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Retirement

What Is A Roth Solo 401k? Contribution and Tax Differences Explained

Overview

  • The main difference between the two plans is when and how you get taxed. With a Roth solo 401k, you contribute with after-tax dollars but you pay zero taxes in retirement. With a traditional solo 401k, you contribute with pre-tax dollars, reduce your taxable income for the year, but you get taxed when you withdraw in retirement.
  • The Roth option is only available on the employee side of a solo 401k.
  • For 2022, the maximum contribution limit to the Roth solo 401k is $20,500. If you're at least 50 years old, your contribution limit increases to $27,000. Unlike a Roth IRA, there are no income restrictions.
  • If you're eligible for a solo 401k account, you have access to both options. You can pick which one you want to contribute to.
  • You get to choose how much you want to contribute towards each plan each year. If it makes more sense to ignore the Roth option in order to lower your income tax, you still have the option to maximize your Roth contributions the following year.

The Roth solo 401k is a retirement account for self-employed business owners where contributions are made with after-tax dollars rather than pre-tax dollars. Think of it like a Roth IRA, except you get a much higher contribution limit and there are no income limitations.

Since you’re self-employed, you’re your own boss. You make contributions to the plan as both the employer, and as the employee.

On the employer side of contributions, you have to contribute to a traditional solo 401k. But on the employee side, you also get a Roth option. You get to choose whether you want to contribute to a traditional plan or a Roth plan - called the Roth solo 401k.

A Roth solo 401k is simply a type of solo 401k account - if you qualify for a solo 401k, you have the option to put some of your contributions (not all) into a Roth version of the plan. When you withdraw in retirement, you pay zero taxes since you contributed with after-tax dollars.

Here's how it works, and how it differs from a traditional solo 401k.

The Ocho Solo 401k Plan is a fully managed solo 401k plan with a Roth option, fully managed set up and tax filings, and zero fees on your assets under management. Learn more.

What is a Roth solo 401k?

A Roth solo 401k is essentially a Roth 401k account for the self-employed.

A solo 401k has two different accounts within the plan: A traditional solo 401k account and a Roth solo 401k account.

The main difference between the two accounts is WHEN they get taxed. With a traditional solo 401k, contributions are tax-deferred until retirement. You get a tax deduction for the year, but qualified distributions in retirement are taxed as regular income. With a Roth solo 401k, contributions are taxed as income today. You don't get a tax deduction for the year, but qualified distributions in retirement are entirely tax-free.

Roth solo 401k eligibility

Because a Roth solo 401k is one part of a solo 401k plan, if you qualify for a solo 401k, you qualify for a Roth solo 401k as well.

You're eligible for a Roth solo 401k if:

  • You have any form of self-employment activity.
  • You have no full-time employees (other than your spouse).
  • Your plan provider offers a Roth option within their plan.

Whether you have a full-fledged business or just a weekend side hustle, there are no income limits with a Roth solo 401k. It doesn't matter if you make a $100 per week, or six-figures per month. All income levels are eligible.

However, per solo 401k rules, you must not have any full-time employees that work over 1,000 hours per year in your business. The only exception to this rule is your spouse.

Are all business entities eligible?

Yes. Your business entity does not matter. Whether you run your business as a sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership, C corporation or S corporation, all structures qualify for a Roth solo 401k.

Benefits and tax-advantages of a Roth solo 401k

Because a Roth solo 401k is a part of a regular solo 401k account, the benefits and tax-advantages are essentially the same.

Investing through a Roth solo 401k gives you the highest Roth contribution limits, tax-free compounding, freedom to invest in any asset class, and loan and rollover options.

When compared to a traditional solo 401k, the main different is that you contribute with after-tax dollars for the Roth version, and pre-tax dollars for the traditional account.

What can I invest in with a Roth solo 401k?

A solo 401k account gives you complete control over your investments. You can invest in any asset class you want, minus a small list of exceptions.

With a corporate Roth 401k plan, you're limited to whatever investment options the company offers - which are usually just a boring list of mutual funds. With a Roth solo 401k, you can invest in things like individual stocks, real estate, crypto, and private equity.

The only things the IRS doesn't let a Roth solo 401k invest in are:

  1. Collectibles (like art, antiques, and stamps)
  2. S corporation stock
  3. Life insurance investments

If your investments do not fit into these classifications, you're allowed to invest in them through a Roth solo 401k.

Can I invest in crypto with a Roth solo 401k?

Yes. Crypto is classified as property by the IRS and is allowed to be invested in through a Roth solo 401k. In fact, a Roth solo 401k could be an ideal account to invest in volatile assets like crypto since you get tax-free compounding and tax-free withdrawals. Even with enormous gains, you won't have to pay any taxes.

Can I invest in NFTs with a Roth solo 401k?

Technically, you're allowed to invest in NFTs with a Roth solo 401k account. However, it should be avoided since the IRS hasn't provided any clear guidance on how they're classified. As mentioned earlier, a Roth solo 401k is not allowed to invest in collectibles, and NFTs fit the description of a collectible.

Can I invest in real estate with a Roth solo 401k?

Yes, investing in real estate through a Roth solo 401k can provide major tax savings. Because a Roth solo 401k has tax-free compounding, you don't pay any taxes on gains and income earned. For example, if you purchase a rental property with a Roth solo 401k, you won't have to pay any taxes on rental income or when you sell the property for a profit. All profits go straight back into your Roth solo 401k account.

However, keep in mind that any real estate purchased through a Roth solo 401k must be as investments. You cannot purchase real estate through your plan for personal use. There are strict rules around prohibited transactions for real estate investments.

Roth Solo 401k vs Traditional Solo 401k Plan

The biggest difference with the two plans is how and when you get taxed. To make things easier, just think of it as pre-tax (traditional) vs after-tax (Roth).

  • With the traditional plan, you don’t pay taxes now, but you pay taxes in retirement. 
  • With a Roth plan, you pay taxes now, but you don’t pay any taxes in retirement.

In a traditional solo 401k plan, you contribute money to your account with PRE-TAX dollars. You get a tax-deduction for the year by reducing your taxable income. However, you’re going to have to pay taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement.

In a Roth solo 401k plan, you contribute money to your account with AFTER-TAX dollars. You won’t get get any tax breaks for the year you contribute, but you pay zero taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement.

For example, let’s say you made $80,000 this year and decide to put in $10,000 into your solo 401k account.

  • With a Roth solo 401k plan, your taxable income for the year would still be $80,000.
  • With a traditional solo 401k plan, your taxable income for the year would be $70,000 ($10,000 tax-deduction).

Which one you choose depends on if you want to pay taxes now, or later in retirement.

Which one’s better?

There’s no right answer, and it entirely depends on anyone’s given situation, and if you think you'll be in a higher tax bracket in the future.

In general, having your money grow for years with tax-free compounding, and then getting to keep the entire thing when you withdraw usually works out to be the better choice, by a significant margin.

Let’s go through a simple example (with a BIG number just for fun).

Let’s say at retirement, the total assets in your solo 401k is $10 million. 

  • If you invested through a Roth solo 401k, you’ll pay zero taxes. That moolah is ALL YOURS.
  • If you invested through a traditional solo 401k, you could end up owing millions of dollars in taxes, depending on tax rates at the time and what tax bracket you fall under.

For some people, going the Roth route is a no brainer. For others, getting a tax-deduction now could be more important.

Are eligibility rules the same for both?

Yes. You don't have to apply to each one separately. Once you set up a solo 401k plan, you have access to both a traditional solo 401k and a Roth solo 401k.

Because a Roth solo 401k is just a special type of solo 401k account, you need to qualify for a solo 401k first in order to consider contributing to a Roth option of the plan.

There are only two requirements:

  1. You must have self-employed business activity.
  2. You must not have any full-time W-2 employees that work over 1,000 hours per year in your business (excluding your spouse).

All business entities are eligible whether you're a sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership, C corporation, or S corporation.

If you're eligible to open a solo 401k, there are no other special requirements or separate applications to open a Roth solo 401k account. The option just comes with it. However, it's important to note that not all solo 401k plan providers offer a Roth option.

How about withdrawal rules?

They're the same, as well. With both plans, you have to wait until you're 59½ in order to withdraw from your account without any penalties. If you withdraw early, you're subject to a 10% fee and you have to pay taxes on however much you take out.

As mentioned earlier, the only difference in withdrawal rules is how they're taxed. Roth withdrawals won't be taxed, since you contributed with after-tax dollars. Withdrawals from your traditional solo 401k will be taxed according to your tax bracket and the tax rate at the time of withdrawal.

How much can I contribute into a Roth solo 401k?

In a solo 401k, employees are allowed to contribute 100% of their income, up to the allowable limit of $20,500 in 2022. If you’re at least 50 years of age, you also get an additional $6,500 in catch-up contributions, which brings your total contribution limit to $27,000.

In comparison, a Roth IRA plan has a total contribution limit of just $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re over the age of 50). A Roth retirement account can provide huge tax savings at the time of withdrawal. The ability to contribute over three times as much to a Roth solo 401k plan over a Roth IRA plan is one of the biggest tax advantages of a solo 401k.

You can contribute the full amount into a Roth solo 401k, a traditional solo 401k, or divide it up into both.

You don’t only have to choose one or the other. You can allocate a certain percentage into a Roth solo 401k, and then put the rest towards a traditional solo 401k.  This could be especially useful if can help lower your taxable income enough to drop you a tax-bracket for the year.

Contributing to both the traditional solo 401k and Roth solo 401k

Another benefit of growing a large nest egg in both accounts is that you can choose which account to withdraw from during retirement.

If your income tax bracket is going to be high for the year, you might want to withdraw from your Roth solo 401k and pay zero taxes. If your income drops, you might choose to take advantage of the lower tax bracket and make a withdrawal from your traditional solo 401k account.

Can I change my allocations each year?

Yes, just because you decide to go full Roth this year, it doesn't mean that you're locked into your choice for the life of your account.

You get to choose your allocation year by year. If you prefer to ignore the Roth option in order to reduce a hefty income tax bill for this year, you still have the option to make maximum contributions to your Roth solo 401k next year.

It all depends on what makes sense for any given year.

Breaking It Down

The only thing you need to remember is that there are two kinds of solo 401k accounts available on the employee side: A pre-tax account (traditional) and an after-tax account (Roth).

With a solo 401k, you have access to both. And you can choose to allocate to either one, or both. Which one you choose depends on what makes the most sense for you for a given year.

You get to decide how much to contribute to each one every year, so you're not locked in for life to any single choice.

If your income is high, and getting a tax-deduction would help you, then contributing towards a traditional solo 401k account would make more sense. If you don't necessarily mind paying taxes on the income, and want to maximize your tax-free nest egg for retirement, then a Roth solo 401k might be the better option.

The Ocho Solo 401k Plan comes with a Roth option, easy account setup, managed tax filings, and zero fees on your assets under management. Learn more.

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