Because you wear so many hats as a small business owner, it’s easy to let things like planning for retirement fall to the wayside.

You’re busy managing the day-to-day operations, following up with customers—doing so many things that require your attention right now.

And retirement is a long way off anyway, so it can wait. Right?

Wrong. According to many financial planners and CPAs, putting off your retirement planning can be a costly mistake.

I asked around to see what their best advice was for entrepreneurs and small business owners who need insight into retirement planning. Their responses provide several options for small business owners based on their unique positions.

The Basics

Before we get into recommendations from sources, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the four main options entrepreneurs might consider for retirement planning. They are:

Simple IRAs

These are retirement plans that can be established by employers or self-employed individuals that allow eligible employees to contribute part of their pretax earnings to the plan. There is no taxation on the money until it is withdrawn from the account.

Cap: $12,000/year if under 50 years old, $14,500 if 50+


Simplified employee pension individual retirement agreements (SEP IRAs) can be used by businesses and self-employed individuals. These are a type of traditional IRAs whose contributions are tax-deductible. The funds in a SEP IRA are not taxed until withdrawn.

Cap: 25% of compensation or $53,000 for 2015

Solo 401(k)s

These plans are strictly for sole proprietors who have no employees. Money contributed is on a pre-tax bases and is tax-deferred (meaning it’s only taxed when you withdraw it.)

Cap: $17,500/year if under 50 years old, $23,000 if 50+

Contributory IRAs (Roth or Traditional)

These IRAs are funded not by rollover, but by contributions from the owner.

Cap: $5,500/year if under 50 years old, $6,500 if 50+

Note: Deferring tax rates to a later date may mean you have to pay higher tax rates in the future when withdrawn.

This is a very brief summary of just four possible retirement planning options. For a full list and additional resources, visit the IRS website.

But now that you have a foundation of understanding about a few possible routes, let’s look at the specific advice we gathered from professionals.

Consider Your Income Level

Based on the types of retirement planning options above, Mark Zoril, Founder of PlanVision, recommends looking at your income level to choose the best route.

I gave him two types of entrepreneurs to consider (both with low expenses and overhead):

**1) Making $50,000-$100,000/year **

2) Making $100,001-$150,000/year

He suggests, 'For Group 1, a Standard IRA may be fine if they do not want to save more than the cap. However, if they want to put in up to 20% of their net income (which could be a lot more) then I suggest a SEP IRA.  SEP IRA's are very, very simple.  No filing requirements at all - just need to fill out a simple IRS form.'

And then for Group 2, 'I would consider doing the Solo 401k.  It is more complex, but they would normally be able to contribute more and has a loan feature as well.'

Keep in mind that these suggestions work for 1 person firms OR for businesses where there is a husband and wife--otherwise, they do not apply.

Start Early

Getting an early start on saving for retirement means you have more time to build up earnings over time. But for those who haven’t begun saving yet, Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Ilene Davis suggests starting right away.

'A good way to start out is by setting aside at least 10% of your annual profits or at least $5 a day—whichever is greater,' she said.

However, there are many variables a small business owner needs to consider when choosing a plan. For one-man operations, she offers a few suggestions:

'Sole Proprietors have many options for great plans that can reduce taxes, but which is best depends on the amount of income and how much one plans to invest through the year. If the amount to be invested is less than the maximum IRA contribution ($5,500 or $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older), I recommend using an IRA because it has no real hassle. If it’s more than 25% of their net income, then a SIMPLE IRA is another option because it allows a dollar limit versus a percentage limit.'

Life Insurance

Much of retirement planning hinges on where one is at in life—both in regard to age and the stage of business. Tim Holt, a CFP with The Holt, recommends different avenues for those varied positions.

'If an entrepreneur is still young, then a 401(k) plan variant may be the answer. If older (45+), then larger deductions can be found with a defined benefit pension plan. But If the entrepreneur is still in the start up or growth phase, or maybe is a serial entrepreneur, then the use of a properly structured cash value life insurance policy may be just the ticket: Tax free growth, the ability to borrow the money back and money to pay off debts in the event of an untimely death.'

You may be asking yourself, 'Life insurance? As a form of retirement planning? Really?' But Holt goes on to explain:

'The fact that a large number of policies are never held to maturity makes the insurance companies profitable and keeps rates low enough that sophisticated buyers working with competent agents can take advantage of an amazing product that can be customized to their specific situation. Any entrepreneur worth her salt should look into this and see if it isn't the right answer for her needs.'

Exit Plans

In addition to traditional retirement fund contributions, many small business owners prepare for retirement by creating an exit plan that allows them to sell their business.

David Williams, Director of Planning Services at Wealth Strategies Group, recommends developing a five-year exit strategy that positions the business for sale or creates an income stream that supports the owner throughout retirement.

'For many entrepreneurs, the majority of their wealth is tied up in their business. It is hard for them to separate enough assets from the business to have retirement assets outside of it,' he said.

Because of this fact, selling the business liquefies those tied-up financial assets and creates funds to live off during retirement.

However, don't put all of your retirement eggs in this basket. If you can't sell your business and this is your sole form of retirement planning, you may find yourself stuck with few options.

Other Options

Aside from these suggestions, I heard from many entrepreneurs who chose to take their retirement planning advice from popular voices and resources in the retirement planning industry. Recommendations included:

Using these resources, some entrepreneurs continue to follow their own path and create a plan that fits their needs all on their own.

The Bottom Line

A common theme ran through all of the research I studied and all of the comments from certified professionals I spoke with: Start planning (and contributing) to a retirement plan—today.

There are many different options for small business owners looking at retirement planning options that can suit various needs based on your unique position, but the longer you put it off, the more opportunities you miss out on.

What about you? What other suggestions for retirement planning would you recommend to small business owners?