Defined Benefit Plans for Self-Employed Professionals

Defined Benefit Plans for Self-Employed Professionals

As a self-employed professional, plotting your financial trajectory is vital. But have you ever considered a defined benefit plan? This retirement choice ensures a predetermined income and is becoming increasingly relevant for professionals like you.

While some see it as a strategy for bigger entities, it holds considerable promise for individuals at your level. This guide aims to demystify its intricacies, aiding you in making informed retirement choices.

What is a Defined Benefit Plan?

A defined benefit plan, sometimes referred to as a defined benefit pension plan, is a traditional retirement structure that promises participants a specific benefit amount when they reach retirement age. The beauty of this setup is its predictability. The benefit amount is determined by a formula, typically based on factors such as average salary and years of service. 

Unlike other retirement accounts, where the account balance is subject to the whims of market fluctuations based on contributions and investment performance, a defined benefit plan provides a set payout. This can come in the form of a lump sum or as an annuity, providing regular payments over a specified period.

There Are Different Types of Defined Benefit Plans

Here are two primary forms of defined benefit plans:

Traditional Pension Plan: Often the initial thought, it provides retirement benefits, primarily reflecting one’s final earnings and duration of service. Typically, longer tenure and higher earnings equate to a more substantial pension.

Cash Balance Plans: More contemporary, these amalgamate characteristics from both defined benefit and defined contribution plans. In this setup, each professional gets an account, marked with a portion of their yearly income and interest. Upon retirement, this accrued amount is assuredly handed over by the employer.

Defined Contribution Plan vs Defined Benefit Plan

These two predominant retirement structures vary significantly in their design and potential benefits. It’s important to understand these distinctions before moving forward with either.

A defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) plan, hinges on individual account balances. Here, the final retirement sum depends on the contributions made (by both employers and employees) and the performance of the investments chosen by the account holder. Contribution limits, investment options, and potential risks vary widely.

A defined benefit plan, on the other hand, guarantees a predetermined retirement benefit. While the eventual payout is predictable, the responsibility often falls on the employer to ensure there’s adequate funding in the plan to meet future obligations, especially when investment returns fall short.

Pros and Cons of Defined Benefits Plans for Self-Employed Professionals

For self-employed professionals, defined benefit plans offer distinct benefits for bolstering your financial future. However, they come with their set of hurdles. Let’s delve into the advantages and drawbacks to determine if it aligns with your professional goals.


Advantages of self-employed defined benefit plans:

Generous Contribution Limits: Particularly for older professionals, defined benefit plans can allow for larger tax deductible contributions than other retirement vehicles, facilitating accelerated retirement savings.

Tax Advantages: With contributions being tax deductible, self-employed professionals stand to gain significant tax deductions, making it a financially savvy move.

Predictable Benefits: This plan takes the guesswork out of retirement planning. Knowing the exact amount you’ll receive can help in creating a comprehensive post-retirement financial strategy.

Tailored for High Earners: Due to the potential for significant contributions, especially later in one’s career, high-earning sole proprietors often find these plans especially advantageous.


Disadvantages of self-employed defined benefit plans:

Complex Setup: Establishing a defined benefit plan isn’t as simple as setting up a 401(k). Often, you’d need actuaries or plan administrators, especially to ensure compliance with tax laws and regulations.

Rigidity: These plans don’t offer the same flexibility as other retirement accounts. Changing contribution amounts or skipping a year can be more challenging.

Funding Requirements: Regular contributions are necessary. For sole proprietors, this can be burdensome, especially during lean business years.

Investment Risks: While the benefit is defined, funding that benefit is still subject to investment risks. If investments perform poorly, additional contributions may be required.

How to Set Up Defined Benefit Plans for Self-Employed Professionals

A defined benefit plan can be a valuable asset for solo professionals. Here’s a brief overview of how to set one up:

Step 1) Evaluate Your Needs: Before diving in, it’s essential to determine if a defined benefit plan aligns with your retirement goals and business’s financial health.

Step 2) Meet with Experts: These plans are intricate. Engaging with financial professionals ensures you set it up correctly, get the best tax advantages, and remain compliant with all regulations.

Step 3) Draft a Plan Document: This foundational document outlines the mechanics of your plan. It provides specifics on benefits, contributions, eligibility criteria, and more.

Step 4) Determine Funding Strategy: For a solo professional, this means gauging the optimal amount to contribute annually. Take into account your projected income fluctuations, desired retirement age, and retirement income goals. Establishing a consistent strategy will help stabilize your retirement savings growth.

Step 5) Fund the Plan: Once established, ensure that you make regular contributions to the plan, safeguarding your benefits upon reaching retirement age.

Defined Benefit Plans for For Self-Employed Professionals FAQs

Is a 401k a Defined Benefit Plan?

A 401(k) is not a defined benefit plan; it is a type of defined contribution plan. The distinction is essential. Defined benefit plans guarantee a predetermined amount for retirement, typically determined through a formula considering elements such as years worked and earnings, providing a consistent, expected retirement income.

On the other hand, a 401(k) plan’s retirement benefit hinges on the contributions made by employees (and possibly employer matches) and the performance of those invested contributions over time. 

The amount one receives from a 401(k) at retirement can vary based on market performance, making it less predictable than a defined benefit plan. Both serve the purpose of retirement savings, but their structures and payout methods are notably different.

Do I Need a Defined Benefit Plan Administrator?

Many business owners find it beneficial  to work with a defined benefit plan administrator due to the complexity of these plans. Defined benefit plans come with a host of intricate rules, assumptions, and calculations. An administrator brings the expertise to navigate these complexities, ensuring the plan’s compliance with tax and other pertinent laws. 

Additionally, they take on the tasks of annual reporting and managing plan contributions, allowing self-employed professionals to concentrate on their main operations. Keeping up with the ever-evolving landscape of pensions and retirement benefits is another key role they play, adapting the plan as laws and regulations change. 

Please Note: Our team specializes in simplifying administrative tasks for self-employed professionals. Working closely with our third-party administrative partners, we ensure the smooth management of your defined benefit plan. If you need support, please reach out to our team for help.

What are the Defined Benefit Contribution Limits?

Contribution limits for defined benefit plans are notably different from those of defined contribution plans like 401(k)s. They aren’t a straightforward set number but are determined based on several factors:

Age: Older individuals typically have higher limits. This is particularly advantageous for professionals who may be starting on their retirement planning later in their careers and wish to make significant contributions to catch up.

Plan Formula: The predetermined formula, which accounts for factors like projected retirement age, anticipated return on plan investments, and the desired retirement benefit, will influence the contribution limit.

Current Laws: Federal regulations often set a cap on the maximum annual benefits a plan can provide. This cap can influence how much needs to be contributed to the plan to meet the desired future benefits.

Actuarial Calculations: Actuaries, using a combination of demographic and financial assumptions, determine the required annual contributions to ensure the plan can meet its future obligations.

Given the variable nature of these limits, and their dependence on individual and business circumstances, consulting a financial advisor or plan administrator is indeed recommended. They can provide a clear picture of how much can and should be contributed each year to meet retirement objectives.

How We Help With Defined Benefit Plans for Self-Employed Professionals

At Fischer Investment Strategies, we understand that self-employed professionals face a distinct set of challenges when planning for retirement. Defined benefit plans are a promising avenue, offering the dual allure of tax benefits and a secure retirement income. Yet, comprehending and managing such a plan can seem overwhelming without the right expertise.

Diving deep into regular financial assessments, maintaining IRS compliance, and overseeing various administrative tasks might divert your focus from your primary profession. This is where our dedicated team steps in. We’re committed to managing these complexities on your behalf, enabling you to concentrate on what you’re passionate about.

Partnering with trusted associates, we ensure every detail of your plan operates seamlessly. We place significant emphasis on individual needs, crafting solutions that align seamlessly with your retirement aspirations. Whether you’re a freelance artist, independent consultant, or any other solo professional, our approach is tailored to fit your unique scenario.

Trust Fischer Investment Strategies to guide your retirement journey with precision and care. Let’s explore the potential of a defined benefit plan for your future together. You can call us directly at our Westlake office at (805) 418-7686, or our San Clemente office at (949) 433-7768. Feel free to also schedule a complimentary consultation at a time that works best for you.


This commentary reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints and analyses of the Fischer Investment Strategies, LLC employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by Fischer Investment Strategies, LLC or performance returns of any Fischer Investment Strategies, LLC client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing in this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Fischer Investment Strategies, LLC manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed in the commentary. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Financial Advisor at Fischer Investment Strategies | Website | + posts

Ted Fischer is a Fee-Only Certified Financial Planner® & fiduciary, and the founder of Fischer Investment Strategies.

Drawing from more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry, Ted's expertise includes retirement planning, investment analysis, tax planning, estate planning, and insurance.

Ted has an extensive academic background. He received his Certified Financial Planning (CFP®) designation from UCLA in 2011. He became a Qualified Plan Financial Consultant (QPFC®) and an Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF®). Ted has a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, with a minor in Finance, from San Diego State University.


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