Are you self-employed or run a small business? And if so, do you want to lower your taxes and save for retirement? Have you thought about SEP IRA vs SIMPLE IRA? In this article, we share two great ways you can do this and the difference between SEP and SIMPLE IRA. First through a SEP IRA, and second, through a SIMPLE IRA. At the end, we’ll show you a SEP IRA vs SIMPLE IRA comparison to help you decide which may be best for you.
What is a SEP IRA?
A SEP is an individual retirement account (IRA) that a self-employed person or employer can create. With a SEP IRA, only the employer can make contributions to the account. If you’re self-employed or run a small business, you can set up a SEP IRA with pretty much any financial brokerage institution out there. Examples of this are Vanguard, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, Schwab, E-Trade. SEP stands for Simplified Employee Pension. Here are five great features of a SEP IRA.
What are the advantages of a SEP IRA?
1) It’s tax-deductible. This means if you put in $10,000 into a SEP IRA, then you can deduct $10,000 from your taxable income on your tax return, which translates to a lower tax bill.
2) Investment Choice. This really is the beauty of a SEP IRA compared to a 401(k). With a 401(k), you generally have to choose from 10 or 15 funds that your employer has selected for you. With a SEP IRA, once it’s set up, you can pretty much invest in any ETF or mutual fund that’s publicly available to retail investors out there. So you can even buy individual stocks like Amazon or Tesla if you wanted to.
We aren’t suggesting you should use your SEP IRA to purchase individual stocks, but your investment options are much wider with a SEP. By the way, if you’d like some tips on how to pick individual stocks, make sure you check out our video on four smart steps on how to pick stocks.
3) A SEP IRA is tax deferred. This means you don’t have to pay taxes now on any dividends your investments are generating each month or each quarter. Also, let’s say you bought GameStop for $10 a share and you sold it for $200 a share, you don’t have to pay capital gains taxes on the profit you just made because it’s in a tax-advantaged account. You’ll just need to pay taxes when you take it out during retirement.
4) You don’t need to report anything with the IRS. If you set up a different account, such as a 401(k), you have to do a bunch of paperwork and non-discrimination testing each year. There aren’t the same requirements for a SEP IRA.
5) A SEP IRA has flexibility in terms of how much you can contribute each year. Let’s say last year you put in $10,000 and then this year, you’re feeling like hey, you know what? I want to go to Finland and check out the Northern Lights and maybe bring along and pay for my sibling or my loved one’s costs as well. And maybe I’ll just put $1,000 to my SEP IRA this year. It’s really up to you. It gives you a lot of flexibility.
How do you create a SEP IRA?
There are two main steps to create a SEP IRA.
First, you simply go to, let’s say Vanguard or Fidelity or another financial institution.
Find where it allows you to open an account. You may have to choose an option to see all account types available to find the SEP IRA. Since not everybody can contribute to one, they may not have it on the main screen of options. Then you just follow the instructions afterward to open the account.
The other important thing that you need to do to create a SEP IRA, which many people forget, is you need to fill up what’s called a Form 5305-SEP .
You’re probably now thinking, I thought there wasn’t going to be any paperwork. What is this form that you’re asking me to fill up? Well, it’s only half a page, and pretty straightforward. Don’t get to intimidated about it. You’ll just need to sign and date it. You don’t even need to send it to the IRS. You just file it for your own paperwork so in case you get audited, you have it.
Now, if you read the official IRS website, it’s going to tell you that you can contribute up to 25% of your total salary, up to the IRS maximum. In our experience really, it comes down to roughly just about 18% after adjustments. You just need to take note on exactly how much you can contribute if you want to max out your SEP IRA.
Are there any caveats to a SEP IRA?
The main caveat of a SEP IRA is that technically, it’s the employer making contributions. If you’re self-employed, you’re the employee and the employer, so it’s not a problem. But if you have a W2 employee and let’s say you put in 18% of your salary to your SEP IRA. According to the rules, you as the employer will also have to contribute 18% of your W2 employee’s total salary to his or her SEP IRA. For a lot of small business owners, that’s probably too high of an employee benefit. This is where a SIMPLE IRA comes in.
What is a SIMPLE IRA?
The second option for a small business retirement plan is a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE IRA). Employers (including self-employed), can contribute if they have no more than 100 employees earning more than $5,000 in the preceding year. Employees can have their contributions deducted from their paycheck and that money will grow tax-differed until retirement. If you’re a small business owner and you have a W2 employee, a SIMPLE IRA might be attractive for you. There are five great features of a SIMPLE IRA, which are very similar to a SEP IRA.
What are the advantages of a SIMPLE IRA?
1) A SIMPLE is tax-deductible.
2) A SIMPLE IRA is tax-deferred.
3) It has flexible investment options. If you open it at the right institution, you can pretty much purchase any ETF or a mutual fund that you’d like.
4) The really awesome feature here is being able to offer this as a retirement benefit for your W2 employees. And you might ask, what’s so great about that? Well, there are actually 40 million private-sector employees in this country that do not have access to a retirement plan. So it’s really a big deal setting up a retirement plan that you can contribute to and that you can give the option for your employees to contribute to as well. The cost to you as the employer is really only 2 to 3% of your employee’s salary. You have to provide some type of matching to this SIMPLE IRA. It’s almost like giving your employees a 2 or 3% raise, it’s not that much
5) With SIMPLE IRAs, you don’t have to have a W2 employee to open a SIMPLE. If you’re the sole employee of your practice, you can also contribute to a SIMPLE IRA. You also need to fill up Form 5305-SIMPLE. Again, it’s a really short form, half a page. You don’t need to file with the IRS, just sign, date, and keep it. For 2022, you can contribute up to $14,000 as an employee, plus the matching from the employer. This is up from $13,500 in 2021.
What is the difference between a SEP IRA vs SIMPLE IRA?
A SIMPLE IRA allows the small business owner and the employee to make contributions. In comparison, a SEP IRA only allows business owners to make contributions for themselves and their employees.
Which one is better?
Which one might be best for you if you are self-employed or run a small business? Well, let’s say you’re a high-income earner and your salary is already in the six figures. I’m sure you put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears building your small business or practice. Kudos to you. If your objective is to put as much money in a tax-deferred account as possible, a SEP IRA might be more attractive to you because you can put in a percentage of your salary. Also, another thing that’s going for the SEP IRAs is it’s just much easier to open online.
On the flip side, if you’re building your business right now and have a moderate income, let’s say approximately $40,000, a percentage of that is going to be much smaller. So a SIMPLE IRA might be more attractive to you because it’s an absolute number that you can contribute if your objective is again, to put in as much money as possible in this tax-deferred account. Also, as we mentioned earlier, if you have a W2 employee or are planning to have one, then a SIMPLE IRA might be a better fit for you because your obligation as the employer is going to be much lower compared to a SEP IRA.
We hope that this blog helped you understand SEP IRA vs SIMPLE IRA.
Now, there’s actually another retirement plan for small business owners and self-employed folks that we haven’t talked about. This plan is a solo 401(k) or individual 401(k). And, if you’re interested in climate-friendly investments for your SEP IRA or SIMPLE IRA, make sure you check out our video on fossil fuel-free investing.
Alvin Carlos, CFP®, CFA is an investment advisor and fee-only financial planner, in Washington, D.C that works with clients across the country. He has a Master’s degree in International Relations from SAIS-Johns Hopkins. Alvin is a partner of District Capital, a financial planning firm designed to help professionals in their 30s and 40s achieve their financial goals through smart investing, reducing taxes, retirement planning, and maximizing their money. Schedule a free discovery call to learn how we can help elevate your finances.