A Small Business Owner’s Guide to Retirement Planning

Retirement planning is a cornerstone of financial security, yet for small business owners with big responsibilities, it can often seem like an unreachable goal.

With the complexities of managing operations, handling finances, and striving for growth, planning for retirement can easily take a back seat as a business owner. However, neglecting retirement planning can have significant consequences, such as jeopardizing your retirement years, and even the financial future of your heirs.

Whether you’ve decided to take the leap as a later-life entrepreneur or you’ve been running a family business for generations, it’s crucial to take proactive steps toward financially securing your golden years.

This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the intricacies of retirement planning specifically tailored to small business owners. Let’s get started.

Understanding Your Retirement Options

As a small business owner, you have several retirement planning options to choose from, each with its own benefits and considerations. Common options include:

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA:

This plan allows you to contribute to your own retirement account as well as those of your employees. Contributions are tax-deductible and the plan is easy to set up and administer, making it a popular choice for small businesses.

  • Simplicity & Flexibility: SEP IRAs can require less maintenance than a 401(k), and annual contributions aren’t mandatory.
    Iowa Fiduciary
  • Tax Advantages: Business owners can deduct contributions made to their SEP IRA and those to employees’ accounts, while potential growth remains tax-deferred. Withdrawals are taxable as ordinary income, including during retirement. Since 2023, owners and employees may opt for Roth contributions, offering tax-free distributions if requirements are met.
  • Tax Credits: Small business owners may get a tax credit for the startup costs of small employer plans. Up to 100% of qualified costs over three years are eligible. Employers with up to 50 employees can receive a 100% credit, while those with 51 to 100 employees may get a 50% credit. Costs include plan setup, administration, and employee education. An extra credit of up to $1,000 per employee based on employer contributions may apply. The full extra credit applies to employers with up to 50 employees, phasing out for those with 51 to 100 employees, with exceptions based on employee wages.


  • Immediate Vesting: This type of plan does not allow business owners to require that employees work for a certain number of years before their contributions are vested, so it does not provide as much of an incentive to stick with the company as plans like 401(k)s do, where such requirements are allowed. With a SEP IRA, contributions become 100% vested immediately.


The SIMPLE IRA is tailored for sole proprietors and small businesses with 100 or fewer employees, offering a cost-efficient retirement savings option. Business owners should stay updated on IRS contribution limits, which can change yearly. Employers must make annual contributions, choosing between a 100% matching contribution of up to 3% of employee compensation or a nonelective contribution of 2% of compensation. Investment options typically include stocks, bonds, ETFs, and mutual funds, varying by IRA provider.

  • Cost & Easy Setup: Plan setup or administrative fees for a SIMPLE IRA vary by provider, though some companies don’t charge for this. SIMPLE IRAs generally require less administrative upkeep than 401(k)s.
  • Tax Advantages: Business owners and their employees may be able to elect for SIMPLE IRA contributions to be made on a Roth (after-tax) basis when contributed and tax-free qualified distributions provided applicable requirements are satisfied.
  • Tax Credits: Small business owners can benefit from a tax credit for startup costs of employer plans. Up to 100% of qualified costs may receive a three-year credit, with 100% for employers with up to 50 employees and 50% for those with 51 to 100 employees. These costs cover plan setup, administration, and employee education. An extra credit of up to $1,000 per employee based on employer contributions may apply, with full credit for employers with up to 50 employees and phased out for those with 51 to 100 employees. Exceptions apply based on employee wages.
  • Relatively Lower Contributions Limit Than a 401(k): If a business owner and their employees wish to maximize the money they save for retirement and potentially reduce their tax benefits, other plan options may be more beneficial for the business. The pre-tax salary deferral limits in a 401(k) are higher.
  • Eligibility Requirements: Small business owners are generally not permitted to make contributions to a SIMPLE IRA plan if they contributed to any other qualified plan in the same year. An employer generally cannot maintain a SIMPLE IRA if it has more than 100 employees with $5,000 or more in compensation during the preceding calendar year.

Solo 401(k):

Designed for self-employed individuals without employees, a Solo 401(k) allows you to contribute as both an employer and an employee, potentially allowing for higher contribution limits compared to other retirement plans.

Iowa FiduciaryAdvantages
  • Tax Advantages: Sole proprietors can make pre-tax elective deferrals up to the annual limit, reducing both personal and company taxable income. Investment growth within the solo 401(k) is tax-deferred. Additionally, they can opt for a Roth 401(k) setup, where contributions are after-tax but earnings aren’t taxed upon qualified withdrawals after age 59½, disability, or death, provided five years have passed since the first contribution.
  • Borrowing: If the plan allows for this option, they may be able to borrow from their plan account.
  • Early Withdrawals: In certain situations, such as a qualified birth or adoption or a qualified disaster distribution, it is possible to take an early withdrawal from a solo 401(k) plan account without owing any additional tax. However, sole proprietors will have to pay taxes at their current tax rate to do so.
  • Paperwork: Over time, administering a plan can require a fair amount of paperwork, including filing Form 5500 annually with the IRS and Department of Labor when the plan’s total assets and the assets of other one-participant plans at the end of the plan year are more than $250,000.

Small Business 401(k):

This is a retirement savings plan tailored for businesses with fewer than 100 employees. It offers employees the opportunity to make pre-tax contributions, and employers may choose to match contributions, providing tax advantages for both parties.

  • Tax Advantages: Employer contributions to a 401(k) plan are deductible up to 25% of aggregate employee compensation for the tax year, considering only a capped amount of compensation per employee. The capped amount is specified in the federal tax code and adjusted annually by the IRS. In addition, certain administrative costs and other plan expenses may be deductible.
  • Tax Credits: Small business owners can access a tax credit for startup costs of small employer plans from January 1, 2023. Up to 100% of qualified startup costs may receive a three-year credit, with 100% for employers with up to 50 employees and 50% for those with 51 to 100 employees. Costs cover plan setup, administration, and employee education, with a potential additional credit of up to $1,000 per employee based on employer contributions to eligible plans. Exceptions apply based on employee wages.
  • Paperwork: The potential downside of a 401(k) is that it does require some administrative work. For instance, plans must perform certain annual tests to make sure the contributions made and benefits under the plan do not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees. Many small businesses hire a third-party administrator to help keep up with IRS requirements, which adds to the cost of managing the plan. 

Creating a Retirement Savings Plan as a Small Business Owner

Iowa FiduciaryAs a team of experienced Fiduciaries, Johnson Wealth and Income Management understands the importance of a strategic approach for business owners preparing for retirement. Here are the essential steps we recommend for creating a comprehensive retirement savings plan:

  • Set Achievable Retirement Goals: The first step in every effective retirement plan is setting goals. This includes determining your desired retirement age, savings target, lifestyle preferences, etc. Consider potential scenarios, such as selling your business or a decrease in business income. Utilize tools like retirement calculators or consult a financial advisor to assess your needs. Early planning can help determine the most suitable retirement strategy to achieve your financial objectives.
  • Assess Your Business’s Values: Recognize that your business is a valuable asset that can significantly impact your retirement strategy. Conduct a thorough assessment of your business’s value, considering factors such as market trends, asset valuation, and potential sales strategies. Consider seeking guidance from financial professionals to help navigate the complexities of selling your business and mitigate tax implications.
  • Develop a Succession Plan: It’s essential to create an exit strategy for when you retire. This could mean identifying successors and creating outlines for a smooth transition process. Consider providing training and mentorship opportunities for your successor and formalizing business practices to help ensure continuity in operations.
  • Diversify Your Investments: Protect your retirement savings by diversifying your investment portfolio across various assets and savings vehicles. Adjust your risk tolerance as you approach retirement age to safeguard your hard-earned gains and prioritize stable investments such as mutual funds, ETFs, and bonds.
  • Regularly Review and Make Adjustments:  Life is dynamic, and your retirement plan should evolve accordingly. Regularly review and update your retirement strategy to reflect changes in your circumstances, financial goals, and market conditions. Stay proactive in making necessary adjustments to help ensure your retirement plan remains aligned with your aspirations.

How Johnson Wealth and Income Management Can Help

Iowa FiduciaryJohnson Wealth and Income Management understands the unique challenges and opportunities that small business owners in Iowa face when planning for retirement. Our dedicated team is experienced in tailoring comprehensive retirement plans that address the specific needs and goals of small business owners. We offer personalized guidance to assess your current financial situation, set achievable retirement goals, and develop a strategic savings and investment strategy. 

Whether you’re considering selling your business, creating a succession plan, or maximizing retirement savings options, we provide advice and support every step of the way. With Johnson Wealth and Income Management, you can navigate the complexities of retirement planning with confidence, knowing that your financial future is in capable hands.

Contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation. 

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