A Solo 401(k) allows small business owners to save up to $56,000 for retirement through tax-free salary deferrals and profit-sharing. Choosing the right provider is an important part of successfully using a Solo 401(k). We’ve reviewed many Solo 401(k) providers and compare the best below, including their costs and investment options.
ShareBuilder 401k is an experienced Solo 401(k) provider that allows solopreneurs to maximize their retirement savings at an affordable price. Clients get access to a low-expense, diverse, high-quality fund lineup and an easy to use online portal. Opening a Solo 401(k) with ShareBuilder 401k has a one-time setup fee of $150, and ongoing administration costs start at just $25 per month.
Top 10 Solo 401(k) Providers
(Best Overall) Business owners who want a low-cost, easy to set up Solo 401(k)
Business owners who want an all-online plan with low-cost investments & easy administration
Banking & brokerage services in addition to a Solo 401(k)
Business owners looking for a large network of offices for in-person guidance
People who want to actively trade stock & other securities in their retirement account
Those looking for a traditional provider as an alternative to Vanguard
Owners who want to pick their own brokerage firm
Businesses seeking alternative investment opportunities
Keeping business and investment services under one roof
Owners looking for checkbook control
How We Determined Which Solo 401(k) Provider Is Best
Solo 401(k)s are very different from typical 401(k)s, although the IRS treats them almost the same. People using Solo 401(k)s have very different concerns than most 401(k) users, and choose from very different providers. This is because Solo 401(k) providers have different billing structures, investment options, and add-on services.
We looked at traditional banks and brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, and online alternatives that offer checkbook control. Here are the criteria we used to determine the best Solo 401(k) providers:
- Ease of setup: How easy is it to set up a plan, automate contributions, and administer an account.
- Investment options: The flexibility given investors to seek returns in mutual funds, stocks, bonds, ETFs, or alternative assets.
- Costs: The expenses related to account implementation, maintenance, and trading.
- Customer service: The availability of assistance or individual guidance, and how easy is it for clients to make changes in their account.
- Additional services available upon request: What other services are offered by providers that might be beneficial, in addition to a Solo 401(k).
After looking at all of the criteria, if you already have a relationship with a provider, they’re probably your best option. If not, we recommend Vanguard and ShareBuilder 401k as the best Solo 401(k) providers. Both are extremely reputable companies that offer Solo 401(k) plans with a wide array of investment options at incredibly low costs.
Vanguard: Best Overall Solo 401(k) Provider
Vanguard is the best overall Solo 401(k) provider because it’s an extremely reputable company that offers no-frills, low-cost investments. The largest mutual fund company in the world, Vanguard provides simple, straightforward plans with access to more than 100 professionally managed funds. Though it lacks additional services and other investment options, Vanguard provides clients with generous cost savings for Solo 401(k)s.
What Vanguard Offers
Vanguard is the largest mutual fund company in the world, managing more than $4.5 trillion in assets. Its family of funds includes more than 100 professionally managed mutual funds that are ideal for any investor. Moreover, Vanguard has a great reputation as a well-established firm, and is able to offer great solutions at incredibly low cost.
Vanguard offers proprietary funds to all of its retirement account customers at a low cost. In a Solo 401(k) set up through Vanguard, investments options include the following Vanguard funds:
- Money market mutual funds: Money market funds invest in CDs and short-term debt to provide investors with a small interest rate and high liquidity.
- Bond funds: Debt-focused mutual funds include a portfolio of bonds designed to provide the portfolio with interest income.
- Equity funds: Equity funds aim for price appreciation by concentrating investments in small-, mid-, or large-cap stocks.
- International funds: In contrast to domestic funds, international funds focus investments in foreign assets to benefit from currency fluctuations.
- Target date funds: Vanguard has some of the best target date funds in the industry, which are funds that automatically shift from stocks to safer investments like bonds as you get closer to your target retirement age.
Vanguard offers a very straightforward, cost-efficient Solo 401(k) product that provides investors with access to more than 100 professionally managed mutual funds. It is the ideal provider for self-employed individuals who want to save on costs and stick to passive investing. Vanguard does not provide additional services such as loan facilities, checkbook control, or even standard banking services.
Vanguard offers reliable service to clients both online and over the phone. Business owners do not get assigned a representative, but most Solo 401(k) administration is automated and Vanguard does have a team of professionals standing by to help. Vanguard funds are also available through most financial advisers, who can be enlisted to help if you need more guidance or individual attention.
Vanguard Solo 401(k) Costs
Vanguard is extremely straightforward with their Solo 401(k) costs. There are no account maintenance fees or trading costs, which is a big plus. Solo 401(k)s cost just $20 per year for each fund that’s used in the plan. These fees can be waived for account holders who qualify for Flagship Select, Flagship Voyager Select, or Voyager Services.
The typical Vanguard Solo 401(k) costs are:
- Average fund expense ratio: These fees (0.12% per fund) are paid directly for each fund you invest in to cover the costs of trading and fund management.
- Annual fund fees: $20 per year for each fund you use within your Solo 401(k).
What’s Missing With Vanguard
The biggest downside with a provider like Vanguard is the lack of one-on-one guidance. Historically, most mutual fund companies sell their funds through independent financial advisers—not directly to investors. This means that there are no Vanguard offices around the country where investors can get customized financial advice. You may need to enlist the help of an adviser to get more individual attention.
ShareBuilder 401k: Best Solo 401(k) Provider for Low-cost Model Portfolios
ShareBuilder 401k was founded to bring 401(k) plans to the masses, which it does—even for businesses with no employees besides the business owner(s). ShareBuilder 401k offers low-cost plans that can be established and administered completely online; they include low-cost investment options such as index ETFs and model portfolios that are selected by an investment committee comprised of industry professionals.
What ShareBuilder 401k Offers
ShareBuilder 401k is focused on offering low-cost 401(k) plans to small businesses of all sizes. While most 401(k) companies help small business with as few as 10 to 12 employees, ShareBuilder 401k is unique because it can serve small business owners with no employees besides themselves.
ShareBuilder 401k’s investment committee is comprised of industry professionals, and has established a lineup of low-cost investment options including:
- Index ETFs: ShareBuilder 401k provides about 10 low-cost index ETFs that have annual expense ratios of 0.39% or less.
- Model portfolios: Participants can use one or more of ShareBuilder 401k’s five model portfolios, each comprised of mutual funds, ETFs, REITs, and other investments.
ShareBuilder 401k offers 401(k) plans for self-employed individuals as well as businesses with numerous employees. This flexibility makes ShareBuilder 401k an ideal offering for small business owners who may add employees later who could be eligible for their 401(k).
ShareBuilder 401k focuses on helping small business owners with areas such as:
- Plan administration: ShareBuilder 401k administers 401(k) plans and handles all record keeping and IRS testing.
- Investment platform: Participants in plans administered by ShareBuilder 401k can invest in ETFs and model portfolios easily through ShareBuilder 401k’s online platform.
ShareBuilder 401k is ideal for business owners who want a streamlined platform that allows them to establish a Solo 401(k) for a flat fee. ShareBuilder 401k also allows business owners to make contributions, choose investment options, and administer their plan completely online. For those who need assistance, ShareBuilder 401k has a team of professionals who can help small business owners with plan issues as they arise.
ShareBuilder 401k Solo 401(k) Costs
Solo 401(k) plans from ShareBuilder 401k have flat fees that vary based on the number of owners of your business. Plans start at $150 for setup and as little as $25 per month, plus investment-specific fees that are deducted automatically from your account.
ShareBuilder 401k costs for a Solo 401(k) include:
- One-time setup fee ($150): The cost to set up a plan is flat, no matter how many owners your business has who are eligible to participate.
- Plan administration fee ($25 per owner per month): Monthly plan costs vary based on the number of owners your business has who can participate.
- Annual fund fee: Plan participants pay annual investment fees that vary based on the investment options they choose. These fees are deducted directly from participant accounts and range from 0.04% to 0.39% for index ETFs and 0.06% for model portfolios.
What’s Missing With ShareBuilder 401k
ShareBuilder 401k is an excellent Solo 401(k) provider for small business owners who are comfortable setting up a 401(k) plan online and using streamlined, low-cost investment options. However, ShareBuilder 401k doesn’t allow for alternative investment options like individual stocks or bonds that are available from other Solo 401(k) providers.
Charles Schwab: Best Solo 401(k) Provider With Additional Banking Services
Schwab offers a Solo 401(k) that’s ideal for small business owners who need additional brokerage or banking services. As an established, diversified financial services company, Schwab offers clients a full array of services ranging from investment advice to consumer banking, plus a wide range of lending facilities designed to meet every potential need.
What Schwab Offers
Schwab is a one-stop shop for most business owners. If you need business lending or other services in addition to a Solo 401(k), Schwab’s a great option. However, their Solo 401(k) is competitively priced with no account maintenance or service fees. Solo 401(k)s are charged commissions of $4.95 for each trade, plus an expense ratio on some mutual funds. Trading is free for Schwab ETFs.
Once you’ve set up a Solo 401(k) and started contributing, you have access to a number of different types of investments through Schwab. Some of the typical types of investments available in a Schwab Solo 401(k) include:
- Stocks: Stocks of individual companies traded on exchanges or over the counter that can be actively traded within a Schwab account.
- Bonds: Individual bonds issued by companies, countries, or municipalities that can be actively traded in a Solo 401(k) account.
- Mutual funds: In addition to Schwab’s proprietary mutual funds, thousands of additional funds are available through their trading platform.
- Target date funds: Like Vanguard, Schwab has its own target date funds and you can also access third-party target date funds through Schwab.
- ETFs: ETFs represent baskets of securities—similar to mutual funds—that trade like normal stocks. Schwab offers their own ETFs at no cost, but also offers thousands of other ETFs on their platform.
The add-on services available to Schwab customers are considerable, though they come with added costs. Online brokerage, business banking, and a full lineup of lending solutions are available to small business owners and the self-employed. Schwab does it all.
Specific additional services include the following:
- Business banking: Schwab is a fully licensed commercial bank that can provide checking and savings accounts, cash management services, and a host of other banking services.
- Lending: As part of its banking group, Schwab can arrange loans for clients who qualify. Schwab also provides margin accounts for those who have savings outside their 401(k) that they want to invest.
- Online securities brokerage: Schwab’s trading platform gives investors access to thousands of stocks, bonds, ETFs, and other traded securities.
- Investment advisory services: If you need individual guidance choosing your investments, Schwab can help to provide specific investment advice based on your individual circumstances.
As a large national provider, Schwab has relatively reliable customer service. The company has offices in some communities around the country. If you live near one of these offices, you can work with an individual representative. Otherwise, you can handle any customer service issues online or over the phone. Some Schwab funds are also available through independent financial advisers, who can be used for more specific guidance if necessary.
Schwab Solo 401(k) Costs
Schwab doesn’t charge monthly or annual account fees, but instead charges account holders commissions for each trade in their account. Trading commissions are $4.95 for U.S. stocks, $4.95 plus 65 cents per contract for options, $5.95 for foreign stocks, and $1 per bond on bond trades. Commissions are also waived for trades in mutual funds and Schwab’s proprietary ETFs. Additional costs are involved for other services, including business banking and lending.
The typical costs you should expect to find for a Schwab Solo 401(k) include:
- Commissions on trades in account: Any time you buy, sell, or trade, you’ll be charged a commission starting at $4.95.
- No commissions on Schwab ETFs: If you only invest in Schwab ETFs, you will not be charged commissions. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay any fees specific to the non-Schwab ETF you want.
- Expense ratio on funds: While Schwab waives commissions on trading in mutual funds, most mutual funds do charge expense ratios to cover the cost of trading and fund management. While 1.5% is the typical expense ratio for available third-party funds, Schwab’s proprietary index funds have expense ratios of under 0.1% per year.
What’s Missing With Schwab
Schwab is a great provider of Solo 401(k)s and other investment services, but the costs of trading commissions can add up quickly for business owners who aren’t careful. If you plan to have regularly scheduled contributions or a lot of trades to diversify your portfolio, Schwab’s commission-based pricing may not be right for you.
Fidelity: Best In-person Solo 401(k) Provider
Fidelity is best for investors who want access to the largest network of nationwide offices where they can get in-person guidance and individualized customer service. However, Schwab also has a large network of offices, and if you have an existing relationship with them, they might be better. Like Schwab, Fidelity is a diversified financial services company that offers a host of services for small businesses that can be customized to suit particular needs.
What Fidelity Offers
Like Vanguard and Schwab, Fidelity offers a basic Solo 401(k) that’s relatively low cost. The big advantage that Fidelity offers over other providers is access to individual guidance through a nationwide network of investor centers.
Investment options through a Fidelity Solo 401(k) include:
- Stocks: Equity shares in companies that are traded on national exchanges and can be actively traded within a Fidelity Solo 401(k) account.
- Bonds: Shares of debt issued by companies and countries that are traded in the secondary market and can be actively traded via Fidelity.
- Mutual funds: Baskets of individual stocks and bonds that are diversified and professionally managed. Fidelity has their own index funds as well as access to third-party funds.
- Target date funds: Like the previous options, Fidelity has target date funds you can invest in, which switch from stocks to bonds as you reach retirement.
- ETFs: Baskets of individual stocks, similar to mutual funds, that are focused in sectors or asset classes and trade on exchanges like stocks. Fidelity has their own ETFs as well as access to third-party ETFs.
- FDIC-insured CDs: Fidelity offers certificates of deposit (CDs), just like you would find at any major commercial bank.
These investment options can be used individually or in combination to follow the investment strategy you decide on. If you need help formulating a long-term investment strategy, one of Fidelity’s representatives can help to assess your individual needs and goals, and come up with a strategy that works for you.
In addition to their core Solo 401(k) offering, Fidelity provides additional services that include:
- Investment advice: If you need help selecting individual investments, you can use Fidelity to get individual guidance.
- Cash management: Fidelity can help you manage your business’ funds with automated contributions and rebalancing.
- Brokerage services: You can trade in stocks, bonds, ETFs, and other securities through Fidelity’s trading platform.
- Education savings plans: Fidelity can help you start a savings plan for a child’s education.
- Annuities: If annuities are part of your retirement savings strategy—separate from your 401(k)—Fidelity can help you purchase an annuity contract.
- Life insurance: Fidelity provides a range of term life, universal life, and long-term care insurance products.
Compared to most national providers—especially cost-efficient providers—Fidelity has excellent customer service. While they don’t have a presence in every community around the country, they have one of the largest networks of investor centers, and business owners can work with an individual rep if they’d like. However, Fidelity also has a call-in center to help with any account administration issues.
Fidelity Solo 401(k) Costs
Like Schwab, Fidelity’s pricing structure skips the annual fees, instead charging commissions of $4.95 on all online trades in U.S. equities. However, there are no fees to establish or maintain Solo 401(k) accounts at Fidelity. Additional services may involve separate fees or commissions, depending on what you decide to use.
While there are no setup or annual account fees, the costs of a Fidelity Solo 401(k) include:
- Commission fees: $4.95 per trade for U.S. equities, $1 per bond for U.S. bond trades.
- International fees: Commissions for trading stocks in 25 foreign markets that vary by country.
- Additional fees for wire transfers and other services: Fidelity charges $10 for cashier’s checks, $15 for returned checks, $10 for bank wires initiated online, and up to 3% for foreign wires.
- ETF and mutual fund expense ratios: Mutual funds and ETFs offered through Fidelity have their own expenses that cover trading and management costs. They start as low as 0.035% for Fidelity index funds.
While other types of transactions and services may involve other costs, there are no hidden fees for Fidelity’s services. All charges will be disclosed before trades are processed or services offered.
What’s Missing With Fidelity
Fidelity is good for customer service and relatively simple retirement plans. However, if you plan to trade frequently in your accounts or take advantage of additional services, these costs can add up quickly.
E-Trade: Best Solo 401(k) Provider for Active Trading
An E-Trade Solo 401(k) is most appealing for small business owners who do a lot of individual stock and bond trading in their accounts. E-Trade started as an online discount brokerage firm, and though they’ve expanded to accommodate different account types, including Solo 401(k)s, online trading for active investors remains their core offering.
What E-Trade Offers
E-Trade offers Solo 401(k)s that give account holders access to online trading in any number of listed securities. E-Trade even gives you full trading access from your phone or mobile device. They have a trading platform that is built around their clients’ needs. E-Trade is good for investors who want access to many types of securities and the ability to trade them actively.
E-Trade opens up investor options within a Solo 401(k) to almost any listed security, including:
- Stocks: Investors can trade in shares in most listed companies through E-Trade.
- Bonds: Though known primarily for trading stocks, E-Trade gives investors access to more than 30,000 types of fixed income products.
- Mutual funds: E-Trade isn’t the best option for mutual funds, but investors on their platform have access to several thousand third-party options.
- ETFs: E-Trade is a good platform for trading ETFs, which are portfolios of individual securities (like mutual funds) that trade like stocks.
- Options: Through E-Trade’s platform, account holders can also trade in options contracts on underlying securities.
In addition to its core offering, E-Trade also offers additional services:
- Lending facility: E-Trade provides investors with loans against their retirement assets.
- Some banking services: E-Trade has a banking arm that provides checking and savings accounts online, in addition to free use of ATMs nationwide.
- Mobile access: As an online provider, E-Trade provides clients with full access to their banking and brokerage services online. They also provide greater flexibility for banking and trading through mobile devices than is typical with most providers.
E-Trade was founded as an online discount brokerage firm focused on giving people quick access to their accounts for low-cost trading. However, E-Trade has built out its services around retirement benefits and other client needs. The firm now grants Solo 401(k) account holders the same degree of trading flexibility and many of the same services. Solo 401(k) users can even borrow against retirement assets—a service usually found in more traditional banking institutions or alternative online providers.
E-Trade is purely an online provider, so customer service can be a problem—especially if you run into complex issues. If you work with E-Trade, you won’t be assigned an individual representative to oversee your account, and you’re never going to get individual investing advice through an office. However, if you’re comfortable using technology and want a good platform for active trading in your Solo 401(k), then E-Trade is a great option.
E-Trade Solo 401(k) Costs
Typical costs for an E-Trade Solo 401(k) include:
- Stocks: $6.95 per trade
- Bonds: $1 per trade
- Mutual funds: Prices vary. Free for over 4,400 funds. Mutual funds also charge expense ratios that start at 0.15% and range up to more than 2% for specialty funds.
- ETFs: $6.95 per trade
- Options: 50 cents to 75 cents per contract, plus $6.95 per trade
E-Trade has historically operated as a discount online brokerage firm, and that remains at the company’s core operations today. Compared to other providers, E-Trade remains very competitive on cost. However, trading still isn’t free, and costs can add up very quickly for account holders who trade too frequently. Day trading isn’t recommended in retirement accounts like Solo 401(k)s, but it’s available with E-Trade for those who really want access.
What’s Missing With E-Trade
Unlike some other providers, E-Trade doesn’t offer much in the way of add-on services. Also, as an online platform, their customer service is characteristically lacking.
TD Ameritrade: Another Traditional Solo 401(k) Option
If you already have an account, TD Ameritrade is a good alternative to Vanguard if you want to set up a Solo 401(k) with a reputable provider. TD offers a wide array of investment options, though at higher costs than other providers. Nevertheless, Solo 401(k)s through TD are inexpensive to administer and easy to set up.
What TD Ameritrade Offers
TD also offers access to online and mobile trading, with a strong lineup of trading tools available to clients. Investors also have access to research that they can use to help guide investment decisions, though individual advice can be difficult to find.
Investment choices for a Solo 401(k) through TD Ameritrade include:
- Stocks: TD clients can trade in listed stocks through their platform.
- Bonds: You can invest in individual bonds issued by companies and countries.
- Mutual funds: TD Ameritrade offers investors access to more than 13,000 mutual funds.
- Target date funds: Like the other full-service providers, TD Ameritrade offers target date funds that adjust to safer investments as you reach retirement age.
- ETFs: Clients can trade in baskets of stocks through TD’s platform.
- CDs: TD offers certificates of deposit (CDs), just like you’d find at any commercial bank.
- Options: Investors can trade in options on various securities through TD.
- Futures: Similar to options, TD Ameritrade also gives investors the ability to trade in futures contracts.
- Currencies: TD’s platform gives clients the ability to trade in individual currencies from around the globe.
When it comes to investment options, TD opens the floodgates for clients, but they all come at a cost. While TD says they help investors navigate investments, investors really need to know what they’re doing before they wade into these tricky waters.
TD Ameritrade offers additional services to Solo 401(k) clients, including:
- In-person advice: TD Ameritrade has offices in some communities around the country, where clients can get individual guidance.
- Cash management: Clients can use TD to manage company accounts and automate retirement plan contributions.
- Managed portfolio products: TD offers some proprietary managed portfolio products for clients seeking a particular investment strategy.
- Annuities: If annuities are part of your retirement planning, TD can help you purchase an annuity contract.
TD Ameritrade has offices around the country and generally strong customer service. If you prefer to work with an individual rep, you can try to go through one of their offices, so TD is a pretty good option if you want in-person help. However, you can also trade and administer your account online if you prefer not to go through one of their offices.
TD Ameritrade Solo 401(k) Costs
TD does not charge annual fees for a Solo 401(k), but typical costs include:
- Trading commissions: $6.95 for U.S. stock trades online; bonds and CDs trade on a net yield basis (so the commission is built into the price of the bond); $6.95 for ETFs that aren’t on their commission-free list; and $50 for no-load mutual funds.
- Paper statements: $2 for accounts with balances under $10,000.
- Outgoing wire transfer fees: $25
- Outgoing full account transfer fee: $75
- Mutual fund expense ratios: Like other providers, mutual funds purchased through TD Ameritrade charge expense ratios that start at less than 0.4%.
Like other providers listed here, TD has an offering that is focused predominantly on trading commissions rather than annual fees. In addition, each additional service typically comes with its own fee. If investors aren’t careful, these costs can add up quickly.
What’s Missing With TD Ameritrade
While TD Ameritrade offers some additional services, it doesn’t have all of the additional banking services available through most traditional institutions (e.g., business banking, lending). The firm has some offices around the country for individual service, but offices are only in select markets. Also, though Solo 401(k)s through TD Ameritrade have no costs, trading commissions are higher than most other providers.
Ubiquity: Best Solo 401(k) for Choosing Your Own Brokerage Firm
Ubiquity was founded in 1999 and was one of the first fee-for-service providers of small business retirement plans in the country. Since its founding, it has helped more than 100,000 people to invest more than $2 billion in retirement savings accounts, including Solo 401(k) accounts and small business accounts.
Pricing for its Solo 401(k) account—called Single(k)—is very affordable, but Ubiquity just manages the plan—participants will need to open a self-directed brokerage account with a third-party broker or custodian.
What Ubiquity Offers
Ubiquity’s Single(k) plan shines in its simplicity and flexibility. You can set up your plan in around 15 minutes and complete the process entirely online. And because you can select any broker or custodian you’d like, you can choose a brokerage that provides access to a wide range of different investment types.
Ubiquity sets up your Solo 401(k) plan and provides assistance with administration, but funds are actually invested with a third-party brokerage or custodian. The array of investment options available to you will depend on which brokerage firm or financial institution you select. You can pick a broker that allows you to invest in many different types of assets, including:
- Stocks: Stock shares give you an ownership stake in individual companies.
- Bonds: Buying bonds allows you to lend to the bond issuer, which is usually a government or business. Bonds provide a predictable income stream and typically present a lower risk, but provide a lower rate of return than stocks.
- Mutual funds: Mutual funds pool your money with other investors and combined funds are used to buy a mix of different assets, such as stocks or bonds. Mutual funds are typically professionally managed by fund managers who research different investment options.
- Exchange traded funds: ETFs also pool investor funds, which are used to buy a mix of different assets. But mutual funds trade more like stocks and can be bought and sold on stock exchanges.
While Ubiquity doesn’t invest your money for you directly, it provides a number of important services and support as you set up and administer your Solo 401(k). Ubiquity creates your plan for you, facilitates contributions (including profit-sharing contributions), administers 401(k) loans if you need to borrow against your retirement account, and offers optional assistance submitting annual tax forms for an additional fee.
Ubiquity makes setting up your Solo 401(k) simple, as you can do the entire process online yourself. However, if you want additional support or assistance, you can contact the plan administrator’s dedicated customer service team either online or via phone. You can connect with customer service through the firm’s 800 number between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time, Monday through Friday.
Ubiquity Solo 401(k) Costs
Single(k) plans start at $215 per year from Ubiquity. You may also pay additional fees, including:
- Commissions to your brokerage firm for buying and selling assets
- Account maintenance fees, if any, charged by the brokerage firm you choose to make your investments
- Fund management fees for mutual funds or ETFs
- Fees for add-on services with Ubiquity, such as tax compliance support
What’s Missing With Ubiquity
The biggest drawback to Ubiquity is that the Solo 401(k) plan administrator doesn’t actually handle investment funds for you. It only facilitates your 401(k) plan, but you still must invest with a broker or custodian. This means you have to set up accounts with both Ubiquity and your broker and deal with two different companies if you have account questions.
IRA Financial: Best Solo 401(k) Provider for Alternative Investments
IRA Financial is different from many other 401(k) plan providers because it is designed to help you invest retirement funds in alternative assets, including real estate and cryptocurrencies. IRA Financial never has any access to your retirement funds, but rather it simply facilitates the setup of your 401(k) plan so you can benefit from tax-advantaged investing. In addition to Solo 401(k)s, IRA Financial Group also allows business owners to invest retirement funds in self-directed IRAs and Rollover Business Startups.
What IRA Financial Offers
IRA Financial offers a self-directed Solo 401(k), so you have almost complete control over what you invest in. With a Checkbook Controlled 401(k), investments can be made tax-free by writing a check, sending a wire, or using the plan provider’s intuitive app. Because of its relationship with Capital One, IRA Financial is also able to assist you in opening a checking account, which many other Solo 401(k) providers cannot do.
With a self-directed IRA, you choose where your money goes. You can opt to open an account with a brokerage firm and invest in traditional investments such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or ETFs. But you also have the option to make tax-free investments in a wide variety of alternative investments. IRA Financial indicates that some popular investments plan participants make thanks to checkbook control include:
- Tax liens and tax deeds: Tax liens can be purchased directly from governments and investors can then collect payments and interest on delinquent property taxes or can foreclose on the home.
- Foreign currencies and options: Investors can trade in world currencies on Forex exchanges to profit from fluctuations in the relative values of the world’s different monies.
- Cryptocurrencies: Cryptocurrencies provide investors with the opportunity to purchase bitcoin or other alternatives to traditional currencies that are controlled by central banks.
- Hard money loans: Investors can invest in individual loans or a portfolio of hard money loans. Hard money loans are usually secured by real estate but have fewer qualification requirements and higher interest rates than conventional mortgage loans.
- Real estate: Investors can directly purchase real estate by buying investment properties or can pool their money with others in real estate investment groups to buy a shared interest in properties if they’d prefer a more hands-off approach.
- Private businesses: Investing in private businesses—either your own or someone else’s—can provide the opportunity to benefit when the company grows or is sold.
IRA Financial Group goes above and beyond to provide compliance assistance and support with IRS regulations. Sole proprietors and small business owners who open a Solo 401(k) with IRA Financial benefit from:
- Comprehensive tax help: With IRA Financial, you not only get an IRS opinion letter, but also a free tax consultation with an in-house CPA who can provide assistance completing IRS Form 5500-EZ. You also get guaranteed IRS audit protection and help completing a tax-free rollover of funds from other retirement accounts to your Solo 401(k).
- Checkbook control: Unlike with many Solo 401(k) accounts, where investment options are more limited, IRA Financial Group provides the option of choosing a Checkbook Control Plan. This gives you the ability to invest in real estate with a check or online wire transfer directly out of your account, as well as the option to invest in alternative investments such as foreign currencies or cryptocurrency.
In-house specialists are available to provide assistance between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. You can contact a self-directed 401(k) expert at the firm’s toll-free number. You can also get support via email. IRA Financial Group also makes it easy to start a self-directed 401(k) entirely online by answering a few simple questions and digitally signing documents. Because you can complete the plan setup steps yourself, you can get your Solo 401(k) established quickly and begin investing ASAP.
IRA Financial Solo 401(k) Costs
Costs and fees vary depending on whether you prefer a custodian-controlled Solo 401(k) or a checkbook-controlled Solo 401(k). Potential costs on a Solo 401(k) account include:
- Custodian-controlled account: There is no establishment fee and you pay an annual fee of $360.
- Checkbook-controlled account: You pay an $899 establishment fee and a $199 annual fee.
Additional fees vary by investment. For example, if you invest with a traditional brokerage firm, you can expect to pay commissions and any applicable account management fees. Investing in real estate requires closing costs including title insurance, fees for recording deeds, and transfer taxes. There can be wide variation in fees from one investment type to another.
What’s Missing With IRA Financial
IRA Financial doesn’t handle investment funds directly, so you will need to find a brokerage or select alternative investments yourself. There is no option directly with IRA Financial for managed investing, and all investments will require you to deal with third parties, whether that includes custodians who manage your investment account or individuals or financial service firms that facilitate the sale of real estate, cryptocurrency, or other alternative investments.
Merrill Edge: Best Solo 401(k) for Combined Banking & Investment Services
Merrill Edge is a Bank of America (BoA) company, so small business owners can get all of their investment and banking services through one of the largest financial service providers in the United States. In fact, by choosing to bank with BoA, invest with Merrill Edge, and use Bank of America credit card products, business owners can gain access to Preferred Rewards that boost credit card rewards and unlock generous discounts on loans, banking services, and investment products.
What Merrill Edge Offers
Merrill Edge provides personalized 401(k) proposals for Solo 401(k) accounts and for small business owners looking to start a 401(k). In addition to helping develop a plan customized to meet your needs, Merrill also offers:
- Support from Plan Administrators Inc (PAi): This support includes assistance in determining how many years your retirement funds will last as well as educational support via phone.
- Flexibility: You can make discretionary contributions so you’re able to invest as much or as little as you’d like each year.
- Record-keeping services through PAi: Account owners with Solo 401(k)s will be guided through year-end documentation requirements and financial report processing. You can also get help determining if you must submit IRS Form 5500.
Merrill Lynch provides Solo 401(k) owners with the opportunity to invest funds directly with its brokerage firm. You have the option to invest in a wide variety of different assets within your Merrill 401(k), including:
- Stocks: Stocks provide the opportunity to own shares in individual companies of all sizes.
- Bonds: Bonds are debt instruments. You can profit from bonds when the issuer repays debt over time. Governments and private companies are among the most common bond issuers, and bonds are generally safe investments as long as the issuer is creditworthy.
- Options: Options give you the choice to buy an asset in the future at a specified price, but you don’t have to buy. You can trade options directly—you don’t have to exercise the option and actually purchase the asset to make a profit.
- ETFS: ETFs pool your money with other investors to buy a mix of assets. ETFs trade on stock markets and many track market indexes or other financial indexes.
- Mutual funds: Mutual funds also pool money with other investors and all of the combined funds are used to purchase assets. Different mutual funds invest in different things, including individual stocks and bonds.
Unlike some Solo 401(k) providers that leave investment decisions entirely in your hands, Merrill Edge also offers the opportunity to invest in funds or model portfolios that Morningstar Investment Management LLC has designed and manages. This takes the guesswork out of investing.
Because of the relationship between Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, small businesses have access to a full array of investment and financial services including:
- Business banking
- Business credit cards
- Commercial real estate loans
- Business loans
- Personal loans
With a combined $20,000 balance across Merrill Lynch and Bank of America accounts, account holders can also qualify for Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards. This rewards program comes with waived fees on bank accounts, discounts on loans, discounts on investment services, and bonus rewards on business credit cards. The specific perks and features available through Preferred Rewards depends which rewards tier you qualify for.
Customer service is available via phone through the firm’s toll-free number between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday. You also can get in-person support at Bank of America or Merrill Lynch locations. And you can chat online or send an email to customer support.
Merrill Edge Solo 401(k) Costs
Merrill Edge charges both an initial and ongoing monthly fee for a 401(k). Here are the costs you can expect to pay:
- A $100 one-time setup fee
- A $20 monthly administration fee if you have less than $250,000 in plan assets or a $25 monthly fee if you have $250,000 or more in plan assets
- Monthly record-keeping fees of $3; if you expand your business and your 401(k) has more than one plan participant, each participant would pay this $3 fee
- Annual asset-based costs equal to .52% for investment fiduciary services, call center services, and custodial services
What’s Missing With Merrill Edge
The $20 or $25 monthly fee for Merrill Edge makes this plan more expensive than some competitor options. Other financial services, such as business banking and lending, are also provided through Bank of America and not directly through Merrill Lynch. While the two companies work closely together and account management is seamless across BoA and Merrill, you still must deal with two financial services companies instead of one.
Rocket Dollar: Best Solo 401(k) for Checkbook Control
Rocket Dollar is one of the newest companies offering Solo 401(k) products to business owners, as it was just founded in 2018. Its founders were motivated by the belief that the nature of retirement is changing, so retirement investing should change with it. Its self-directed 401(k) accounts provide checkbook control, which means business owners aren’t limited to traditional retirement account investments but instead have the ultimate in flexibility when it comes to where their tax-advantaged retirement savings should go.
What Rocket Dollar Offers
Rocket Dollar offers a self-directed Solo 401(k) with checkbook control, which means that you can invest your Solo 401(k) contributions in any investments you’d like. You can also open a self-directed IRA with Rocket Dollar, but don’t have the option to get other financial services directly from this financial services provider. Rocket Dollar provides a choice of traditional and Roth 401(k) accounts and allows you to open an account in as little as one week if you opt for expedited processing.
Because Rocket Dollar provides checkbook control, you have absolute complete flexibility when it comes to investing your 401(k) funds. You can invest in anything the IRS allows, including:
- Stocks and bonds: Stocks and bonds are common investments, with stocks carrying a higher risk but more potential reward. While bonds allow investors to profit as the issuer repays debt, stocks allow profits when a company becomes more valuable or when a company pays dividends.
- Startups: It’s possible to invest in your own new business or someone else’s and to profit as the business grows or if the company is sold.
- Real estate investments: Real estate investing could mean directly purchasing properties or pooling money with other investors to get an ownership stake in investment properties.
- Cryptocurrency: Bitcoin and other virtual currencies rely on the blockchain and a centralized ledger to control the currency supply, rather than central banks.
- Loans, debts, and promissory notes: This could include investing in tax liens, hard money loans, or other types of loans to make money as debts are repaid.
- Precious metals: This could include buying silver and gold.
- International investments: Money can be invested across the globe in foreign assets or foreign currencies.
Rocket Dollar provides assistance with preparing Form 5500-SF for electronic filing. However, it is limited in the other services it provides. You are required to calculate your own contributions to your 401(k), as well as to manage your own investments. Rocket Dollar does administer 401(k) loans and it provides an online knowledge base so you can learn more about managing a self-directed 401(k).
You can contact Rocket Dollar via phone at its toll-free number. You also have the option to visit the Rocket Dollar website and begin the process of opening your Solo 401(k).
Rocket Dollar Solo 401(k) Costs
Rocket Dollar charges both an upfront setup fee as well as monthly costs associated with maintaining your Solo 401(k). Costs you can expect to incur include:
- A $360 account setup fee
- $15 per month in account administration fees
You can invest your 401(k) funds in any investments you’d like due to Rocket Dollar’s checkbook control. Individual investments you select will have their own fees, such as closing costs if you invest in real estate and transaction fees for cryptocurrency investments.
What’s Missing With Rocket Dollar
You don’t have the option to get help picking investments, and Rocket Dollar doesn’t directly hold invested funds. It simply facilitates the creation and administration of your self-directed 401(k) plan so you can make tax-advantaged investments in assets of your choosing. You will need an LLC, trust, bank account, or other custodian to manage, fund, and hold investments—and this often comes at an additional cost.
Alternative Options to a Solo 401(k)
If you aren’t sure if a Solo 401(k) is right for you, you may want to consider another type of retirement benefit account, such as a SEP or a Traditional IRA. Both offer advantages, and as IRAs, they avoid the administrative costs that can come with 401(k)s.
SEP IRAs are great potential alternatives for self-employed individuals and small business owners who want to contribute up to 25% of income or $56,000 without the headache of administering a 401(k). Compared to Solo 401(k)s, SEP IRAs are a superior option if you make more than $75,000 per year and don’t plan to hire any employees in the future.
Of all retirement accounts, Traditional IRAs are the most simple and straightforward, and the easiest to set up and administer. Unlike Solo 401(k)s or SEPs, Traditional IRA contribution limits are just $6,000 per year. Still, Traditional IRAs are great options for small business owners who can’t afford to contribute more than a few thousand dollars per year. For those wanting to make after-tax contributions, consider a Roth IRA.
Once you’ve decided you want a Solo 401(k), it’s important to consider certain factors to determine which provider is best for you. These factors include cost, investment options, and additional services. While Solo 401(k)s are very similar across providers, there are differences in these areas that will determine which provider is best for your particular situation.
For a low-cost, full-featured 401(k) plan that is able to grow as you do, consider ShareBuilder 401k. Opening a Solo 401(k) with ShareBuilder 401k has a one-time setup fee of $150, and ongoing administration costs start at just $25 per month.