Solo 401(k): The Retirement Plan Built for the Self-Employed

Navigating Solo 401(k) Plans: A Complete Guide for the Self-Employed

Being self-employed offers many perks, including freedom and flexibility. What it doesn’t offer is an employer-sponsored retirement plan. But when you don’t have access to a 401(k) at work, opening a solo 401(k) can make it easier to stay on track with retirement planning.

Before you establish a solo 401(k) for yourself, it’s important to understand how these plans work and the pros and cons involved.

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

A solo 401(k) is a type of 401(k) that’s designed specifically with self-employed individuals in mind. This retirement savings option follows many of the same rules as workplace 401(k) plans in terms of annual contribution limits, tax treatment, and withdrawals. But it’s tailored to individuals who run a business solo or only employ their spouses.

It’s one of several self-employed retirement options you might consider when planning a long-term financial strategy.

Definition and Overview

A solo 401(k) is a tax-advantaged retirement account that’s for self-employed individuals and business owners who have zero employees, or no employees other than their spouse. This type of 401(k) plan is also known by a few other names:

•   Solo-k

•   Uni-k

•   One-participant plan

Traditional solo 401(k) contributions are made using pre-tax dollars. However, it’s possible to open a Roth solo 401(k) instead. In the case of a Roth solo 401(k), you’d make contributions using after-tax dollars and be able to withdraw the money tax-free in retirement.

A self-employed 401(k) plan works much the same as a regular 401(k). For instance, you may be able to take loans from your savings if needed. Catch-up contributions are also allowed. The biggest difference is that there is no matching contribution from an outside employer.

You can start investing in a solo 401(k) for yourself through an online brokerage. There’s some paperwork you’ll need to fill out to get the process started, but once your account is open you can make contributions year-round.

At the end of the year, the IRS requires solo 401(k) plan owners to file a Form 5500-EZ if the account has $250,000 or more in assets.


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Contribution Limits in Solo 401(k) Plans

Much like workplace 401(k)s, there are annual contribution limits that apply to solo 401(k) plans.

The IRS caps total contributions to a solo 401(k) account at $66,000 for 2023 and $69,000 for 2024. That doesn’t include catch-up contributions for those age 50 and over, which are an additional $7,500 for each year.

As both the employee and employer of your own business, you can contribute both elective salary deferrals and employer nonelective contributions (you are both the employer and the employee in this scenario). Each has different contribution caps.

Annual Contribution Limits

As an employee, you can contribute up to 100% of your earned income up to the annual contribution limit: $22,500 in 2023 and $23,000 in 2024, plus an additional $7,500 for those age 50+ in elective salary deferrals.
In addition, you can make employer nonelective contributions. These come directly from the “employer” (aka you) and are not deducted from the employee’s (your) salary. As an employer, you can contribute up to 25% of your self-employment income (business income – ½ self-employment tax and elective salary deferrals), in pre-tax dollars.

Setting Up a Solo 401(k) Plan

If you’re interested in setting up a solo 401(k) for yourself, you can do so through an online brokerage. Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to open a solo 401(k).

Steps to Establish Your Plan

1. Choose a Plan Administrator

A plan administrator is the person responsible for managing your solo 401(k). It’s their job to make sure the plan is meeting reporting and other requirements established by the IRS. If you’re self-employed, you can act as your own plan administrator or you could choose your accountant instead.

2. Choose a Brokerage

Once you know who’s going to manage the plan, the next step is deciding where to open it. A number of brokerages offer solo 401(k) plans so you may want to spend some time comparing things like:

•   Account setup process

•   Investment options

•   Fees

You may be able to start the solo 401(k) account setup process online, though some brokerages require you to call and speak to a representative first. And you may need to finalize your account opening by mailing or faxing in any supporting documents the brokerage needs to complete the application.

3. Fill Out a Solo 401(k) Application

Before you can start a 401(k) account for yourself, you’ll need to give your brokerage some information about your business. A typical solo 401(k) application may ask for your:

•   First and last name

•   Employer Identification Number (EIN)

•   Plan administrator’s name and contact information

•   Social Security number

•   Mailing address

•   Citizenship status

•   Income information

You’ll also need to disclose any professional associations or affiliations that might result in a conflict of interest with the brokerage. In completing the application, you’ll be asked to name one or more beneficiaries. You may also be asked to provide bank account information that will be used to make your initial contribution to the plan.

4. Choose Your Investments

Once you’ve returned your solo 401(k) account application and it’s been approved, you can choose your investments. The type of investments offered can depend on the brokerage and the plan. But typically, you may be able to choose from:

•   Target-date funds

•   Index funds

•   Actively managed funds

•   Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Whether you have access to individual stocks, bonds, CDs, or alternative investments such as commodities can depend on the platform that’s offering the plan.

5. Decide How Much to Contribute

You may choose to schedule automatic investments or make them manually according to a schedule that works for you.

Choosing Between Traditional and Roth Solo 401(k)s

You can opt for a traditional solo 401(k), which is made with pre-tax dollars, or a Roth solo 401(k), which is made with after-tax dollars. Which plan is better for you may depend on what you expect your income to be in retirement.

If you believe your income will be higher in retirement than it is now, in general, a Roth could be a better choice since you can take the distributions tax-free at that time. But if you think your income may be less in retirement than it is now, you might be better off with a traditional solo 401(k), which allows you to take the tax deduction now and have your distributions taxed in retirement.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solo 401(k) Plans

When considering retirement account options, it can be helpful to look at the pros and cons to determine what works best for your personal situation.

Benefits of Having a Solo 401(k)

There are different reasons why opening a 401(k) for self employed individuals could make sense.

•   Bigger contributions. Compared to other types of self-employed retirement plans, such as a SEP IRA or SIMPLE IRA, solo 401(k) contribution limits tend to be more generous. Neither a SEP IRA or SIMPLE IRA, for instance, allows for catch-up contributions.

•   Roth contributions. You also have the option to open a Roth solo 401(k). If you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket when you retire, you may prefer being able to withdraw contributions tax-free with a Roth.

•   Flexible withdrawal rules. A solo 401(k) can also offer more flexibility with regard to early withdrawals than a SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, traditional IRA, or Roth IRA. If your solo 401(k) plan allows it, you could take out a loan in place of an early withdrawal. This could help you to avoid early withdrawal penalties and taxes. An IRA-based plan wouldn’t allow for loans.

Considerations and Potential Drawbacks

There are also a few potential downsides of investing in a solo 401(k).

•   Eligibility restrictions. If you run a small business and you have at least one employee other than a spouse, you won’t be able to open a solo 401(k) at all.

•   Complicated reporting. Calculating contributions and filing can be more complicated with a solo 401(k) vs. a SEP IRA or SIMPLE IRA. If your plan has more than $250,000 in assets you’ll need to file Form 5500-EZ with the IRS each year.

•   Administrative costs. Depending on where you open a solo 401(k) plan, the cost of maintaining it year to year may be higher compared to other self employed retirement plans. And an early 401(k) withdrawal can trigger taxes and penalties.

It’s important to consider the range of investment options offered through a solo 401(k). What you can invest in at one brokerage may be very different from another. The individual cost of those investments can also vary if some mutual funds or exchange-traded funds offered come with higher expense ratios than others.


💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that you must choose the investments in your IRA? Once you open a new IRA and start saving, you get to decide which mutual funds, ETFs, or other investments you want — it’s totally up to you.

Withdrawals and Loan Provisions

There are certain requirements for withdrawals and/or loans from a solo 401(k).

Rules for Withdrawing Funds

You can make withdrawals from a solo 401(k) without penalty at age 59 ½ or older. Distributions may be allowed before that time in the case of certain “triggering events,” such as a disability, but you may owe a 10% penalty as well as income taxes on the withdrawal.

Loan Options and Conditions

Some solo 401(k) plans may be set up to allow loans. If yours does, you could take out a loan in place of an early withdrawal. This could help you to avoid early withdrawal penalties and taxes. Just be sure to find out the loan terms and conditions, which can vary by plan.

Testing and Compliance for Solo 401(k)s

Unlike workplace 401(k)s, solo 401(k)s have no testing compliance requirements involved.

Alternatives to Solo 401(k) Plans

Instead of a solo 401(k), self employed individuals can consider another type of retirement account. Here’s how different options stack up.

Comparing a Solo 401(k) to a SEP IRA and Other Retirement Options

A SEP IRA is designed for small businesses. However, unlike a solo 401(k), a SEP IRA allows no catch-up contributions and there is no Roth version of the plan.

A SIMPLE IRA is for businesses with no more than 100 employees. It has much lower contribution limits than a solo 401(k) and once again, there is no Roth option.

Pros and Cons of a Solo 401(k)

A solo 401(k) has advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the benefits and drawbacks.

Solo 401(k) Pros

Solo 401(k) Cons

Catch-up contributions may allow older investors to save more for retirement versus a SEP IRA or SIMPLE IRA. Only self-employed individuals who have no employees or just employee their spouses can contribute.
It’s possible to choose between a traditional solo 401(k) or Roth solo 401(k), based on your investing goals and tax situation. Annual reporting requirements may be more complicated for a solo 401(k) compared to other self employed retirement plans.
Solo 401(k) plans may allow for loans, similar to workplace plans. Early withdrawals from a solo 401(k) are subject to taxes and penalties.

The Takeaway

A solo 401(k) can be a worthwhile investment vehicle for self-employed people who want to save for retirement. It has more generous contribution limits than some other retirement options. In addition, there is a Roth version of the plan, and a solo 401(k) plan may also offer flexibility in terms of early withdrawals. For individuals who are self-employed, opening a solo 401(k) is one potential way to start saving for their golden years.

Ready to invest for your retirement? It’s easy to get started when you open a traditional or Roth IRA with SoFi. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Easily manage your retirement savings with a SoFi IRA.

FAQ

Can I contribute 100% of my salary to a solo 401(k)?

As an employee, you can contribute up to 100% of your earned income to a solo 401(k) up to the annual contribution limit, which is $22,500 in 2023, and $23,000 in 2024, plus an additional $7,500 for those age 50 and up in elective salary deferrals.

Is a solo 401(k) taxable income?

You will pay taxes with a solo 401(k), but the type of plan you open determines when you’ll pay those taxes. If you have a traditional 401(k), your contributions are tax-deferred, and they reduce your taxable income for the year in which you make them. However, you will pay taxes on distributions when you take them in retirement. If you have a Roth 401(k), you pay taxes on your contributions when you make them, but your distributions in retirement are tax-free.

What is the average return on a solo 401(k)?

The return on a solo 401(k) depends on the investments in your portfolio. However, in general, a solo 401(k) invested in a mix of bonds, stocks, and cash assets can have an average rate of return ranging between 3% and 8%. But again, it depends on what your investments are, and how much you allocate to those different assets. You may want to compare your plan’s performance to plans with similar funds to get a general sense of what the average return might be.

Who qualifies for a solo 401(k)?

To be eligible for a solo 401(k), you must be self-employed or a small business owner with no employees other than a spouse. To open a solo 401(k) you will need an Employee Identification Number (EIN), which is available from the IRS.

Photo credit: iStock/visualspace


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How Much Does It Cost to Start a Business?

Looking to start your own business? You’re not alone. Some 76% of Gen Z and millennials dream of being their own boss, according to a 2022 Microsoft report.

While launching your own business allows you plenty of professional freedom, it can also be expensive. As you’re creating your business plan, one question you’ll likely face early on is, how much does it cost to start a business?

The average small business owner spends around $40,000 in their first full year. But that amount can vary based on a number of factors, including the size, type and location of your business.

Let’s take a closer look at the startup costs of different types of businesses and common ways to cover the expenses.

Typical Small Business Startup Costs

The old adage is true: You have to spend money to make money. And unfortunately, some of the biggest business costs can come during the startup phase, when you are defining your business goals, finding a location, purchasing domain names, and generally investing in the infrastructure.

In order to make sure your business is on firm financial footing, it’s important to estimate your small business startup costs in advance. Here are some common ones to keep in mind:

Payroll

Many small businesses start out as a company of one. But if you’re planning on having employees, salary will likely be one of the biggest costs you’ll have. After all, offering an attractive pay and benefits package can help you recruit and retain top talent.

In addition to wages, you might also want to budget for other types of payroll costs, such as overtime, vacation pay, bonuses, commissions, and benefits.

Office Space

No matter what your business is, you’ll need somewhere to work. Are you leasing a storefront, or will you buy a membership to a co-working space or startup incubator? If you’re planning to work from home, consider whether your new business will increase your internet or utility bills.

And don’t forget about the supplies you’ll need to do the work. Depending on your business, this could include things like computers, phones, chairs and desks, paper supplies, or filing cabinets.


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Inventory

If you’re starting a business that sells products, you’ll need to have some inventory ready to go. Calculating stock as part of your start-up costs ensures that you can buy your product in advance, so that you’re ready to serve customers from day one.

Licenses, Permits, and Insurance

Some businesses, especially storefronts and restaurants, require more legal leg work than others.

For example, if you’re starting a native-plants landscaping business, will you need a permit? If you’re starting a new bar, will you need a liquor license? Licenses and permits vary by city and state, but most come with an application fee.

Likewise, your new business may require one or more insurance policies to protect you in case of future litigation, so be sure to factor in the cost of monthly premiums.

And don’t forget about the costs associated with registering your business. Whether you plan to set up shop as a sole proprietorship, corporation, limited liability corporation or other business entity, you’ll need to pay a nominal fee. The amount will depend on the state where you operate.

And if you plan on enlisting the help of a lawyer, accountant or tax professional to get your business up and running, add those potential costs to your budget as well.

Advertising

Getting the word out about your new business is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that business starts off strong. Whether you want to advertise on social media or take out a billboard, your startup costs should reflect money you plan to put toward taking out ads for your business.

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Differences in Startup Costs Based on Industry

The actual cost of starting a small business can vary by business and industry. Here’s what you might be looking at if you want to start a few common types of small businesses.

Online Business Startup Costs

Like brick and mortar stores, the cost of doing business online varies depending on the type of business you have. But in general, you’ll need to budget for things like:

•   Web hosting service and domain name

•   Web design and optimization

•   E-commerce software

•   Payment processing

•   Content creation and social media

If you’re selling products, you will need to invest in inventory and shipping. If you’re providing services, you may need to hire employees. All of these costs can be significant.

However, one benefit of starting your small business online is that you may be able to keep other costs low. For example, if you can conduct business from home, you may not need to rent office space, which can be a major savings. If you’re able to do the work without purchasing inventory or hiring employees, the startup costs can be even lower.

Average startup cost: $500 to $20,000 or more (depending on your business)

Storefront Startup Costs

If your business idea requires a physical space, your startup costs might range from $1,000 for a small kiosk inside a mall or park to more than $69,000 for something like a home goods store.

Although $69,000 might seem like a daunting number, remember that many smaller, independently owned stores began with a much smaller budget.

Average retail startup cost: $39,210

Restaurant Startup Costs

If you’re betting on bringing in bank by selling your grandma’s famous bánh mì, you could be looking at startup costs of anywhere from $40,000 for a used food truck or cart to up to $3.7 million to buy a franchise restaurant. Typically, small restaurant costs, including coffee shops, fall somewhere in the $80,000 to $3000,000 range.

Average startup cost: $375,000

How to Finance Your Startup Business

Many who want to start a business are overwhelmed by the initial costs, but there are several ways to fund your passion project.

Friends and Family

Perhaps one of the most common ways to raise money for your small business is to ask friends and family to invest in you.

Friends and family loans can be ideal for financing a new small business because you can negotiate low-interest rates, flexible pay-back schedules, and avoid bank fees. Of course, borrowing money from friends and family can quickly become complicated by family drama, so make sure to agree on conditions before taking out a family loan.

Outside Investors

When we hear about startup companies, we frequently hear about so-called “angel investors” sweeping in to fully fund new businesses. But there are other practical ways to fund your small business with outside investors.

Some small businesses use crowdfunding platforms to find investors who each contribute a small amount, and others use startup funding networks to find investors looking to fund their specific type of business. Outside investors want to know that your business is likely to succeed, so you’ll need a solid business plan to land outside funders.

Personal Savings and Investments

Most people end up covering some of their small business start-up costs out of their own pocket. Self-funding your new business venture can be the most convenient option. After all, if you’re your own funder, you don’t have to worry about family drama or picky investors. And putting your own money on the line can be an extra motivation to make sure that your business is set up to succeed.

Of course, it can seem overwhelming to save up enough money to fund your small business. Luckily, there are simple strategies to effectively manage your money.

Business Loans

If you’re looking to purchase equipment, inventory, or pay for other business expenses, a business loan might make sense for you.

There are various types of small business loans available, each with different rates and repayment terms. Note that in some cases, lenders may be reluctant to give loans to a brand-new business. You might need to put up some type of collateral to qualify for funding.

Personal Loans

A personal loan can be used for just about any purpose, which can make it attractive for entrepreneurs who want to turn their passion project into a reality. These loans are usually unsecured, which means they’re not backed by collateral, like a home, car, or bank account balance.

Personal loan amounts vary. However, some lenders offer personal loans for as much as $100,000. Most personal loans have shorter repayment terms, though the length of a loan can vary from a few months to several years.

While there’s a great deal of latitude with how you use the funds, you might need to get your lender’s approval first if you intend on using the money directly for your business.


💡 Quick Tip: Before choosing a personal loan, ask about the lender’s fees: origination, prepayment, late fees, etc. One question can save you many dollars.

The Takeaway

Going into business for yourself can be personally and professionally fulfilling. But it can also be expensive, especially if you’re starting from scratch. Estimating your startup costs early on can help ensure you’re on solid financial ground from the get-go. Labor, office space, and equipment are among the biggest expenses facing many entrepreneurs, but there are smaller fees and charges you’ll likely need to consider.

Fortunately, small business owners have no shortage of options when it comes to covering startup costs. Dipping into personal savings, or asking friends and family to invest are popular choices. Taking out a business loan or personal loan is another way to help finance a new business. The money can be used for a variety of purposes, and that flexibility can be especially useful when you’re just starting out.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2023 winner for Best Online Personal Loan overall.


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Understanding Economic Indicators

Understanding Economic Indicators

An economic indicator is a statistic or piece of data that offers insight into an economy. Analysts use economic indicators to gauge where an economic system is in the present moment, and where it might head next. Governments use economic indicators as guideposts when assessing monetary or fiscal policies, and corporations use them to make business decisions. Individual investors can also look to these indicators as they shape their portfolios.

There are different types of economic indicators and understanding how they work can make it easier to interpret them, and fold them into your investing strategy.

What Is an Economic Indicator?

An economic indicator is typically a macroeconomic data point, statistic, or metric used to analyze the health of an individual economy or the global economy at large. Government agencies, universities, and independent organizations can collect and organize economic indicator data.

In the United States, the Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are some of the entities that aggregate economic indicator data.

Some of the most recognizable economic indicators examples include:

•   Gross domestic product (GDP)

•   Personal income and real earnings

•   International trade in goods and services

•   U.S. import and expert prices

•   Consumer prices (as measured by the Consumer Price Index or CPI)

•   New residential home sales

•   New home construction

•   Rental vacancy rates

•   Home ownership rates

•   Business inventories

•   Unemployment rates

•   Consumer confidence

Private organizations also regularly collect and share economic data investors and economists may use as indicators. Examples of these indicators include the Fear and Greed Index, existing home sales, and the index of leading economic indicators.

Together, these indicators can provide a comprehensive picture of the state of the economy and shine light on potential opportunities for investors.

How Economic Indicators Work

Economic indicators work by measuring a specific component of the economy over a set time period. An indicator may tell you what patterns are emerging in the economy — or confirm the presence of patterns already believed to be established. In that sense, these indicators can serve as a thermometer of sorts for gauging the temperature of the economic environment or where an economy is in a given economic cycle.

Economic indicators can not predict future economic or market movements with 100% accuracy. But they can be useful when attempting to identify signals about which way the economy (and the markets) might head next.

For example, an investor may study an economic indicator like consumer prices when gauging whether inflation is increasing or decreasing. If the signs point to a steady rise in prices, the investor might then adjust their portfolio to account for higher inflation. As prices rise, purchasing power declines but investors who are conscious of this economic indicator could take action to minimize negative side effects.

Recommended: How to Invest and Profit During Inflation

Types of Economic Indicators

Economic indicators are not all alike in terms of what they measure and how they do it. Different types of economic indicators can provide valuable information about the state of an economy. Broadly speaking, they can be grouped into one of three categories: Leading, lagging, or coincident.

Leading Indicators

Leading indicators are the closest thing you might get to a crystal ball when studying the markets. These indicators pinpoint changes in economic factors that may precede specific trends.

Examples of leading indicators include:

•   Consumer confidence and sentiment

•   Jobless claims

•   Movements in the yield curve

•   Stock market volatility

A leading indicator doesn’t guarantee that a particular trend will take shape, but it does suggest that conditions are ripe for it to do so.

Lagging Indicators

Lagging indicators are the opposite of leading indicators. These economic indicators are backward-looking and highlight economic movements after the fact.

Examples of lagging indicators include:

•   Gross national product (GNP)

•   Unemployment rates

•   Consumer prices

•   Corporate profits

Analysts look at lagging indicators to determine whether an economic pattern has been established, though not whether that pattern is likely to continue.

Coincident Indicators

Coincident indicators measure economic activity for a particular area or region. Examples of coincident indicators include:

•   Retail sales

•   Employment rates

•   Real earnings

•   Gross domestic product

These indicators reflect economic changes at the same time that they occur. So they can be useful for studying real-time trends or patterns.


💡 Quick Tip: Investment fees are assessed in different ways, including trading costs, account management fees, and possibly broker commissions. When you set up an investment account, be sure to get the exact breakdown of your “all-in costs” so you know what you’re paying.

Popular Economic Indicators

There are numerous economic indicators the economists, analysts, institutional and retail investors use to better understand the market and the direction in which the economy may move. The Census Bureau, for example, aggregates data for more than a dozen indicators. But investors tend to study some indicators more closely than others. Here are some of the most popular economic indicators and what they can tell you as an investor.

Gross Domestic Product

Gross domestic product represents the inflation-adjusted value of goods and services produced in the United States. This economic indicator offers a comprehensive view of the country’s economic activity and output. Specifically, gross domestic product can tell you:

•   How fast an economy is growing

•   Which industries are growing (or declining)

•   How the economic activity of individual states compares

The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates GDP for the country, individual states and for U.S. territories. The government uses GDP numbers to establish spending and tax policy, as well as monetary policy, at the federal levels. States also use gross domestic product numbers in financial decision-making.

Consumer Price Index

The Consumer Price Index or CPI measures the change in price of goods and services consumed by urban households. The types of goods and services the CPI tracks include:

•   Food and beverages

•   Housing

•   Apparel

•   Transportation

•   Medical care

•   Recreation

•   Education

•   Communications

CPI data comes from 75 urban areas throughout the country and approximately 23,000 retailers and service providers. This economic indicator is the most widely used tool for measuring inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the consumer price index, it’s a way to measure a government’s effectiveness in managing economic policy.

Producer Price Index

The Producer Price Index or PPI measures the average change over time in the selling prices received by domestic producers of goods and services. In simpler terms, this metric measures wholesale prices for the sectors of the economy that produce goods, including:

•   Mining

•   Manufacturing

•   Agriculture

•   Fishing

•   Forestry

•   Construction

•   Natural gas and electricity

The Producer Price Index can help analysts estimate inflation, as higher prices will show up on the wholesale level first before they get passed on to consumers at the retail level.

Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is an economic indicator that tells you the number of people currently unemployed and looking for work. The BLS provides monthly updates on the unemployment rate and nonfarm payroll jobs. Together, the unemployment rate and the number of jobs added or lost each month can indicate the state of the economy.

Higher unemployment, for example, generally means that the economy isn’t creating enough jobs to meet the demand by job seekers. When the number of nonfarm payroll jobs added for the month exceeds expectations, on the other hand, that can send a positive signal that the economy is growing.

Consumer Confidence

The Consumer Confidence Index can provide insight into future economic developments, based on how households are spending and saving money today. This indicator measures how households perceive the economy as a whole and how they view their own personal financial situations, based on the answers they provide to specific questions.

When the indicator is above 100, this suggests consumers have a confident economic outlook, which may make them more inclined to spend and less inclined to save. When the indicator is below 100, the mood is more pessimistic and consumers may begin to curb spending in favor of saving.

The Consumer Confidence Index is separate from the Consumer Sentiment Index, which is also used to gauge how Americans feel about the economy. This index also uses a survey format and can tell you how optimistic or pessimistic households are and what they perceive to be the biggest economic challenges at the moment.

Retail Sales

Retail sales are one of the most popular economic indicators for judging consumer activity. This indicator measures retail trade from month to month. When retail sales are higher, consumers are spending more money. If more spending improves company profits, that could translate to greater investor confidence in those companies, which may drive higher stock prices.

On the other hand, when retail sales lag behind expectations the opposite can happen. When a holiday shopping season proves underwhelming, for example, that can shrink company profits and potentially cause stock prices to drop.

Housing Starts

Census Bureau compiles data on housing starts. This economic indicator can tell you at a glance how many new home construction projects in a given month. This data is collected for single-family homes and multi-family units.

Housing starts can be useful as an economic indicator because they give you a sense of whether the economy is growing or shrinking. In an economic boom, it’s not uncommon to see high figures for new construction. If the boom goes bust, however, new home start activity may dry up.

It’s important to remember that housing starts strongly correlate to mortgage interest rates. If mortgage rates rise in reaction to a change in monetary policy, housing starts may falter, which makes this economic indicator more volatile than others.

Interest Rates

Federal interest rates are an important economic indicator because of the way they’re used to shape monetary policy. The Federal Reserve makes adjustments to the federal funds rate — which is the rate at which commercial banks borrow from one another overnight–based on what’s happening with the economy overall. These adjustments then trickle down to the interest rates banks charge for loans or pay to savers.

For example, when inflation is rising or the economy is growing too quickly, the Fed may choose to raise interest rates. This can have a cooling effect, since borrowing automatically becomes more expensive. Savers can benefit, however, from earning higher rates on deposits.

On the other hand, the Fed may lower rates when the economy is sluggish to encourage borrowing and spending. Low rates make loans less expensive, potentially encouraging consumers to borrow for big-ticket items like homes, vehicles, or home improvements. Consumer spending and borrowing can help to stimulate the economy.

Stock Market

The stock market and the economy are not the same. But some analysts view stock price and trading volume as a leading indicator of economic activity. For example, investors look forward to earnings reports as an indicator of a company’s financial strength and health. They use this information about both individual companies and the markets as a whole to make strategic investment decisions.

If a single company’s earnings report is above or below expectations, that alone doesn’t necessarily suggest where the economy might be headed. But if numerous companies produce earnings reports that are similar, in terms of meeting or beating expectations, that could indicate an economic trend.

If multiple companies come in below earnings expectations, for example, that could hint at not only lower market returns but also a coming recession. On the other hand, if the majority of companies are beating earnings expectations by a mile, that could signal a thriving economy.


💡 Quick Tip: The best stock trading app? That’s a personal preference, of course. Generally speaking, though, a great app is one with an intuitive interface and powerful features to help make trades quickly and easily.

The Takeaway

Economic indicators can provide a significant amount of insight into the economy and the trends that shape the markets. Having a basic understanding of the different types of economic indicators could give you an edge if you’re better able to anticipate market movements when you start investing.

Economic indicators aren’t perfect, and while they can be a helpful part of an investing strategy, investors should always do as much research as they can before making specific moves. Discussing a strategy with a financial professional may be a good idea, too.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

What are the leading economic indicators?

There are several leading economic indicators in the U.S., and they include consumer confidence and sentiment, jobless claims, movements in the yield curve, and stock market volatility.

What are the big three macro indicators?

While they may not be “the” big three macro indicators, a few of the key macroeconomic indicators that are often cited are gross domestic product (GDP), the unemployment rate, and the Consumer Price Index (CPI).


Photo credit: iStock/FG Trade

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INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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What to Do With Company Stock If Your Company Goes Public

If your company goes public via an IPO, and you’re a stockholder, there are several things you can do, including standing pat and holding your shares, or selling them. But know that holding stock in your company when it goes public can be akin to a roller coaster ride.

There can be a lot of anticipation as the IPO date approaches, but no one really knows what will happen on opening day or during the weeks that follow. With that in mind, before you decide to hold or sell, there are some things to take into consideration.

What Happens During an IPO

During an initial public offering, or IPO, a company offers shares of stock for sale to the general public for the first time — hence the phrase “going public.” Shares of the company are given a starting value known as an IPO price, and when trading begins, the price can rise amid investor demand, or fall if there is little demand.

In any case, the stock will now have some type of value on the open market. As an employee, you may have a stake in the company before the IPO through employee stock options, restricted stock units (RSUs), or you may own shares in the company outright.

Employers may offer stock options and restricted stock units (RSUs) as part of a compensation package to help retain top talent and align employee and company incentives — encouraging employees to work hard to make the company, and its stock, successful.

Stock options give employees the right to buy a specific number of shares of the company, at a set price, by the option’s expiration date.

When company stocks start trading on the open market, depending upon any restrictions, employees can decide to hang on to their shares or sell them and use the proceeds to help meet other goals.


💡 Quick Tip: Keen to invest in an initial public offering, or IPO? Be sure to check with your brokerage about what’s required. Typically IPO stock is available only to eligible investors.

Making It Through the Lock-Up Period

That said, when a company goes public, shares and options are often subject to a lock-up period — typically 90 to 180 days — during which company insiders, such as employees, cannot sell their shares or exercise stock options.

Companies typically don’t want employees to flood the market with their stock, which could have a negative effect on the stock price while the company is getting its feet off the ground. When the lock-up period is over, employees are free to exercise their options and sell their shares.

While you’re in the lock-up period, even if it appears that your stocks are suddenly worth a lot of money, that money isn’t in your hands yet. It may be tempting to start spending as if it is, purchasing big-ticket items or putting a down payment on a house. But a lot can happen between an IPO and the end of a lock-up period. So, as the saying goes, don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

The stock market is volatile, and can involve a high degree of risk. If you spend money you have on hand assuming that you’ll be able to pay yourself back once you sell your stock, you may be in for a rude surprise if stock prices fall before then. It may be better to wait until the lock-up period is over before making any big money moves.

Selling Your Shares

If you have decided to sell, the how and when will depend on many factors, but some things that may impact your decision might be whether you own shares outright, have access to shares through employee stock options or through RSUs, and whether the stock has vested. If you already have shares of company stock in-hand, you can usually sell those as soon as the lock-up period ends.

RSUs, on the other hand, are a transfer of restricted stock shares from your employer to give you a certain number of stocks or grants that vest at a later date. Once it does so, the stock is yours to do with what you will. It’s important to note that when restricted stock vests or is transferred to the employee, the fair market value of the stock is included in the employee’s taxable wages. In some cases, RSUs are not taxed until they are fully vested and the company has IPO’d.

You may also have employee stock options, which function much differently than RSUs. A stock option essentially grants you the right to buy company shares at a predetermined price, known as a strike or exercise price.

Stock options are also normally subject to a vesting schedule, but once they vest, you do not have to exercise your right to buy shares immediately, but all stock options come with an expiration date, the last date the option holder must exercise the options or lose them.

For example, say an employee’s exercise price is $60, but the company stock is worth $50 when that employee’s shares vest. If the employee exercised their stock options, they would still have to pay $60 per share, which is more than the stock is worth at that time.

At this point, the stock option is essentially underwater and its value is negative. The employee might choose to wait to exercise their options until the value of the stock is above the exercise price and they can sell the stocks for a profit.

IPOs can be volatile, with share prices swinging up and down. Employees may want to wait for a stock’s prices to stabilize after an IPO to suss out whether it’s the right time to exercise their options.

Options If You Sell

When the lock-up period is over, you may choose to sell your vested shares. In some cases, employees may want to hold on to stock, especially if they anticipate that the price will go up. Other employees may feel they should hold on to stocks out of a sense of loyalty.

However, a concentrated position in any one stock can open you up to risk. If the stock does poorly, it can have an outsized effect on a portfolio. To avoid taking on too much risk, it may make sense to use the proceeds from the sale of company stock to accomplish other goals, such as diversifying your portfolio or paying down debt.

Diversifying Your Portfolio

As mentioned, holding a concentrated position in any one investment can open your portfolio up to additional or unwanted risk. Imagine for a moment that your only investment was the stock you hold in your company.

If stock prices fall, your portfolio will likely feel the full effect of that downward pressure. Now imagine that you hold stock in 100 different companies.

If any one of them does poorly, the effect it will have on your portfolio will be much smaller.

This is the concept behind diversification. A diversified portfolio holds a mix of asset classes, such as stocks and bonds. And within these asset classes, a portfolio likely holds a mix of investments diversified across factors such as size, sector, and geography.

The individual assets in this mix will likely respond in different ways to different market conditions, which can help reduce volatility. For example, a spike in oil prices might hurt some manufacturing stocks but help petroleum stocks.

Selling shares of your company stock and diversifying among a broad group of asset classes might help reduce market risk and volatility inside your portfolio, leaving you less beholden to how one company performs.

Paying Down High Interest Debt

You may also consider selling shares of company stock to pay off high-interest debt. For example, if you carry a balance on your credit card, you could be subject to interest rates of 14% or more. At that rate, your balance can grow quickly, especially if you’re only making minimum payments.

Paying down high-interest debt and saving on interest payments can have a positive impact on your overall finances.

Investing in a Home

Buying a house requires careful planning, even more so when you plan on using company stock to help you do it. There are a number of factors you may want to consider.

First, you might carefully determine whether buying a home is a good investment. You could start by considering how long you plan to stay there. Buying a home comes with all sorts of extra costs, such as appraisal fees, inspection fees, and closing costs.

Housing prices can vary widely from region to region. Keep an eye on housing values in your area to help you determine whether they are likely to rise in the long term. You may want to check out websites that offer market value trends information for the area you are interested in buying.

If you are planning to sell your shares to purchase a house, consider being prepared to sell as soon as you’ve found a house and have been approved for a mortgage loan. Selling right away can help you lock in any gains and help keep you from being at the mercy of market movements. Lenders will also need to verify liquidation before loan closing if the funds are used in the home purchase.

Selling while you know you have enough money to cover a down payment, for example, will help you avoid the risk that stock prices will drop between approval and closing, which could leave you scrambling to find other assets to make up the difference.

Planning for an IPO

If your company goes public, you have options as to what you can do with your shares. Your company IPO and the vesting of your stock are scheduled events, so you can use that to your advantage. You might want to start making a plan as soon as you can if you decide to go the selling route. And make sure you understand the tax consequences of holding or selling your stock and make that consideration a part of your broader tax plan.

For example, RSUs vesting according to their schedule after an IPO might bump you into a higher tax bracket, providing an opportunity to mitigate those effects with other tax-efficient strategies like funding retirement plans. Talk to a tax professional to learn more.

Whether you’re curious about exploring IPOs, or interested in traditional stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), you can get started by opening an account on the SoFi Invest® brokerage platform. On SoFi Invest, eligible SoFi members have the opportunity to trade IPO shares, and there are no account minimums for those with an Active Investing account. As with any investment, it's wise to consider your overall portfolio goals in order to assess whether IPO investing is right for you, given the risks of volatility and loss.

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

Should you exercise stock options before a company goes public?

It’s possible to exercise stock options before a company goes public, but it’s impossible to say whether any individual should, as circumstances vary between individuals and companies. It may be worth discussing your options with a financial professional.

Are stock options worthless if a company never goes public?

Stock options may become worthless if a company never goes public, or they may lose considerable value. There’s no guarantee that they will do so, however.

Is it better to exercise options before or after an IPO?

It may be relatively common to exercise stock options before a company goes public so as to best take advantage of any post-IPO share value increases.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Investing in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) involves substantial risk, including the risk of loss. Further, there are a variety of risk factors to consider when investing in an IPO, including but not limited to, unproven management, significant debt, and lack of operating history. For a comprehensive discussion of these risks please refer to SoFi Securities’ IPO Risk Disclosure Statement. IPOs offered through SoFi Securities are not a recommendation and investors should carefully read the offering prospectus to determine whether an offering is consistent with their investment objectives, risk tolerance, and financial situation.

New offerings generally have high demand and there are a limited number of shares available for distribution to participants. Many customers may not be allocated shares and share allocations may be significantly smaller than the shares requested in the customer’s initial offer (Indication of Interest). For SoFi’s allocation procedures please refer to IPO Allocation Procedures.


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The Investor’s Guide to Navigating 401(k) Fees

Approximately 60 million Americans have 401(k) plans through their employer. But many of them aren’t aware of the fees these plans charge. In fact, the majority of investors have no idea how much they’re paying in 401(k) fees, according to a 2022 survey.

Learning about these fees is important because 401(k) fees can add up to tens of thousands of dollars over time and cut into your retirement savings. That’s why you’ll want to find out what these fees consist of and how much they are.

Read on to learn more about 401(k) fees and the steps you may be able to take to help reduce them.

Understanding the Basics of 401(k) Fees

401(k) fees are charged by the provider of your 401(k) plan and the investment funds within the plan. There are three main types of 401(k) fees: investment fees, administrative fees, and service fees. Here’s what these fees cover.

Investment fees: Sometimes also referred to as the expense ratio, investment fees cover an investment’s operating and management costs. These fees are deducted from the investment’s performance and are generally expressed as a percentage.

Administrative fees: These are used to cover the management of your account, including record keeping, accounting, and customer service, among other things. They may be a flat fee or a percentage of the account’s total balance.

Service fees: These fees cover additional services related to your 401(k), such as taking out a 401(k) loan or using financial advisory services. You are only charged these fees if you use the services.

The Impact of Fees on Your Retirement Savings

According to the Investment Company Institute, the average 401(k) participant is in a plan with fees of 0.55%. That means the fees on the average 401(k) account balance of $141,542 would be approximately $778 a year. Over 20 years, that would add up to $15,560 in fees. Over 30 years, fees would total $23,340.

As you can see, this could significantly reduce your retirement savings. And, of course, the greater your account balance, the more fees you would pay.

The types of investments you make will also affect the fees you pay. For instance investments that are actively traded tend to have higher fees, while those that are passively traded typically have lower fees.

How to Interpret Fees on Your 401(k) Statement

Fees are included in your 401(k) statement or prospectus, as required by the U.S. Department of Labor. They may be listed as “Total Asset Based Fees,” “Total Operating Expenses,” or “Expense Ratios.”

Fees should be listed for each investment in your plan. For instance, if a fund had 1.25% of Total Operating Expenses, that means 1.25% of the fund’s assets are used to cover the fund’s operating expenses. So for every $1,000 invested in that fund, the operating expense fees are $12.50.


💡 Quick Tip: Look for an online brokerage with low trading commissions as well as no account minimum. Higher fees can cut into investment returns over time.

How Your 401(k) Fees Stack Up

Once you find the fees in your 401(k) plan, you can determine how they compare to standard 401(k) fees. Here’s a look at what 401(k) fees generally are.

What Are Typical 401(k) Fees?

401(k) fees are based on such factors as the size of the plan, the number of employees in the plan, and the provider offering the plan. These fees can run anywhere from 0.5% to 2%. As mentioned earlier, the average 401(k) participant’s plan fees are approximately 0.55%.

The Significance of Expense Ratios and Industry Averages

You may hear the term “expense ratio” and wonder what it is. An expense ratio is how much you’ll pay over the course of a year to own a particular investment fund such as a mutual fund or an exchange-traded fund (ETF). This fee typically covers the cost of operating and managing the fund. In 2022, the average expense ratio for actively managed mutual funds was 0.66%.

Practical Ways to Minimize 401(k) Fees

While you can’t avoid 401(k) fees, there are some actions you can take to reduce their impact on your retirement savings.

Identifying and Reducing Excess Fees

The fee charged by the plan’s provider is a set fee, however, you may be able to lower the investment fees you pay. To do that, review the expense ratios for the different investment funds in the plan. Then, if it makes sense with your overall investment strategy, pick funds within the plan that have lower expense ratios and avoid funds with higher fees.

In addition, if you think the 401(k) fees charged by your plan are too high in general, speak to your human resources department and ask if they would consider switching to another 401(k) plan with lower fees. This may not be possible, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Addressing Hidden Fees in Your 401(k)

The fees in your 401(k) aren’t technically hidden. But they do go by names you may not be familiar with. Here’s how to spot them.

Tools for Uncovering Hidden Fees

The best way to find the fees in your 401(k) is to carefully read through your plan’s prospectus. You now know to look for investment fees or expense ratios, administration fees, and service fees. In addition, look for “12-b1” fees. You may find them fees listed under marketing and distribution. These fees are for the agent or broker who sold the 401(k) plan to your employer. 12-b1 fees are capped at 0.75% of a fund’s assets annually.

Understanding Revenue Sharing and Its Implications

Revenue sharing means adding non-investment fees to a fund’s operating expenses. A 12-b1 fee is one example of this. Revenue sharing fees typically pay for things like record keeping.

Not every 401(k) plan uses revenue sharing, and not all investment funds use them either. Revenue sharing tends to be more likely for actively managed funds rather than passively managed funds like index funds.

That means if you have more actively managed funds, you could be paying more than a colleague who has index funds.



💡 Quick Tip: Want to lower your taxable income? Start saving for retirement with a traditional IRA. The money you save each year is tax deductible (and you don’t owe any taxes until you withdraw the funds, usually in retirement).

How Fees Affect Your Retirement Savings Over the Long-Term

401(k) fees can add up over the years, substantially reducing your retirement savings. And one percentage point in the amount of fees you pay can make a big difference.

Case Studies: The Cumulative Effect of Fees Over Time

Let’s say two individuals work for different companies with different 401(k) plans. Person A has a 401(k) that charges 0.50% in fees, and Person B has a plan that charges 1% in fees. If they each invest $100,000 over 20 years with a 4% annual return, 401(k) fees would reduce the value of Person A’s retirement savings by $10,000, while Person B’s retirement savings would be reduced by almost $30,000.

Proactive Measures to Safeguard Your Retirement Funds

In order to minimize the impact of fees on your retirement savings, find out what fees your 401(k) charges. Also, look at the expense ratios for each fund in the plan and choose funds with lower expenses if you can.

In addition, if you leave your job and move to a new employer, you may pay additional 401(k) fees if you keep your old plan with your former employer. And if you’ve changed jobs multiple times and left your 401(k)s with your former employers, then you could be paying 401(k) fees on multiple accounts.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid these 401(k) fees. You aren’t required to keep your account with your former employer, and you won’t be forced to liquidate it. Instead you could roll over your 401k into your new 401k plan with your new employer, or roll it over into an IRA managed by you.

The benefit of setting up a separate account is that the next time you change jobs, you will automatically have somewhere to rollover your 401(k). With your money in one place, you can more easily see whether you are on track to reach your retirement goals.

The Takeaway

401(k) fees could potentially cost you tens of thousands of dollars or more and substantially reduce your retirement savings. If you have a 401(k), it’s important to learn about the fees charged by your plan. Read over your statements and the plan’s prospectus to find out what and how much these fees are. If possible, choose investment fund options with lower fees to help save money.

And when you leave a job, rather than letting the 401(k) sit with your former employer, consider rolling it over to your new employer’s 401(k) or into a traditional or Roth IRA. One advantage of an IRA is that you will likely have more investment options to choose from and more control of your retirement funds.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).


Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.



Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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