Is your to-do list filled with important things that are buried by urgent tasks? Or easier and/or quicker tasks?
Ostensibly, this article is about how a work-at-home parent opens a SEP-IRA (or any other type of self-employed retirement account). But also, once again, I realized that most tasks just aren’t as difficult as I imagine them to be.
When I wanted to open a self-employed retirement account
I’ve been working as an independent contractor since 2010, along with working a full-time job. While I had access to a work retirement plan, I didn’t consider opening any other retirement plans. Instead, I continued to contribute to my full-time job’s retirement plan. Then, in 2014, my resignation from my regular job meant that I no longer had access to a retirement plan.
Yeah, I know I should save for retirement, but…
And that meant I had to find another option. Right?
At first, I was in no rush. I had been saving for retirement for about 13 years and my retirement accounts had healthy balances.
But then I started to feel weird. For 13 years, I had been saving for retirement. And most of all, I didn’t want to get into the habit of not saving.
I should be doing something. But what?
Should I just contribute more to my current IRAs? Or, since my self-employment income had really taken off, should I look at the self-employment options?
I didn’t know which decision was the right one, so I didn’t open an account.
Ready, aim, fire — maybe not
And, folks, that’s the first hidden lesson. Take action first. You can self-correct later. Because I was afraid of making the wrong decision, I didn’t save anything for retirement for 17 months. In fact, I still haven’t saved anything, but more on that in a minute.
Periodically over the 17 months, I searched for information on different self-employment plans and learned a little about SEP-IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, and individual 401(k)s. And every couple of months, I told myself, You know, you really should figure that retirement thing out.
And here’s another one of my secrets. Sometimes I commit to writing articles for GRS just to make myself take action on something. So I said to our editor, “I think we need an article on retirement savings for self-employed people.”
She said, “Yes,” and here we are.
Developing criteria for the best self-employment retirement plan
But here’s what happened first. With a looming deadline, I took about 10 minutes of final research to figure out whether a SEP-IRA, SIMPLE IRA, or individual 401(k) was better for me. Truly, I am not sure I optimized my decision, but here’s what I do know: Having a good retirement plan is better than not having one.
As I did my research, my toddler was crying, my 5th grader was practicing his trombone, and my 8-year-old whined about her homework. You can imagine that my attention was drawn to words like “uncomplicated,” “simple,” and “easy to set up.”
According to my brief research, since I have no employees, any retirement plan I could choose has no reporting requirements. Also, I learned that individual 401(k)s have (way) higher contribution limits but more complicated paperwork and, depending on the broker, may also have higher administration costs. Both SEP-IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs promised to be easy to set up, with the SEP-IRA coming in with higher contributions limits, in general. I chose the SEP-IRA.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, Vanguard’s website describes the three different major retirement plans with the pros and cons of each.
Where to open your self-employed retirement account?
Next, I had to find a broker. The looming deadline for this post also trimmed my decision-making process here. I went with Vanguard because:
- A) I have heard they usually have the lowest fees and …
- B) … their website promised to take just minutes to set up a SEP-IRA.
(Note: This is not a sponsored post of Vanguard. I’m just a regular ol’ person sharing what I actually did.) I have also heard good things about Fidelity.
Vanguard’s website was easy to navigate. Opening the account should have been easy.
A real-life experience opening a SEP-IRA
And it was easy, just a little more complicated than I expected.
First, if speed is also important to you, I recommend having your bank’s routing number and your account number at your fingertips to expedite the process.
All told, it took me about 10 minutes to fill out the information on the website. I did have to save my information and come back to it the next morning. I logged on, completed the application, and read the terms and conditions and other assorted legalese in about six minutes.
Then, I clicked submit … and saw this message: “Technical error — there was a problem with your registration.” Then, the website was unable to verify my identity, so I had to print off the paper copy of the information and snail mail it to Vanguard. It took three minutes to print off and review the paperwork.
The paper copy will be mailed soon. So for now, I still haven’t started contributing.
Just start and change later
While “open retirement account” stared at me from my to-do list, to me it seemed like a Herculean task. While I don’t think the process has gone completely smoothly, here’s how much time I have put into it so far:
Research — 10 minutes
Filling out website information — 10 minutes
Reading terms and conditions — 6 minutes
Print off and review paperwork — 3 minutes
Altogether, it took just 29 minutes.
I know I am not done yet, but 29 minutes?! I should have crossed this off my list long ago.
Have you delayed a task — especially opening a retirement account — because you thought it would be hard to do (only to find out that it’s not)? If you’re self-employed, have you opened a self-employed retirement account? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!
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