PFBlog is writing a series of posts regarding Tax Strategy for Self-Employment now that he and his wife will both have side income. We didn’t go through anything as elaborate as his thought process, but we did do some research and decided to open an individual (aka “solo” or “self-employed”) 401(k) this year for LaLa.

For the past two years LaLa chose to contribute the maximum to a Traditional IRA and take the tax-deferral route. This was due to our desire to maximize cash on hand at the time by deferring taxes despite the potentially more lucrative longer term gains of chosing a Roth IRA instead.

Basically, in 2004, we used her income as a self-employed web and graphic designer to pay down our existing debt and engage in some “deferred purchasing” (admittedly not all necessary) while our household and daily expenses (as well as my 401k contributions) came solely out of my income. Hindsight is 20/20, but this year we finally got serious about using her income to help her “catch up” in her retirement savings.

The Individual 401(k)
I recalled reading an article at Bankrate about a year and a half ago on “individual 401(k)s” and given our goal of maximizing her contributions, this seemed the solution for her. With this type of account, she can defer up to $14,000 of her income as well as contribute up to 25% of her net profits (the profit sharing piece). The potential deterrents to this type of account are things like administration fees and “paperwork”. Some custodians charge a fee to maintain this type of account and there is a fair amount of forms involved in establishing one since you are basically a company creating a 401(k).

Finding Fidelity
After shopping around at the usual discount brokers (Vanguard didn’t offer it, T.RowePrice charged an under $5k per fund maintenance fee) LaLa decided on Fidelity’s Self-Employed 401(k) since it had no setup or maintenance fees and the funds she wanted to buy did not incur transaction fees. We also really like their online interface and have experienced great customer service in the past.

They did a good job of helping us navigate the forms required to establish this account however it was quite a hassle to transfer in funds from a USAA Rollover IRA (short answer: disburse as a check and deposit within the 60 day limit). The other small niggle is that contributions must be made by check via snail mail unlike the ACH transfers available in our Roth and Rollover IRA accounts. But the small irritations greatly outweigh the benefits of the higher maximium contributions allowed, so we’re all good.

The Future?
LaLa is happy with her choice of Fidelity for now since it allowed her quickly and inexpensively get to the point where she was socking away retirement savings. But ultimately we’re interested in exploring some options not offered by Fidelity et al. For the future, we are interested in pursuing more self-directed IRA options such as investing in real estate, but we have a lot to learn and do before we’re ready for that.