Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA: Key Differences and Considerations

Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA: An In-Depth Comparison for Self-Employed Retirement Planning

Self-employment has its perks, but an employer-sponsored retirement plan isn’t one of them. Opening a solo 401(k) or a Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA) allows the self-employed to save for retirement while enjoying some tax advantages.

So, which is better for you? The answer can depend largely on whether your business has employees or operates as a sole proprietorship and which plan yields more benefits, in terms of contribution limits and tax breaks.

Weighing the features of a solo 401(k) vs. SEP IRA can make it easier to decide which one is more suited to your retirement savings needs.

Key Points

•   Solo 401(k) allows tax-deductible contributions, employer contributions, employee contributions, and offers the option for Roth contributions and catch-up contributions.

•   SEP IRA allows tax-deductible contributions, employer contributions, but does not allow employee contributions, Roth contributions, catch-up contributions, or loans.

•   Withdrawals from traditional solo 401(k) plans and SEP IRAs are taxed in retirement.

•   Solo 401(k) plans allow loans, while SEP IRAs do not.

•   Solo 401(k) plans offer more flexibility and options compared to SEP IRAs.

Understanding the Basics

A solo 401(k) is similar to a traditional 401(k), in terms of annual contribution limits and tax treatment. A SEP IRA follows the same tax rules as traditional IRAs. SEP IRAs, however, typically allow a higher annual contribution limit than a regular IRA.

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

A solo 401(k) covers a business owner who has no employees or employs only their spouse. Simply, a Solo 401(k) allows you to save money for retirement from your self-employment or business income on a tax-advantaged basis.

These plans follow the same IRS rules and requirements as any other 401(k). There are specific solo 401(k) contribution limits to follow, along with rules regarding withdrawals and taxation. Regulations also govern when you can take a loan from a solo 401(k) plan.

A number of online brokerages offer solo 401(k) plans for self-employed individuals, including those who freelance or perform gig work. You can open a retirement account online and start investing, no employer other than yourself needed.

If you use a solo 401(k) to save for retirement, you’ll also need to follow some reporting requirements. Generally, the IRS requires solo 401(k) plan owners to file a Form 5500-EZ if it has $250,000 or more in assets at the end of the year.

What Is a SEP IRA?

A SEP IRA is another option to consider if you’re looking for retirement plans for the self-employed. This tax-advantaged plan is available to any size business, including sole proprietorships with no employees. SEP IRAs work much like traditional IRAs, with regard to the tax treatment of withdrawals. They do, however, allow you to contribute more money toward retirement each year above the standard traditional IRA contribution limit. That means you could enjoy a bigger tax break when it’s time to deduct contributions.

If you have employees, you can make retirement plan contributions to a SEP IRA on their behalf. SEP IRA contribution limits are, for the most part, the same for both employers and employees. If you’re interested in a SEP, you can set up an IRA for yourself or for yourself and your employees through an online brokerage.

💡 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.

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Diving Deeper: Pros and Cons of Each Plan

As you debate between a solo 401(k) vs. a SEP IRA as ways to build wealth for retirement, it’s helpful to learn more about how these plans work, including their benefits and drawbacks.

Advantages of Solo 401(k)s

In terms of differences, there are some things that set solo 401(k) plans apart from SEP IRAs.

With a solo 401(k), you can choose a traditional or Roth. You can deduct your contributions in the year you make them with a traditional solo 401(k), but you’ll pay taxes on your distributions in retirement. With a Roth solo 401(k) you pay taxes on your contributions in the year you make them, and in retirement, your distributions are tax free. You can choose the plan that gives you the best tax advantage.

Another benefit of a solo 401(k) is that those age 50 and older can make catch-up contributions to this plan. In addition, you may be able to take a loan from a solo 401(k) if the plan permits it.

Advantages of SEP IRAs

One of the benefits of a SEP IRA is that contributions are tax deductible and you can make them at any time until your taxes are due in mid-April of the following year.

The plan is also easy to set up and maintain.

If you have employees, you can establish a SEP IRA for yourself as well as your eligible employees. You can then make retirement plan contributions to a SEP IRA on your employees’ behalf. (All contributions to a SEP are made by the employer only, though employees own their accounts.)

SEP IRA contribution limits are, for the most part, the same for both employers and employees. This means that you need to make the same percentage of contribution for each employee that you make for yourself. That means if you contribute 15% of your compensation for yourself, you must contribute 15% of each employee’s compensation (subject to contribution limits).

A SEP IRA also offers flexibility. You don’t have to contribute to it every year.

However, under SEP IRA rules, no catch-up contributions are allowed. There’s no Roth option with a SEP IRA either.

Eligibility and Contribution Limits

Here’s what you need to know about who is eligible for a SEP IRA vs. a Solo 401(k), along with the contribution limits for both plans for 2023.

Who Qualifies for a Solo 401(k) or SEP IRA?

Self-employed individuals and business owners with no employees (aside from their spouse) can open and contribute to a solo 401(k). There are no income restrictions on these plans.

SEP IRAs are available to self-employed individuals or business owners with employees. A SEP IRA might be best for those with just a few employees because IRS rules dictate that if you have one of these plans, you must contribute to a SEP IRA on behalf of your eligible employees (to be eligible, the employees must be 21 or older, they must have worked for you for three of the past five years, and they must have earned at least $750 in the tax year).

Plus, the amount you contribute to your employees’ plan must be the same percentage that you contribute to your own plan.

Contribution Comparison

With a solo 401(k), there are rules regarding contributions, including contribution limits. For 2023, you can contribute up to $66,000, plus an additional catch-up contribution of $7,500 for those age 50 and older. In 2024, you can contribute up to $69,000, plus an extra catch-up contribution of $7,500 for those age 50 and older.

For the purposes of a solo 401(k) you play two roles — employer and employee. As an employee, you can contribute the lesser of 100% of your compensation or up to $22,500 in 2023 and up to $23,000 in 2024. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute the $7,500 catch-up contribution in 2023 and 2024 as well. As an employer, you can make an additional contribution of 25% of your compensation (up to $330,000 of compensation in 2023 and $345,000 in 2024) or net self-employment income.

The contribution limits for a SEP IRA are the lesser of 25% of your compensation or $66,000 in 2023 and $69,000 in 2024. As mentioned earlier, there are no catch-up contributions with this plan.

And remember, per the IRS, if you have a SEP IRA, you must contribute to the plan on behalf of your eligible employees. The amount you contribute to your employees’ plan must be the same percentage that you contribute to your own plan.

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Key Differences That Could Influence Your Decision

When you’re deciding between a solo 401(k) vs. a SEP IRA, consider the differences between the two plans carefully. These differences include:

Roth Options and Tax Benefits

With a solo 401(k), you can choose between a traditional and Roth solo 401(k), depending on which option’s tax benefits make the most sense for you. If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket when you retire, a Roth may be more advantageous since you can pay taxes on your contributions upfront and get distributions tax-free in retirement.

On the other hand, if you anticipate being in a lower tax bracket at retirement, a traditional solo 401(k) that lets you take deductions on your contributions now and pay tax on distributions in retirement could be your best option.

Loan Options and Investment Flexibility

You may also be able to take a loan from a solo 401(k) if your plan permits it. Solo 401(k) loans follow the same rules as traditional 401(k) loans.

If you need to take money from a SEP IRA before age 59 ½, however, you may pay an early withdrawal penalty and owe income tax on the withdrawal.

Both solo 401(k)s and SEP IRA offer more investment options than workplace 401(k)s. So you can choose the investment options that best suit your needs.

The Impact of Having Employees

Whether you have employees or not will help determine which type of plan is best for you.

A solo 401(k) is designed for business owners with no employees except for a spouse.

A SEP IRA is for those who are self-employed or small business owners. A SEP IRA may be best for those who have just a few employees since, as discussed above, you must contribute to a SEP IRA on behalf of all eligible employees and you must contribute the same percentage of compensation as you contribute for yourself.

The Financial Implications for Your Business

The plan you choose, solo 401(k) vs. SEP IRA, does have financial and tax implications that you’ll want to consider carefully. Here’s a quick comparison of the two plans.

Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA at a Glance

Both solo 401(k) plans and SEP IRAs make it possible to save for retirement as a self-employed person or business owner when you don’t have access to an employer’s 401(k). And both can potentially offer a tax break if you’re able to deduct contributions each year.

Here’s a rundown of the main differences between a 401(k) vs. SEP IRA.

Solo 401(k)

SEP IRA

Tax-Deductible Contributions Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Employer Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Employee Contributions Allowed Yes No
Withdrawals Taxed in Retirement Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Roth Contributions Allowed Yes No
Catch-Up Contributions Allowed Yes No
Loans Allowed Yes No

How These Plans Affect Your Bottom Line

Both solo 401(k)s and SEP IRAs are tax-advantaged accounts that can help you save for retirement. With a SEP IRA, contributions are tax deductible, including contributions made on employees’ behalf, which offers a tax advantage. Solo 401(k)s give you the option of choosing a traditional or Roth option so that you can pay tax on your contributions upfront and not in retirement (traditional), or defer them until you retire (Roth).

Making the Choice Between SEP IRA and Solo 401(k): Which Is Right for You?

An important part of planning for your retirement is understanding your long-term goals. Whether you choose to open a solo 401(k) or make SEP IRA contributions can depend on how your business is structured, how much you want to save for retirement, and what kind of tax advantages you hope to enjoy along the way.

When to Choose a Solo 401(k)

If you’re self-employed and have no employees (or if your only employee is your spouse), you may want to consider a solo 401(k). A solo 401(k) could allow you to save more for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis compared to a SEP IRA. A solo 401(k) allows catch-up contributions if you are 50 or older, and you can also take loans from a solo 401(k).

Just be aware that a solo 401(k) can be more work to set up and maintain than a SEP IRA.

When to Choose a SEP IRA

If you’re looking for a plan that’s easy to set up and maintain, a SEP IRA may be right for you. And if you have a few employees, a SEP IRA can be used to cover them as well as your spouse. However, you will need to cover the same percentage of contribution for your employees as you do for yourself.

Remember that a SEP IRA does not allow catch-up contributions, nor can you take loans from it.

Step-by-Step Guide to Opening Your Account

You can typically set up a SEP IRA with any financial institution that offers other retirement plans, including an online bank or brokerage. The institution you choose will guide you through the set-up process and it’s generally quick and easy.

Once you establish and fund your account, you can choose the investment options that best suit your needs and those of any eligible employees you may have. You will need to set up an account for each of these employees.

To open a Solo 401(k), you’ll need an Employee Identification Number (EIN). You can get an EIN through the IRS website. Once you have an EIN, you can choose the financial institution you want to work with, typically a brokerage or online brokerage. Next, you’ll fill out the necessary paperwork, and once the account is open you’ll fund it. You can do this through direct deposit or a check. Then you can set up your contributions.

Additional Considerations for Retirement Planning

Besides choosing a SEP IRA or a solo 401(k), there are a few other factors to consider when planning for retirement. They include:

Rollover Process

At some point, you may want to roll over whichever retirement plan you choose — or roll assets from another retirement plan into your current plan. A SEP IRA allows for either option. You can generally roll a SEP IRA into another IRA or other qualified plan, although there may be some restrictions depending on the type of plan it is. You can also roll assets from another retirement plan you have into your SEP.

A solo 401(k) can also be set up to allow rollovers. You can roll other retirement accounts, including a traditional 401(k) or a SEP IRA, into your solo 401(k). You can also roll a solo 401(k) into a traditional 401(k), as long as that plan allows rollovers.

Can You have Both a SEP IRA and a Solo 401(k)?

It is possible to have both a SEP IRA and a solo 401(k). However, how much you can contribute to them depends on certain factors, including how your SEP was set up. In general, when you contribute to both plans at the same time, there is a limit to how much you can contribute. Generally, your total contributions to both are aggregated and cannot exceed more than $66,000 in 2023 and $69,000 in 2024.

Preparing for Retirement Beyond Plans

Choosing retirement plans is just one important step in laying the groundwork for your future. You should also figure out at what age you can retire, how much money you’ll need for retirement, and the typical retirement expenses you should be ready for.

Working on building your retirement savings is an important goal. In addition to opening and contributing to retirement plans, other smart strategies include creating a budget and sticking to it, paying down any debt you have, and simplifying your lifestyle and cutting unnecessary spending. You may even want to consider getting a side hustle to bring in extra income.

The Takeaway

Saving for retirement is something that you can’t afford to put off. And the sooner you start, the better so that your money has time to grow. Whether you choose a solo 401(k), SEP IRA, or another savings plan, it’s important to take the first step toward building retirement wealth.

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).

Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.


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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.
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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.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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How to Invest in Real Estate: 7 Ways for Beginners

Real estate investing can be an effective way to hedge against the effects of inflation in a portfolio while generating a steady stream of income. When it comes to how to invest in real estate, there’s no single path to entry.

Where you decide to get started can ultimately depend on how much money you have to invest, your risk tolerance, and how hands-on you want to be when managing real estate investments.

Key Points

•   Real estate investing offers portfolio diversification and potential income generation.

•   Benefits of real estate investing include hedging against inflation and potential tax breaks.

•   Different ways to invest in real estate include REITs, real estate funds, REIT ETFs, real estate crowdfunding, rental properties, fix and flip properties, and investing in your own home.

•   Each investment option has its own requirements, fees, holding periods, and risk factors.

•   Consider your financial goals, risk tolerance, and available capital when deciding which real estate investment strategy is right for you.

Why Invest in Real Estate?

Real estate investing can yield numerous benefits, for new and seasoned investors alike. Here are some of the main advantages to consider with property investments.

•   Real estate can diversify your portfolio, allowing you to better balance risk and rewards.

•   Provides the opportunity to generate investment returns outside of owning securities such as stocks, ETFs, or bonds.

•   Historically, real estate is often seen as a hedge against inflation, since property prices tend to increase in tandem with price increases for other consumer goods and services.

•   Owning real estate investments can allow you to generate a steady stream of passive income in the form of rents or dividends.

•   Rental property ownership can include some tax breaks since the IRS allows you to deduct ordinary and necessary expenses related to operating the property.

•   Real estate may appreciate significantly over time, which could result in a sizable gain should you decide to sell it. However, real estate can also depreciate in value, leading to a possible loss or negative return. Investors should know that the real estate market is different than the stock market, and adjust their expectations accordingly.

There’s one more thing that makes real estate investing for beginners particularly attractive: There are many ways to do it, which means you can choose investments that are best suited to your needs and goals.

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7 Ways to Invest in Real Estate

Real estate investments can take different forms, some of which require direct property ownership and others that don’t. As you compare different real estate investments, here are some important things to weigh:

•   Minimum investment requirements

•   Any fees you might pay to own the investment

•   Holding periods

•   Past performance and expected returns

•   Investment-specific risk factors

With those things in mind, here are seven ways to get started with real estate investing for beginners.

1. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that owns and operates income-producing properties. The types of properties you might find in a REIT include warehouses, storage facilities, shopping centers, and office space. A REIT may also own mortgages or mortgage-backed securities.

REITs allow investors to enjoy the benefits of property ownership without having to buy a building or land. Specifically, that means steady income as REITs are required to pay out 90% of taxable income annually to shareholders in the form of dividends. Most REIT dividends are considered to be ordinary income for tax purposes.

Many REITs are publicly traded on an exchange just like a stock. That means you can buy shares through your brokerage account if you have one, making it relatively easy to add REITs to your portfolio. Remember to consider any commission fees you might pay to trade REIT shares in your brokerage account.

2. Real Estate Funds

Real estate funds are mutual funds that own a basket of securities. Depending on the fund’s investment strategy, that may include:

•   Individual commercial properties

•   REITs

•   Mortgages and mortgage-backed securities

Mutual funds also trade on stock exchanges, just like REITs. One of the key differences is that mutual funds are not required to pay out dividends to investors, though they can do so.

Instead, real estate funds aim to provide value to investors in the form of capital appreciation. A real estate fund may buy and hold property investments for the long term, in anticipation of those investments increasing in value over time.

Investing in a real estate fund vs. REIT could offer broader exposure to a wider range of property types or investments. A REIT, for instance, may invest only in hotels and resorts whereas a real estate mutual fund may diversify with hotels, office space, retail centers, and other property types.

3. REIT ETFs

A REIT ETF or exchange-traded fund is similar to a mutual fund, but the difference is that it trades on an exchange just like a stock. There’s also a difference between REIT ETFs and real estate mutual funds regarding what they invest in. With a REIT ETF, holdings are primarily concentrated on real estate investment trusts only.

That means you could buy a single REIT ETF and gain exposure to 10, 20 or more REITs in one investment vehicle.

Some of the main advantages of choosing a REIT ETF vs. real estate funds or individual REITs include:

•   Increased tax efficiency

•   Lower expense ratios

•   Potential for higher returns

A REIT ETF may also offer a lower minimum investment than a REIT or real estate fund, which could make it suitable for beginning investors who are working with a smaller amount of capital.

But along with those advantages, investors should know about some of the potential drawbacks:

•   ETF values may be sensitive to interest rate changes

•   REIT ETFs may experience volatility related to property trends

•   REIT ETFs may be subject to several other types of risk, such as management and liquidity risk more so than other types of ETFs.

As always, investors should consider the risks along with the potential advantages of any investment.

4. Real Estate Crowdfunding

Real estate crowdfunding platforms allow multiple investors to come together and pool funds to fund property investments. The minimum investment may be as low as $500, depending on which platform you’re using, and if you have enough cash to invest you could fund multiple projects.

Compared to REITs, REIT ETFs, or real estate funds, crowdfunding is less liquid since there’s usually a required minimum holding period you’re expected to commit to. That’s important to know if you’re not looking to tie up substantial amounts of money for several years.

You’ll also need to meet a platform’s requirements before you can invest. Some crowdfunding platforms only accept accredited investors. To be accredited, you must:

•   Have a net worth over $1 million, excluding your primary residence, OR

•   Have an income of $200,000 ($300,000 if married) for each of the prior two years, with the expectation of future income at the same level

You can also qualify as accredited if you hold a Series 7, Series 65, or Series 82 securities license.

5. Rental Properties

Buying a rental property can help you create a long-term stream of income if you’re able to keep tenants in the home. Some of the ways you could generate rental income with real estate include:

•   Buying a second home and renting it out to long-term tenants

•   Buying a vacation home and renting it to short-term or seasonal tenants

•   Purchasing a multi-unit property, such as a duplex or triplex, and renting to multiple tenants

•   Renting a room in your home

But recognize the risks or downsides associated with rental properties, too:

•   Negative cash flow resulting from tenancy problems

•   Problem tenants

•   Lack of liquidity

•   Maintenance costs and property taxes

Further, the biggest consideration with rental properties usually revolves around how you’re going to finance a property purchase. You might try for a conventional mortgage, an FHA loan if you’re buying a multifamily home and plan to live in one of the units, a home equity loan or HELOC if you own a primary residence, or seller financing.

Each one has different credit, income, and down payment requirements. Weighing the pros and cons of each one can help you decide which financing option might be best.

6. Fix and Flip Properties

With fix-and-flip investments, you buy a property to renovate and then resell it for (ideally) a large profit. Becoming a house flipper could be lucrative if you’re able to buy properties low, then sell high, but it does take some knowledge of the local market you plan to sell in.

You’ll also have to think about who’s going to handle the renovations. Doing them yourself means you don’t have to spend any money hiring contractors, but if you’re not experienced with home improvements you could end up making more work for yourself in the long run.

If you’re looking for a financing option, hard money loans are one possibility. These loans let you borrow enough to cover the purchase price of the home and your estimated improvements, and make interest-only payments. However, these loans typically have terms ranging from 9 to 18 months so you’ll need to be fairly certain you can sell the property within that time frame.

7. Invest in Your Own Home

If you own a home, you could treat it as an investment on its own. Making improvements to your property that raise its value, for example, could pay off later should you decide to sell it. You may also be able to claim a tax break for the interest you pay on your mortgage.

Don’t own a home yet? Understanding what you need to qualify for a mortgage is a good place to start. Once you’re financially ready to buy, you can take the next step and shop around for the best mortgage lenders.

How to Know If Investing in Real Estate Is a Good Idea for You

Is real estate investing right for everyone? Not necessarily, as every investor’s goals are different. Asking yourself these questions can help you determine where real estate might fit into your portfolio:

•   How much money are you able and willing to invest in real estate?

•   What is your main goal or reason for considering property investments?

•   If you’re interested in rental properties, will you oversee their management yourself or hire a property management company? How much income would you need them to generate?

•   If you’re considering a fix-and-flip, can you make the necessary commitment of time and sweat equity to get the property ready to list?

•   How will you finance a rental or fix-and-flip if you’re thinking of pursuing either one?

•   If you’re thinking of choosing REITs, real estate crowdfunding, or REIT ETFs, how long do you anticipate holding them in your portfolio?

•   How much risk do you feel comfortable with, and what do you perceive as the biggest risks of real estate investing?

Talking to a financial advisor may be helpful if you’re wondering how real estate investments might affect your tax situation, or have a bigger goal in mind, like generating enough passive income from investments to retire early.

💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

The Takeaway

Real estate investing is one of the most attractive alternative investments for portfolio diversification. While you might assume that property investing is only for the super-rich, it’s not as difficult to get started as you might think. Keep in mind that, depending on how much money you have to invest initially and the degree of risk you’re comfortable taking, you’re not just limited to one option when building out your portfolio with real estate.

Ready to expand your portfolio's growth potential? Alternative investments, traditionally available to high-net-worth individuals, are accessible to everyday investors on SoFi's easy-to-use platform. Investments in commodities, real estate, venture capital, and more are now within reach. Alternative investments can be high risk, so it's important to consider your portfolio goals and risk tolerance to determine if they're right for you.

Invest in alts to take your portfolio beyond stocks and bonds.

FAQ

How Can I Invest in Property With Little Money?

If you don’t have a lot of money to invest in property, you might consider real estate investment trusts or real estate ETFs for your first investments. REITs and ETFs can offer lower barriers to entry versus something like purchasing a rental property or a fix-and-flip property.

Is Real Estate Investing Worth It?

Real estate investing can be worth it if you’re able to generate steady cash flow and income, hedge against inflation, enjoy tax breaks, and/or earn above-average returns. Whether investing in real estate is worth it for you can depend on what your goals are, how much money you have to invest, and how much time you’re willing to commit to managing those investments.

Is Investing in Real Estate Better Than Stocks?

Real estate tends to have a low correlation with stocks, meaning that what happens in the stock market doesn’t necessarily affect what happens in the property markets. Investing in real estate can also be attractive for investors who are looking for a way to hedge against the effects of inflation over the long term.

Is Investing in Real Estate Safer Than Stocks?

Just like stocks, real estate investments carry risk meaning one isn’t necessarily safer than the other. Investing in both real estate and stocks can help you create a well-rounded portfolio, as the risk/reward profile for each one isn’t the same.


Photo credit: iStock/Pheelings Media
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.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.

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Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.


Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $25 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.


An investor should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses of the Fund carefully before investing. This and other important information are contained in the Fund’s prospectus. For a current prospectus, please click the Prospectus link on the Fund’s respective page. The prospectus should be read carefully prior to investing.
Alternative investments, including funds that invest in alternative investments, are risky and may not be suitable for all investors. Alternative investments often employ leveraging and other speculative practices that increase an investor's risk of loss to include complete loss of investment, often charge high fees, and can be highly illiquid and volatile. Alternative investments may lack diversification, involve complex tax structures and have delays in reporting important tax information. Registered and unregistered alternative investments are not subject to the same regulatory requirements as mutual funds.
Please note that Interval Funds are illiquid instruments, hence the ability to trade on your timeline may be restricted. Investors should review the fee schedule for Interval Funds via the prospectus.

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TFSA vs RRSP: What’s the Difference?

TFSA vs RRSP: What’s the Difference?

Both TFSAs and RRSPs are accounts that provide Canadian consumers with a chance to save while enjoying investment earnings and unique tax benefits. While a TFSA acts as a more general savings account, an RRSP is used for retirement savings.

Saving is never a bad idea, so here you can learn the difference between these accounts and how they can play a role in securing your financial future.

Keep reading for a more detailed breakdown of a TFSA vs. RRSP so you can make the right financial move for your needs.

What Is the TFSA?

A Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) is a type of registered tax-advantaged savings account to help Canadians earn money on their savings — tax-free. TFSA accounts were created in 2009 by the Canadian government to encourage eligible citizens to contribute to this type of savings account.

Essentially, a TFSA holds qualified investments that can generate capital gains, interest, and dividends, and they’re tax-free. These accounts can be used to build an emergency fund, to save for a down payment on a home, or even to finance a dream vacation.

A TFSA can contain the following types of investments:

•   Cash

•   Stocks

•   Bonds

•   Mutual funds

It’s possible to withdraw the contributions and earnings generated from dividends, interest, and capital gains without having to pay any taxes. Accountholders don’t even have to report withdrawals as income when it’s time to file taxes.

There is a limit to how much someone can contribute to a TFSA on an annual basis. This limit is referred to as a contribution limit, and every year the Canadian government determines what the contribution limit for that year is. If someone doesn’t meet the contribution limit one year, their remaining allowed contributions can be made up for in following years.

To contribute to a TFSA, an individual must be at least 18 years of age and be a Canadian resident with a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN).

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What Is the RRSP?

A Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) is, as the name indicates, a type of savings plan specifically designed to help boost retirement savings. To obtain one, a Canadian citizen must register with the Canadian federal government for this financial product and can then start saving.

When someone contributes to an RRSP, their contributions are considered to be tax-advantaged. What this means: The funds they contribute to their RRSP are exempt from being taxed the year they make the contribution (which can reduce the total amount of taxes they need to pay for that year). On top of that, the investment income these contributions generate will grow tax-deferred. This means the account holder won’t pay any taxes on the earnings until they withdraw them.

Unlike a TFSA, there isn’t a minimum age requirement to open and contribute to an RRSP. That being said, certain financial institutions may require their customers to be the age of majority in order to contribute. It’s possible to contribute to an RRSP until the year the account holder turns 71 as long as they are a Canadian resident, earned an income, and filed a tax return.

Keep reading for a TFSA vs. RRSP comparison.

Similarities Between a TFSA and an RRSP

How does a TFSA vs. RRSP compare? There are a few similarities between TFSAs and RRSPs that are worth highlighting. Here are the main ways in which they are the same:

•   Only Canadians citizens can contribute

•   Contributions can help reach savings goals

•   Investments can be held in each account type

•   Both accounts offer tax advantages.

Differences Between a TFSA and RRSP

Next, let’s answer this question: What is the difference between an RRSP and a TFSA? Despite the fact that both an RRSP and a TFSA share similar goals (saving money and earning interest on it) and advantages (tax benefits), they have some key differences to be aware of.

•   Intended use. RRSPs are for retirement savings whereas TFSAs can be used to save for any purpose.

•   Age eligibility. To contribute to a TFSA one must be 18 years old, but there isn’t an age requirement to open an RRSP.

•   Contribution limit. The limits are usually set annually and are different for TFSAs and RRSPs. For 2024, the contribution limit for an RRSP is the lesser of either 18% of earned income reported on an individual’s tax return for the previous year or the contribution limit, which is currently $31,560 in US dollars. The limit for a TFSA, which also can vary annually, was most recently $7,000.

•   Taxation on withdrawals. While RRSP withdrawals are taxable (but subject to certain exceptions), TFSA withdrawals can be made at any time tax-free.

•   Taxation on contributions. Contributions made to a TFSA aren’t tax-deductible, but RRSP contributions are.

•   Plan maturity. An RRSP matures at the end of the calendar year that the account holder turns 71. TFSAs don’t have age limits for account maturity.

•   Spousal contributions. There is no form of spousal TFSA available, but someone can contribute to a spousal RRSP.

How Do I Choose Between a TFSA and RRSP?

Choosing between a TFSA and an RRSP depends on someone’s unique savings goals and tax preferences. That being said, if someone’s main goal is saving for retirement, they’ll likely find that an RRSP is the right fit for them. When someone contributes to an RRSP, they can defer paying taxes during their peak earning years. Once they retire and make withdrawals (which they will need to pay taxes on), they will ideally have a lower income (and be in a lower tax bracket) and smaller tax liabilities at that point in their life.

If someone wants to be able to use their savings for a variety of different purposes (perhaps including a medium-term goal like the amount needed for a down payment on a home), they may find that a TFSA offers them more flexibility.
That said, there’s no reason TFSA savings can’t be used for retirement later on. Contributing to a TFSA is a great option for someone who has already maxed out their RRSP contributions for the year, but who wants to continue saving and enjoying tax benefits.

Recommended: What Tax Bracket Do I Fall Under?

Can I Have Both a TFSA and RRSP?

It is indeed possible to have both an RRSP and TFSA and to contribute to them at the same time. Putting money into both of these financial vehicles can be a great way to save. There are no downsides associated with contributing to both an RRSP and TFSA at the same time if a person can afford to do so.

Can I Have Multiple RRSP and TFSA Accounts?

Yes, it’s possible to have more than one TFSA and RRSP open at the same time, but there’s no real benefit here. The same contribution limits apply.

That means that opening more than one version of the same account or plan only leads to having more accounts to manage and incurring more administration and management fees. Just as you don’t want to pay fees on your checking account and other bank accounts, you probably don’t want to burn through cash on fees here.

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Should I Prioritize One Over the Other?

Which type of account someone should prioritize depends on their savings goals. Their preferences regarding the unique tax advantages of each account may also come into play. That being said, if someone is focused on saving for retirement, they’ll likely want to make sure they max out their RRSP contributions first.

The Takeaway

Both RRSP and TFSA accounts are great ways for Canadian citizens to save for financial goals like retiring or financing a wedding. Each account has unique advantages and contribution limits. While an RRSP account is designed to help with stashing away cash for retirement, a TFSA account can be used to save for any type of financial need. Whether you choose one or both of these products, you’ll be on a path towards saving and helping to secure your financial future.

Are you U.S.-based and looking to increase your savings efforts?

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FAQ

Is it better to invest in TFSA or RRSP?

When it comes to TFSA vs. RRSP, there’s no right answer to whether investing in one is better than the other. Someone focused on saving for retirement may want to prioritize an RRSP, while someone who wants to save for other expenses (like a home or wedding) may find a TFSA more appealing.

Should I max out RRSP or TFSA first?

If someone is focused on saving for retirement, they may want to max out their RRSP first. That being said, this is a personal decision that depends on unique financial goals and tax preferences.

When should you contribute to RRSP vs TFSA?

Typically, the contribution deadline for RRSPs is around March 1st. A Canadian citizen can put funds in a TFSA at any point in a calendar year, and if they don’t max out their account, they will usually be able to contribute the remaining amount in the future.


Photo credit: iStock/anilakkus

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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.

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.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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What Is a Credit Card Number? What Each Digit Means

All You Need to Know About Credit Card Numbers

A credit card number — that long string of digits on the front or back of every credit card — contains more information than you might think. Though credit card numbers may seem rambling and random, each digit actually has a specific purpose and place. The number you see on a credit card provides information about the individual account holder, the payment network, and the card issuer. It also uses a special formula to help prevent transaction errors and fraud.

Here, gain a deeper understanding of the significance of each digit.

What Is a Credit Card Number?

A credit card number is a set of digits — usually 16 — that’s printed on the front or back of a credit card.

It’s important to note that your credit card number is not the same thing as your account number. Your credit card number includes your account number, but it has additional digits (an account number typically has 12), and it provides more information. When you make a credit purchase online or on the phone, you can expect to be asked for your full card number to authenticate the transaction.

Though the information provided by every credit card number is basically the same, the format may differ a bit from card to card: Sometimes the numbers are raised; sometimes they’re flat. And generally, although not always, the digits are divided into four sets of four (xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx).

The format for credit cards and debit cards is similar — which is why you might pull out the wrong card from time to time.

Who Decides What Your Credit Card Number Is?

Your credit account number is assigned by the financial institution that is your credit card issuer. But the structure and sequence of the digits in your credit card number must follow a rigid set of standards imposed by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and enforced by the American Network of Standards Institute (ANSI).

All card issuers follow these rules, so consumers can use their cards or card numbers no matter where they are in the world.

Credit Card Number Structure

Even if you know what a credit card is and how credit cards work, you may not be familiar with what the numbers on your card mean. Though most credit card numbers have 16 digits, the length may vary. Of the four major card networks, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover card numbers all have 16 digits, while American Express card numbers have only 15. Here’s what those digits actually mean.

The First Number: Industry Identifier

The first digit in a credit card number is known as the Major Industry Identifier (MII), and it can tell you both the industry associated with the card and the payment network.

Payment Network

Most credit cards start with a 3, 4, 5, or 6. These numbers represent the major payment networks, each of which has its own identifier:

•   American Express cards begin with a 3

•   Visa cards begin with a 4

•   Mastercard cards typically start with a 5, but may start with a 2

•   Discover cards start with a 6

Knowing your credit card’s payment network can be useful, because the network determines which merchants will accept the card. Your favorite local market or small boutique might accept credit card payments with a Mastercard, Visa, or Discover card, for example, but they may not let you pay with American Express.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Industry Association

There are many different types of credit cards. Some credit cards are meant for general use, while others may be geared to a more specific purpose. The MII can tell you which type of industry your card is most associated with. Here’s what some MIIs generally mean:

•   1: Airlines

•   2: Airlines and financial

•   3: Travel and entertainment

•   4: Banking and financial

•   5: Banking and financial

•   6: Merchandising and banking

•   7: Petroleum

•   8: Health care and communications

•   9: Government and other

The Next 5 Numbers: Identification Numbers

The next five digits complete the Bank Identification Number (BIN), or Issuer Identification Number (IIN). This can tell you who the card issuer is.

The credit card issuer is the financial institution that offers the card and manages your account. Some of the largest credit card issuers in the U.S. include American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Discover.

When you apply for a credit card, it’s the issuer who accepts or declines your application. When you make a purchase, you’re borrowing money from the credit card issuer, and when you pay your bill, you’re paying back that money. Any time you check your balance, request a higher credit limit or a lower interest rate, or obtain a replacement card, you’re doing it through your credit card issuer.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

The Next 9-12 Numbers: Account Identifier

The remaining digits on the card — except for the very last one — identify the account and the cardholder.

Don’t worry, there isn’t a secret indicator in your card number that tells people how often you’re using your credit card or if you’re paying your bills on time. This part of your card number simply represents what account the card is connected to.

If your card is lost or stolen, or your card number is compromised in a credit card scam, you may notice that the number on your replacement card has changed, even if your account number hasn’t. So if you’re keeping a list of card numbers in a secure place, you may have to update that card number.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

The Last Number: Checksum

The last digit of a credit card number is referred to as the “checksum” or “check digit.” Card issuers and payment networks use it to catch errors and help protect against unauthorized card use. (Let’s face it: Even if you follow all the so-called credit card rules, things can happen.)

When a card is used for a purchase or payment, this digit is used as part of a mathematical formula called the Luhn algorithm to verify the card’s validity. If the checksum doesn’t work, the transaction is quickly rejected. (If you’ve ever mistyped your card number when shopping online, you’ve seen this algorithm in action.)

Most major networks use the final digit as the checksum. However, if you have a Visa credit card, it may be the 13th digit.

What About the Other Numbers on the Card?

Besides the card number, there are two other sets of digits that also can play a critical role when you use your credit card.

Card Verification Value (CVV)

The Card Verification Value (or CVV number on a credit card) or Card Verification Code (CVC) is also used to protect the card owner. If you do a lot of online shopping, you’re probably very familiar with this three- or four-digit number, which usually is found on the back of a credit card near or inside the signature strip.

On some cards, there may be seven digits in this spot. If this is the case, the first four digits you see are the last four digits of your credit card number. The last three digits in the grouping represent the CVV.

If you have an American Express card, the CVV is a four-digit number located on the front of the card, just above the logo.

The CVV is designed to help protect against identity theft. If you aren’t presenting your card in person during a transaction (because you’re using it online or over the phone), providing the CVV can help prove you’re in possession of the physical card.

Expiration Date

The expiration date offers yet another layer of protection for the card holder. Most businesses require that you provide the credit card number, the CVV, and the card’s expiration date when you make an online purchase.

The credit card expiration date typically appears on the front of the card with two digits for the month and two digits for the year (xx/xx). But if the account number is printed on the back of the card, you’ll likely find the expiration date there.

Even if you never need to use it to make a remote purchase or payment, it can be a good idea to glance at your card’s expiration date from time to time. That way, you can ensure you always have a current card in your wallet.

You’ll also know when it’s time to watch for the arrival of a replacement card. If a new card doesn’t arrive in the month the old card expires, you can call the issuer and immediately take steps to protect yourself if it appears the card has been lost or stolen. (The phone number for customer service is also on your card.)

The Takeaway

At first glance, the number on your credit card might look like a meaningless jumble. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find each digit has a purpose — to provide information, to help keep your account secure, and to make the card more user-friendly.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Where do I find my credit card number?

Your credit card number may appear on the front or back of your credit card.

Is the credit card number the same as the account number?

No, the two numbers are linked, but they are not the same. Your credit card number includes your account number, but it has more digits, and those extra digits are important to how each transaction is processed.

How long is a credit card number?

A credit card number typically has 16 digits, but the number can vary. American Express uses a 15-digit format for its credit cards.

Can a credit card number be stolen?

Yes. A credit card number can be stolen in multiple ways: through the theft of a physical card, during a data breach, with a card skimmer, or if the cardholder uses an unsecured website or public Wi-Fi when making a credit transaction.


Photo credit: iStock/max-kegfire

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.

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.

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What Is a Credit Limit and How Is It Determined?

What Is a Credit Limit and How Is It Determined?

A credit limit is basically what the term suggests: A financial cap on a credit card account that limits how much money the cardholder can borrow from the card issuer. By including a maximum spending amount, the card issuer buys itself some protection against the cardholder borrowing more than they can pay back on an ongoing basis.

There’s more to the story, however, when it comes to credit card limits and how they’re determined. Here’s a closer look at what a credit limit is and what happens if you go over your credit limit.

What Is a Credit Limit?

As mentioned, a credit limit is the maximum amount that you can charge with your credit card, which represents a line of credit. The amount is determined based on information provided in a credit card application, such as the applicant’s credit score, income, and existing debts. Usually, the higher the credit, the higher above the average credit card limit someone will receive.

It’s also important to note that credit card limits aren’t set in stone. A cardholder may receive a higher credit card limit if they make their payments on time and stay well within their credit limit. Conversely, if card payments are late (or worse, not made at all) or if there are other signs of risk, such as nearing or exceeding their credit card spending limit, then the card issuer may decrease someone’s credit limit.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

Credit Limit and Available Credit

Each purchase made with a credit card is deducted from your total credit limit, resulting in your available credit. For example, let’s say someone has a credit limit of $10,000. If they spend $2,000 at a store that accepts credit card payments, their available credit falls to $8,000. If they were then to make a $1,000 payment toward their balance, their available credit would increase to $9,000.

In this way, your available credit will fluctuate over time depending on purchases and other transactions you’ve made, as well as any payments, including credit card minimum payments, made on the account. Your credit limit, on the other hand, remains constant regardless of account activity.

Credit Limit and Credit Scores

There’s another good reason to keep your credit card spending in check, and significantly below your card limit — it affects your credit score.

When FICO® (one of the most popular credit scoring systems) calculates its benchmark credit scores, it places a significant weight (30% of its total credit score calculations) on credit utilization. Credit utilization ratio compares the amount of credit a cardholder is using to the total available credit they have.

For instance, a card owner may have $10,000 in total available credit, but owe a total of $9,000 on the card. That represents a 90% card utilization, which is considered high and may raise a red flag for lenders. It may suggest overspending and potentially an inability to pay. As such, a high credit utilization ratio could result in a lower credit limit for the cardholder, whether that’s a decrease on their existing limit or lower limits offered on new accounts.

It’s usually recommended that cardholders keep their card utilization rate below 30% to avoid negative effects on their credit score. In the above example, that means the cardholder with a $10,000 credit card limit shouldn’t owe more than $3,000 on the card.

How Much of Your Credit Limit Can You Use?

Technically, you can spend up to your credit limit. However, using too much of your total credit can adversely affect your credit utilization ratio, a key factor in determining your credit score.

It’s suggested to keep your credit utilization below 30% — which means using no more than 30% of your overall credit limit. This is why it’s always important to make payments, even if you’re in the process of requesting a credit card chargeback or other dispute.

How Is Your Credit Limit Determined?

The formula for determining a credit card limit depends on which scoring model the card provider uses. Generally, one of three distinct credit limit models is used: credit-based limits, predetermined credit limits, or customized limits.

Credit-Based Limits

With credit-based limits, card providers leverage your credit score to determine credit limits. In doing so, card companies rely on the same financial formula that credit scoring agencies use to create a credit score — a cardholder’s payment history, credit utilization rate, total length of credit history, credit mix, and any new credit inquiries. Card companies may also take a close look at the card owner’s total annual income, total household expenses, and type of employment.

Basically, the better you are at making on-time credit card payments, curbing household debt, and handling consumer credit, the more likely you are to get a higher credit card limit under the credit-based limits model.

Predetermined Credit Limits

This credit limit calculation model relies on a “ladder approach” to determine credit limits. In this scenario, credit card issuers assign a credit limit based on the type of card. In other words, every card in a certain tier — such as an entry-level card or a premium rewards card — would come with the same credit limit rather than the credit limit being determined based on the individual consumer.

The more features and amenities a chosen credit card has, the higher the credit limit typically is under this model. For example, a premium credit card with robust benefits and generous cash-back rewards may have a credit limit of $10,000. Meanwhile, a more bare bones credit card for entry-level cardholders may have a credit limit of $500.

Customized Credit Limits

With customized credit limits, card providers tailor the credit limit to the individual credit card consumer. They may do so in different ways based on different criteria.

For example, one credit card issuer may base its decision on a cardholder’s annual household income, while another may prioritize the number of credit cards an individual already owns, along with their existing credit limits.

In that way, card companies are drilling down into an individual’s financial history and basing their credit limit decision on myriad factors. Once again, the stronger a card candidate’s financial resume, the more likely that individual is to receive a higher credit card limit.

Can You Spend Over Your Credit Limit?

In general, credit card companies prevent spending over the credit card limit.

When a cardholder has reached their limit and attempts to use their credit card, the transaction may be declined.

In some instances, however, the card issuer may allow the transaction to go through and instead impose a financial penalty for spending over the credit card limit. According to the Credit Card Act of 2009 (CCA), the card company can’t assess a fee that’s more than the amount spent over the credit limit. So, for instance, if you overspent by $30, your fee couldn’t be more than $30.

Typically, the card owner must opt in to allow for purchases over the credit limit to be approved. The CCA legislation mandates that credit card companies can’t arbitrarily charge an over-the-limit fee without the cardholder’s signed consent. For that reason, most card providers have eliminated over-the-limit fees and simply deny the transaction instead.

Check with your card company to see if it still charges over-the-limit fees. If so, and you object, ask to opt out and focus on keeping your credit card balance well below your card spending limit.

Is It Possible to Increase Your Credit Card Limit?

Credit card limits aren’t static. They can go up — especially if a card customer asks for a credit limit increase — and they can also go down.

Perhaps the easiest way to increase your credit limit is to contact your card provider and ask for a credit limit boost. You can usually make this request over the phone or on the card issuer’s website or mobile app.

Before you make any request for a credit card limit increase, check your credit report to see that your financial health is in good standing, as your card provider will likely treat your request for a credit limit hike like any request for credit. That means a thorough credit check to ensure your credit card payment history is strong, your credit score is good, and your job situation or annual household income hasn’t deteriorated.

The credit card company will review those financial factors and let you know whether or not your request for a credit increase is approved. If you’re denied a higher credit limit, your best recourse is to take some time to improve your credit score and build a stronger credit profile.

In some cases, you can apply for a new credit card with a higher credit limit. However, expect any new card issuer to conduct the same rigorous credit vetting your original card company conducted given how credit cards work.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

The Takeaway

Credit card companies assign credit card limits to consumers based on one of three typical models. Often, your ability to handle credit and pay it back on a timely basis comes into play when determining how high your credit limit is. If you’d like a higher credit card limit, you can ask your current card issuer if your financial status has improved, or you could consider applying for a new credit card.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Can lenders change credit limits?

Yes, lenders can change credit limits — particularly if a credit card holder asks them to do so. But credit limits are unlikely to change for the better unless the cardholder has a solid credit history and financial situation.

What is a normal credit card limit?

That depends on the individual and credit card companies, but the average credit limit for U.S. cardholders is currently almost $30,000. That said, individual credit card limits can vary depending on a variety of factors, and can be as low as $300.

How do I get a high credit card limit?

A good way to get a high credit limit is to display habits that show creditors that you’re a low credit risk. That means paying your bills on time, keeping debt low, and having a robust credit history.


Photo credit: iStock/RgStudio

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.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

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