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Do You Have Old Retirement Accounts? Options for Self-Employed Solo Entrepreneurs

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Managing old retirement accounts is crucial for solo entrepreneurs. If you’re self-employed, understanding how to handle your existing retirement savings can significantly impact your financial future.

Knowing your options is essential whether you have an old 401k from a previous employer or multiple IRAs. This guide will explore various strategies for managing old retirement accounts, helping you make informed decisions to maximize your retirement savings.

Let’s dive into the options available for self-employed solo entrepreneurs.

Understanding Your Old Retirement Accounts

Types of Old Retirement Accounts

As a solo entrepreneur, you might have several types of old retirement accounts. These can include:

  • 401k Accounts: Employer-sponsored plans that you may have left behind when you changed jobs.
  • Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs): Personal retirement savings accounts you may have set up independently.
  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs): Accounts used to save for medical expenses with tax advantages.

Reasons for Having Old Accounts

You might have old retirement accounts for several reasons:

  1. Job Changes: Each job change might leave you with a new 401k account.
  2. Multiple Savings Strategies: Using different types of accounts to diversify your retirement savings.
  3. Employer Changes: Employers often provide different retirement plan options.

Understanding these accounts is the first step toward managing them effectively. Knowing what you have helps you decide the best course of action.

Options for Managing an Old 401k

1. Keep the Account with the Former Employer

One option is to keep your old 401k account with your former employer. This can be convenient, but it has limitations:


  • No Immediate Decisions Needed: You don’t have to rush into making any changes, which can be beneficial if you need time to evaluate your options.
  • Continued Growth: The account continues to grow tax-deferred, which helps your savings accumulate over time.
  • Familiarity: You are already familiar with the plan’s investment options and management.


  • Limited Control: You have limited control over the investment options available in the plan. This might restrict your ability to diversify your portfolio.
  • Higher Fees: Former employees sometimes face higher administrative fees than current employees.
  • Less Access: Since you are no longer with the company, access to plan information and support might be more cumbersome.

However, this option might not be ideal if you want more control over your investments and lower fees.

2. Rollover to an IRA

Rolling over your old 401k to an IRA is a popular option. Here’s why:


To roll over your old 401k to an IRA, start by selecting an IRA provider that meets your investment needs. Contact the IRA provider to initiate the rollover process.

You will need to complete the necessary paperwork and request a direct transfer of funds from your 401k to the IRA. This process helps avoid any tax penalties and keeps your retirement savings intact.


Rolling over to an IRA offers several benefits. You gain access to a broader range of investment options compared to your former 401k plan. This allows for better diversification and potentially higher returns. IRAs often come with lower fees, which can save you money in the long run.

Additionally, having more control over your retirement savings can enable you to tailor your investment strategy to better suit your financial goals.

3. Rollover to a New Solo 401k

As a solo entrepreneur, rolling over your old account to a new solo 401k can be beneficial:

Steps to Rollover

  1. Set Up a Solo 401k Plan: Begin by establishing a solo 401k plan with a provider that offers flexible investment options.
  2. Initiate the Rollover Process: Contact your new solo 401k plan provider to initiate the rollover. Complete any required paperwork to facilitate the transfer.
  3. Transfer Funds Directly: Ensure that the funds from your old 401k are directly transferred to your new solo 401k to avoid tax penalties.

Benefits of Rolling Over

  • Increased Contribution Limits: Solo 401ks allow for higher contribution limits, which can significantly boost your retirement savings.
  • Control Over Investments: You have more control over your investment choices, enabling better alignment with your financial goals.
  • Potential for Higher Growth: With more diverse investment options (real estate, precious metals, cryptocurrency, stocks, bonds, and more), there is potential for higher growth of your retirement funds.

4. Cash Out the Account

Cashing out your old 401k is another option, but it comes with significant drawbacks:

Tax Implications

Cashing out your 401k means you will owe taxes on the full amount withdrawn. The withdrawn amount is added to your taxable income for the year, potentially pushing you into a higher tax bracket.


If you are under 59½, you will face a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the amount taken out. This penalty can significantly reduce the value of your retirement savings.


Cashing out your 401k is generally not recommended due to the immediate tax implications and penalties. You also lose the benefit of tax-deferred growth, which can considerably impact your long-term retirement savings. It is usually better to explore other options, like rolling over to an IRA or a new solo 401k to preserve your retirement funds.

Choosing Between SEP IRA and Solo 401k


SEP IRA Overview

The Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA is a retirement plan option for self-employed individuals:

  • Contribution Limits: Up to 25% of your net earnings, with a maximum limit set by the IRS.
  • Benefits: Easy to set up, no annual filing requirements, and flexible contribution amounts.

Solo 401k Overview

A Solo 401k is another excellent retirement plan for solo entrepreneurs:

  • Flexibility: Allows for higher contribution limits compared to SEP IRAs.
  • Contribution Options: You can make both employee and employer contributions, maximizing your savings potential.
  • Loan Provisions: Solo 401ks may offer loan options, providing flexibility in accessing funds if needed.

Comparison of SEP IRA and Solo 401k

Deciding between SEP IRA vs Solo 401k depends on your specific needs and financial situation:

  • Contribution Limits: Solo 401ks generally allow for higher total contributions.
  • Flexibility: Solo 401ks offer more flexibility with both employee and employer contributions.
  • Administrative Complexity: SEP IRAs are simpler to administer, with fewer reporting requirements.
  • Loans: Only Solo 401ks offer loan provisions.

By understanding these differences, you can choose the plan that best suits your retirement goals and financial situation.

Tax Implications of Solo 401k Contributions

Understanding the Tax Implications

Understanding the tax implications of your Solo 401k contributions is crucial for effective tax planning. Contributions can significantly impact your current tax liability and your future tax situation.

Pre-Tax Contributions and Tax Liability

Pre-tax contributions reduce your taxable income for the current year. This means you pay less in taxes now, which can be a significant advantage if you are in a high tax bracket.

For example, if you contribute $15,000 pre-tax to your Solo 401k, your taxable income for the year decreases by that amount. Taxes on these contributions are deferred until you withdraw the funds in retirement, at which point they are taxed as ordinary income.

Roth and Mega Backdoor Roth Contributions

Roth and Mega Backdoor Roth contributions do not provide an immediate tax benefit because they are made with after-tax dollars. However, the main advantage is the potential for tax-free growth and withdrawals in retirement.

Earnings on Roth contributions grow tax-free, and qualified withdrawals in retirement are tax-free. This can provide significant long-term tax benefits, especially if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the future.

Reporting Contributions on Your Tax Return

It’s essential to report your Solo 401k contributions accurately on your tax return to claim any available tax benefits and ensure compliance. Pre-tax contributions are reported on Form 1040, reducing your taxable income.

While Roth contributions do not reduce your taxable income, they must be reported to track the basis in your Roth account. Proper reporting ensures you receive the full tax benefits of your contributions and helps avoid potential issues with the IRS.

Common Questions and Misconceptions

Do I Need a W-2 Salary to Contribute to a Solo 401k?

No, as a sole proprietor, you do not need a W-2 salary to contribute to a Solo 401k. Contributions are based on your net profit from self-employment, not a W-2 wage. This means you can still make significant contributions based on your business’s earnings without needing to restructure your income as a salary.

What Counts as Eligible Self-Employment Income?

Eligible self-employment income includes the net profit reported on Schedule C, line 31, minus one-half of your self-employment tax. This adjusted net profit is used to calculate your Solo 401k contributions. Ensuring accurate calculation of your net profit is crucial for maximizing your contributions.

Can I Contribute if My Net Profit is Low?

Yes, you can contribute to a Solo 401k even if your net profit is low. However, the amount you can contribute will be proportionally lower since it is based on your eligible income. During lower profit years, contributions may be modest, but it’s still beneficial to contribute what you can to maintain consistent retirement savings.

How Do I Maximize My Contributions?

To maximize your Solo 401k contributions, keep accurate records to ensure your net profit is correctly calculated. Consult a tax professional to optimize your contributions and tax benefits. Setting up automatic contributions can help you stay consistent and take full advantage of the tax benefits available.

Regularly reviewing your business income and adjusting your contributions can also help you make the most of your Solo 401k.

Practical Steps for Managing Old Accounts


1. Evaluate Your Options

Start by assessing all your old retirement accounts. List out your options such as keeping the account with the former employer, rolling over to an IRA or Solo 401k, or cashing out. Consider the pros and cons of each option in the context of your financial goals and current situation.

2. Consult with a Financial Advisor

A financial advisor can provide valuable guidance on managing your old retirement accounts. They can help you understand the tax implications, rollover procedures, and potential benefits of each option. Professional advice ensures that you make informed decisions that align with your long-term retirement goals.

3. Implement Your Decision

Once you’ve evaluated your options and consulted with a financial advisor, it’s time to implement your decision. If you’re rolling over to a new Solo 401k, follow the steps outlined to set up your new plan and initiate the transfer. If you’re keeping your old 401k or rolling over to an IRA, ensure all paperwork is correctly completed and funds are transferred promptly.

Maximizing Retirement Savings as a Solo Entrepreneur

Consistent Contributions

One of the most important strategies for maximizing your retirement savings is to make consistent contributions. Even during years when business profits are lower, try to contribute regularly. Consistency helps your savings grow over time and takes advantage of compounding interest.

Regular Reviews and Adjustments

Regularly reviewing your retirement accounts and investment strategies is crucial. Market conditions, tax laws, and your financial situation can change, requiring adjustments to your retirement plan. Schedule annual reviews to evaluate your contributions, investment performance, and overall strategy.

Leveraging Solo 401k Benefits

Take full advantage of the benefits offered by your Solo 401k. Maximize both employee and employer contributions to boost your savings. Utilize Roth or Mega Backdoor Roth contributions if beneficial for your tax situation. Remember that Solo 401ks also allow for loan provisions, providing flexibility if you need to access funds.

Taking Control of Your Retirement Future

Managing old retirement accounts and maximizing your Solo 401k contributions as a solo entrepreneur requires careful planning and informed decision-making.

By understanding the tax implications, exploring your options, and making consistent contributions, you can significantly enhance your retirement savings strategy. Take proactive steps today to secure your financial future and ensure a comfortable retirement.

For personalized guidance and more information, talk to an expert at Nabers Group.

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