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Solo 401k vs. SEP IRA Contribution Limit Example For $50,000 Income

I use a Solo 401k plan because it lets you contribute the most tax-deferred money for a modest amount of self-employed income. At the end of each year, I can more clearly estimate my total income for 2019 and thus my maximum contribution limits. There are several online calculators out there (try Dinkytown or BCM Advisors), although I would cross-check your answers to make sure they agree. Your Solo 401k contribution has two components:

  • Employee salary deferral contribution. Employees may defer up to 100% of their compensation, up to $19,000 for the 2019 tax year ($25,000 for employees age 50 or older).
  • Employer profit sharing contribution. Employers may contribute up to 25% of compensation (sole proprietorships must make a special calculation), up to a combined total of $56,000 for the 2019 tax year ($62,000 if age 50 or older).

Here are some sample numbers if you are under age 50 with $50,000 in Schedule C income as an unincorporated sole proprietorship. The numbers are a bit tricky because you have to do things like take out half of the self-employment tax paid, etc. Let the calculator figure out the details, but you can still see that the Solo 401k (aka Individual 401k, aka Self-Employed 401k) offers a much higher contribution limit than a SEP IRA or SIMPLE IRA.

Here are some sample numbers if you are under age 50 had a $50,000 W-2 income from your S-Corporation. These numbers are a bit cleaner, as when you run payroll the employer side of payroll taxes are taken out of the employee paycheck.

Being able to defer up to 63% of your income ($31,500 out of $50,000) into tax-advantaged accounts is great for aggressive savers. In addition, both Traditional Pre-tax and Roth versions are allowed for the employee portion of contributions as long as your administrator supports it. Note that if you are already making employee contributions to a 401k-type plan from another job, you are still responsible for staying under the $19,000/$25,000 total cap across all your jobs. If you are consistently maxing out your 401k salary deferral in another job, then it may make more sense to stick with the SEP-IRA as it comes with less paperwork.

Best Interest Rates on Cash – December 2019

Here’s my monthly roundup of the best interest rates on cash for December 2019, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. I track these rates because I keep a full 12 months of expenses as a cash cushion and also invest in longer-term CDs (often at lesser-known credit unions) when they yield more than bonds. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to see how much extra interest you’d earn by moving money between accounts. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 12/9/19.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge megabanks like to get away with 0.01% APY, it’s easy to open a new “piggy-back” savings account and simply move some funds over from your existing checking account. The interest rates on savings accounts can drop at any time, so I list the top rates as well as competitive rates from banks with a history of competitive rates. Some banks will bait you with a temporary top rate and then lower the rates in the hopes that you are too lazy to leave.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
A common question is what to do with a big pile of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, legal settlement, inheritance). My usual advice is to keep things simple and take your time. If not a savings account, then put it in a flexible short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • No Penalty CDs offer a fixed interest rate that can never go down, but you can still take out your money (once) without any fees if you want to use it elsewhere. My eBanc has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 2.00% APY with a $100,000 minimum deposit. Marcus Bank has a 7-month No Penalty CD at 1.90% APY with a $500 minimum deposit. Ally Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.90% APY with a $25,000 minimum deposit. CIT Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.85% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit. You may wish to open multiple CDs in smaller increments for more flexibility.
  • Quontic Bank has a 12-month CD at 2.25% APY ($1,000 minimum).

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, beware that many brokers pay out very little interest on their default cash sweep funds (and keep the difference for themselves). The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are not FDIC-insured, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.72% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 1.60%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 2.06% SEC yield ($3,000 min) and 2.16% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year, so there is more interest rate risk.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 2.05% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 2.15% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

Treasury Bills and Ultra-short Treasury ETFs
Another option is to buy individual Treasury bills which come in a variety of maturities from 4-weeks to 52-weeks. You can also invest in ETFs that hold a rotating basket of short-term Treasury Bills for you, while charging a small management fee for doing so. T-bill interest is exempt from state and local income taxes.

  • You can build your own T-Bill ladder at or via a brokerage account with a bond desk like Vanguard and Fidelity. Here are the current Treasury Bill rates. As of 12/6/19, a 4-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 1.52% annualized interest and a 52-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 1.57% annualized interest.
  • The Goldman Sachs Access Treasury 0-1 Year ETF (GBIL) has a 1.83% SEC yield and the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF (BIL) has a 1.44% SEC yield. GBIL appears to have a slightly longer average maturity than BIL.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between November 2019 and April 2020 will earn a 2.22% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. More info here.
  • In mid-April 2020, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.

Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts
A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with exceptionally high interest rates. The negatives are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. There is a long list of previous offers that have already disappeared with little notice. I don’t personally recommend nor use any of these anymore.

  • The only notable card left in this category is Mango Money at 6% APY on up to $2,500, but there are many hoops to jump through. Requirements include $1,500+ in “signature” purchases and a minimum balance of $25.00 at the end of the month.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with unique risks. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop to near-zero quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. I don’t use any of these anymore, but the Orion offer is worth consideration.

  • Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking (my review) has up to 5.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 if you meet make $500+ in ACH deposits, 12 debit card “signature” purchases, and spend $1,000 on their credit card each month. Orion FCU Premium Checking (my review) has 3.00% APY on balances up to $15,000 if you meet make $500+ in direct deposits and 8 debit card “signature” purchases each month. Find a locally-restricted rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.
  • If you’re looking for a high-interest checking account without debit card transaction requirements, the rate won’t be nearly as high, but take a look at MemoryBank at 0.90% APY.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
CDs offer higher rates, but come with an early withdrawal penalty. By finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider building a CD ladder of different maturity lengths (ex. 1/2/3/4/5-years) such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account. When one CD matures, use that money to buy another 5-year CD to keep the ladder going. Some CDs also offer “add-ons” where you can deposit more funds if rates drop.

  • You could build a CD ladder at Lafayette Federal Credit Union (LFCU) at 3.03% APY for 5-years, 2.78% APY for 4-year, 2.52% APY for 3-year, 2.27% APY for 2-year, and 2.02% APY for 1-year. As with many credit union deals, this likely won’t last long. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization ($10 one-time fee).
  • Andrews FCU still had their special 7-year certificate at 3.05% APY. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization.
  • You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. You may need an account to see the rates. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance and easy laddering, but they don’t come with predictable early withdrawal penalties. The rates are not competitive right now. Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs listed by Fidelity.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? You can buy long-term certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable early withdrawal penalties. I don’t see anything noteworthy. Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a unique guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as a hedge against prolonged deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years. As of 12/9/19, the 20-year Treasury Bond rate was 2.13%.

All rates were checked as of 12/9/19.

Fidelity Charitable Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) Opening Process Review

It took me an extra year to get around to it, but it only took me about 15 minutes to actually open and fund my new Fidelity Charitable Donor-Advised Fund (DAF). I even donated stocks instead of just cash, but the donating appreciated securities … [Read the rest]

Target 10% Off Gift Cards Promo: Sunday, December 8th, 2019

(I apologize to e-mail subscribers who may end up seeing this one-day offer a day late. My RSS to e-mail service only publishes at a set time once per day. You may wish to subscribe to Twitter @mymoneyblog as it offers an option of immediate text … [Read the rest]

IKEA Coupon December 2019: $25 off $125 (12/13-12/15)

IKEA has a new $20 off $125 coupon that is valid for three days only: December 13-15, 2019. Valid on in-store purchases only. You must have an IKEA FAMILY number, which is their loyalty program and free to join. You can view the coupon when … [Read the rest]

Amazon Prime Photos: Free $15 Amazon Credit for First-Time Users

One of the perks of Amazon Prime membership is that you get unlimited cloud storage of your photos in full resolution. Amazon Photos is currently offering targeted users a free $15 Amazon promo credit if you download the Amazon Photos app (iOS, … [Read the rest]

The Double Tax Advantage of Donating Appreciated Stocks Directly

If you own stocks in a taxable brokerage account and make charitable donations, consider donating your stocks this year instead of just writing a check. Why? Given the all-time market highs, your stocks, mutual funds, and/or ETFs probably have … [Read the rest]

This Vanguard Chart Is Why Schwab Bought TD Ameritrade

The big news while I was on vacation was that Schwab bought TD Ameritrade for $26 billion in an all-stock transaction (press release). Well, first Schwab shaved off 17% of TD Ameritrade's value by cutting their trade commissions to zero, and then … [Read the rest]

Giving Tuesday 2019: Double Your Impact With Matching Donations

Tuesday, December 3rd is Giving Tuesday 2019, an international day all about giving support through charities and nonprofits by donating money and goods or volunteering your time. In case you aren't inundated with mailings already, this time of year … [Read the rest]

Amazon Cyber Week 2019: Gift Cards, Apple iPad, MacBook, Samsung, Bose Deals + Stackable Discounts

Updated with new deals. Most recently added: Here are all of the discounted gift cards on Cyber Monday Samsung Galaxy S10 Unlocked 128GB - w/ Free Galaxy Buds now $699.99 Samsung Galaxy Watch Active (40mm) now … [Read the rest]

Healthywage Review: Bet on Yourself, Get Paid To Lose Weight ($100 Prize Bonus)

(Black Friday update: HealthyWage is offering a $100 Prize Boost (special Black Friday link) for a limited-time through 12/6. Look for the banner on top. Talk about making a pitch at a weak point, I'm still digesting Thanksgiving! But … [Read the rest]

Discount Magazines Black Friday Sale 2019

The annual Black Friday Sale has some of their lowest prices of the year. Nice time to either get some gifts or just lock-in cheap pricing for multiple years. For example, Consumer Reports is only $15.99 a year (13 … [Read the rest]