made within two years of the participant’s initial plan participation.

SEP Plans

Simplified employee pension plans (SEPs) are retirement plans specifically designed for small businesses and self-employed individuals. SEPs can be utilized by individuals with part-time businesses with no employees or any type of business or professional practice with few employees.

Under a SEP plan, employers contribute to an account set up and owned by the employee. SEPs are treated as defined contribution plans, allowing for higher contributions. The maximum yearly contribution to a SEP is 25 percent of compensation or $66,000 (as of 2023), whichever is less. Contributions made by the employer are tax-deductible. Beginning in 2023, employer contributions may also be given Roth (after-tax) treatment.

Solo 401(k) Plans

Solo 401(k) plans, also known as individual 401(k) plans, are suitable for small business owners, sole practitioners, freelance contractors, and similar individuals. These plans are available to businesses where the owner, business partner, and the owner/partners’ spouses are the only employees.

One significant advantage of a solo 401(k) plan is the higher contribution limits compared to other retirement plans. Contributions are split between the business owner’s elective deferrals and the business’s profit-sharing contributions. As of 2023, the business owner as an employee can defer up to 100 percent of their income or $22,500, whichever is less. Those aged 50 and older can take advantage of additional catch-up contributions. The business, as the employer, can make deductible contributions of up to 25 percent of the owner’s income or $66,000, whichever is less. The combined contributions may not exceed $66,000 plus any catch-up contributions.

Document with title 401k plan on a table.

Understanding Defined-Benefit Plans

Apart from the aforementioned retirement plans, it’s worth mentioning defined-benefit plans. Defined-benefit plans are employer-sponsored retirement plans that calculate employee benefits based on factors like length of employment and salary history. Also known as pension plans or qualified-benefit plans, these plans provide a predetermined benefit payout, usually as a lifetime annuity or a lump sum at a specified age.

Unlike other retirement funds, such as 401(k) plans, the payout amounts in defined-benefit plans are not dependent on investment returns. Employers are responsible for managing the plan’s investments and risk and may hire an outside investment manager for assistance. In cases of poor investment returns or faulty calculations, employers may be obligated to make cash contributions to cover any funding shortfalls.

Choosing the Right Retirement Plan

When selecting a retirement plan for your small business or self-employment, it’s crucial to assess your specific needs and circumstances. Consider factors like the number of employees, contribution limits, administrative requirements, and any employer contribution obligations. Consulting with a financial advisor or retirement plan specialist can provide valuable guidance to help you choose the most suitable retirement plan for your situation.

In conclusion, small businesses and self-employed individuals have several retirement plan options available to help them save for a secure financial future. Whether it’s a SIMPLE plan, SEP plan, solo 401(k) plan, or considering a defined-benefit plan, taking advantage of these retirement plans can provide you with tax advantages and help you build a solid retirement nest egg. Start planning early and make informed decisions to ensure a comfortable retirement journey.

Empower your financial journey with BluFinancialplanning.com. Our team of experienced financial professionals are dedicated to providing personalized solutions for your financial needs. Whether you’re seeking guidance on retirement planning, investment strategies, or budgeting, we’re here to help. Contact us today to schedule a conversation  and take the first step towards financial success.

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