Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs and the retirement trap

(Editor’s note: Rick Rodgers is an author, keynote speaker, wealth manager and president of Rodgers & Associates. He submitted this column to VentureBeat.)

Many entrepreneurs believe they don’t need to plan for retirement. Sadly, they’re quite mistaken.

Too many start-up owners actually view their business as their retirement plan. And while creating a valuable company that could eventually be sold or go public may indeed provide a comfortable retirement, it’s no way to plan. It’s the equivalent of asking a financial advisor to put all of your savings into a single stock. Sure, if you hit a home run you’re set, but no prudent planner would ever recommend such a strategy.

Only 35 percent of small business owners had some sort of retirement plan in 2007, according to Harris Interactive’s ShareBuilder Small Business Annual Retirement Trend survey. In 2008, that number dropped to 26 percent.

It doesn’t take a 401(k) plan to start retirement saving. A Roth IRA is an excellent tool for early start-up owners, who generally aren’t seeing notable paychecks. While it offers no tax advantages as you fund it, you’ll see significant benefits when the time comes to withdraw the money. (Withdrawals are tax-free if the account is at least five years old and you are age 59 ½ or older.)

Once your business starts to grow and income taxes become more of a concern, you might consider switching your contributions to a Traditional IRA, where contributions are deductible.

Currently you can invest (and deduct) up to $5,000 per year. If you want to deduct more than $5,000, switch to a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRA, which allows you to contribute up to 25 percent of your net self-employed income.

(Note that you’ll also have to cover eligible employees in a SEP IRA, so be sure to check with your accountant or financial planner before setting up this type of account.)

Unlike Roths, Traditional IRAs and SEP IRAs give you tax benefits up front, when you make the contributions.  Distributions from these accounts will be taxable when you take the money out.

While feeding the start-up monster is hard to resist – especially when funding is tight – it’s critical to diversify your funds into investments other than your business. And there’s no time like the present to start.  Time is your biggest ally in retirement planning. As Einstein said: “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”.

Also, just as you perform a quarterly review of your company’s finances, take time to review your own retirement position every few months, with the objective of raising it.

If your start-up ultimately attracts a buyer or, better still, goes public, you’re certainly no worse off. But if your company becomes one of the sad (statistically likely) failures, you’ve started the process of ensuring a semi-soft landing in your later years.

Photo by scottwills via Flickr


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