SBO 401(k)

What Is an SBO 401(k)?

An SBO 401(k) is a tax-deferred, government-registered retirement savings plan that is specially designed for small business owners (SBOs). Eligible participants for an SBO 401(k) are businesses that employ the business's owners and their spouses. The business must not have any other eligible employees. It is also known as an independent 401(k).

Key Takeaways

  • An SBO 401(k) is a tax-deferred, government-registered retirement savings plan for small business owners (SBOs).
  • Only businesses that employ the business owners and their spouses, and no other employees, are eligible for an SBO 401(k).
  • For 2021, the contribution limit for an SBO 401(k) is $19,500 (increasing to $20,500 in 2022). If you are age 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,500 in 2021 and 2022.
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Introduction To The 401(K)

Understanding an SBO 401(k)

An SBO 401(k) provides self-employed small business owners the opportunity to participate in a tax-deferred retirement savings plan. These types of savings plans may be either self-directed or professionally managed.

As with standard 401(k) plans, the contribution limit for 2021 is $19,500 (increasing to $20,500 in 2022). Additionally, catch-up contributions are allowed for those age 50 and above who have SBO 401(k)s; up to $6,500 for both 2021 and 2022. Contributions made to the plan as an employer are also tax-deductible, which can help to save the sole proprietor a great deal in taxes.

The SBO 401(k) offers many of the same features as a Keogh plan or a SEP IRA, but an independent 401(k) can be cheaper to establish and maintain, and loans are often allowed against an independent 401(k). The major drawback to the independent 401(k) is that no outside employees can be hired or the window of applicability closes.

SBO 401(k) Versions

There are two versions of the individual 401(k) plan: a traditional version and a Roth version. With the traditional version, your tax-deferred money is only taxed when it is withdrawn; the Roth version involves putting away after-tax money and allowing it to grow tax-free with no taxes owed on withdrawals.

You can use financial calculators to help determine the best option for you between the two versions of the individual 401(k) plan. It is also possible to opt for both and divide contributions between the two plans.

The amount you can contribute to these plans is appealing. "The highlight of the Self-Employed 401(k) is the ability to contribute to the plan in two ways," notes investment giant Fidelity. Here's how these two contribution routes work:

  • As an employee: For 2021, you can make deferrals of your salary up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you're age 50 or over. For 2022, these numbers are $20,500 and $27,000.
  • As an employer: In addition to your annual employee contribution, you can also contribute up to 25% of your compensation to your SBO 401(k).

Note that the maximum yearly contribution from both sources is $58,000 for 2021 ($64,500 with the catch-up contribution). For 2022, the maximum contribution from both sources is $61,000 ($67,500 with the catch-up contribution).

In addition, notes Fidelity, "If your business is not incorporated, you can generally deduct contributions for yourself from your personal income. If your business is incorporated, you can count the contributions as a business expense."

What Are the Contribution Limits for a One-Participant 401(k) Plan?

The annual contribution limit for a one-participant 401(k) plan is $19,500 in 2021. This amount increases to $20,500 in 2022. For both years, if you are 50 and over, you can contribute an additional $6,500.

How Do I Open and Set Up a One-Participant 401(k)?

You can open a one-participant 401(k) with a broker, and this can easily be done online. You will need your employer identification number (EID) to get started. You will fill out the account information and sign a plan adoption agreement and then select your investments.

Can I Have More Than One 401(k) Plan?

Yes, technically you can have more than one 401(k) plan. For example, you can have a 401(k) plan with your employer, and if you also have your own business, you can have a one-participant 401(k) plan. However, you cannot exceed the contribution limits as defined by the IRS. The contribution limit applies to all of your 401(k)s in aggregate.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Fidelity Investments. "Understanding the Self-Employed 401(k)." Accessed Dec. 5, 2021.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "One-Participant 401(k) Plans." Accessed Dec. 5, 2021.

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