For the self-employed set, time is of the essence to pocket the tax benefits of saving for retirement.
And there are plenty of you out there. In 2021, the number of self-employed workers in this country jumped to 14.9 million in the second quarter, after falling to 12.7 million a year earlier, according to a Pew Research Center report.
Part of that bump up was spurred by the rising number of workers who lost jobs and shifted to entrepreneurship, or those who stepped out of the workforce during the pandemic due to caregiving and stepped back in with contract positions, according to the researchers.
One of the toughest things to do when you’re self-employed or running your own business is to save for retirement. Even after 20 years as a solo entrepreneur, I wrestled each year at tax time to let go of the maximum amount my accountant determined I can sock away for what could be 20 or more years. I’m not alone.
“We have a lot of people who have just got more pressing needs and just don't feel they can contribute,” Laurence Kotlikoff, the brash Boston University economics professor and Social Security expert, recently told Yahoo Money.
But there can be tax advantages to saving for retirement, depending on the vehicle, and for IRAs, SEP-IRAs, and solo 401(k)s, you can still make contributions for last year before tax day.
Roth and traditional IRAs
Let’s start with Roth and traditional IRAs.
Generally, the annual IRA contribution limit is $6,000 in 2021 and 2022 ($7,000 if you’re age 50 or older at the end of 2021). Contributions for 2021 can be made to a traditional or Roth IRA until the tax-filing due date — this year, it’s April 18 — but they must be designated as contributions for last year.
The IRA contribution limits apply to your combined traditional and Roth IRA contributions. This means if you have a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA, your contributions to both cannot exceed the limits. And there’s no maximum age for making IRA contributions.
Contributions you make to a traditional IRA account are made pre-tax, meaning that you’re postponing paying taxes on some of your income until you withdraw the money. Because you’re depositing money pre-tax, you will get a tax deduction immediately. When you choose to withdraw the money (preferably in retirement), you’ll pay income tax.
Contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible now, and these contributions may be restricted based on filing status and income. If you meet the requirements, qualified distributions are tax-free. If 2021 was your first year of self-employment and you’re fresh to retirement saving on your own, you still have time to open new accounts for 2021. Contributions can also be made to a traditional or Roth IRA even if participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.
When you open an account on a brokerage firm’s platform — say, Fidelity, Schwab, Vanguard, or T. Rowe Price or robo-advisor brokerages like Wealthfront and Betterment — you have the option to select whether you want to contribute for 2021 or 2022. For now, you’ll want to choose 2021. You have until tax day April 2023 to contribute for the 2022 tax year. But if you’re feeling flush, go ahead and contribute for 2022 and take advantage of the extra time for the money to be invested.
SEP-IRAs and Solo 401(k)s
Entrepreneurs might opt for a SEP-IRA, a tax-deductible retirement plan that’s ideal if you’re the company’s only employee. For 2021 tax returns, you can contribute up to 25% of your compensation or $58,000.You must deposit contributions for a year by the due date (including extensions) for filing your federal income tax return for the year. If you obtain an extension for filing your tax return, you have until the end of that extension period to deposit the contribution, regardless of when you actually file the return.
For next year, the 2022 SEP-IRA contributions limit is $61,000. All your contributions will be tax-deductible.
Folks in business for themselves may also choose a solo 401(k), a retirement plan for self-employed people without employees (except possibly a spouse). This year, your pre-tax total contribution can’t surpass $58,000, and $61,000 in 2022. If your spouse works with you, she or he can also put in the comparable amounts. There is a catch-up contribution of an extra $6,500 for those 50 or older.
That said, in general, your solo 401(k) must have been established by December 31st of 2021 in order to make contributions to the plan. The plan, however, doesn’t necessarily have to be funded by the date.
My research has also shown that women tend to be self-employed, contract or part-time workers, or work in nonprofits or for small businesses that might not offer a retirement plan for their employees. “The hard part is for those who don’t have access to workplace plans,” Cindy Hounsell, president of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) told Yahoo Money..
“Most women cannot afford to skip saving for retirement. Women step up for family and friends even when they cannot afford it. They need to be prepared for their future —and take advantage of everything they can to help them financially.”
An overlooked facet of many health care plans
A health savings account, or H.S.A., can also trim your tax bill and help pay for some medical expenses, if you qualify to have one. And they offer three important tax breaks: Money is deposited pretax. It grows tax-free, and is not taxed when you use it, as long as the expenses are eligible.
The caveat: The accounts are available solely to people who typically have high-deductible health insurance plans, which is the amount you pay for medical care before insurance kicks in.
You still have time to fund your HSA for 2021–April 18 is the deadline this year. The limits are $3,600 for individuals and $7,200 for family coverage. For 2022, you can contribute up to $3,650 and If you have family HDHP coverage, you can contribute up to $7,300 for family coverage. If you were 55 at the end of 2021, you can bump that up another $1,000.
Check with your health insurance company to see if they partner with HSA financial institutions.
Your bank might also offer an HSA option.
The accounts can pay for a myriad of medical expenses, including doctor visits, hospital stays, surgery, and vision or dental care. The money can also go toward long-term-care insurance premiums and services.
Automate savings for 2022
If you’re self-employed this year, and don’t want to stress about the last minute rush to fund your retirement account next April, schedule an automatic transfer from your checking into an IRA or HSA account each month towards your 2022 tax year contribution. Even $100 a month invested in a retirement account builds a routine. It’s possible to find accounts that don’t have a minimum investment prerequisite. Ideally, you want to save at least 15% of gross income for retirement. That said, start with whatever you can squeeze out of your budget.
As for me, I’m an index fund kind of gal. So, for my 2021 contribution I’m mulling a total stock index fund which gives you the most diversity in size and class (value/growth), a value index fund, or a dividend appreciation fund.
It’s hard to time the market and since you’ll have it invested for a while, instead of stewing over the decision too long, it’s better to pick one and let it get to work for you.
Kerry is a Senior Columnist and Senior Reporter at Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon