No 401(k) Available at Work. What To Do?

No 401k What To DoI received an interesting question the other day about a topic I hadn’t given much thought to before. A reader e-mailed me asking what they should do if their work didn’t offer a 401(k) plan. I talk a lot about asset allocation, investing strategies and making contributions to your retirement accounts but it’s a lot harder to implement these strategies without a 401(k), so what’s one to do?

Although most companies do offer a 401(k), not all plans are the same. In some cases, your plan might have such outrageous fees that it will only make sense to contribute up to the company match(if there even is one) and then start exploring alternatives like IRA’s and fter-tax accounts. It’s gotten easier and easier for small businesses to set up 401(k)’s for their employees but there are still some out there that don’t. I think our 401(k) system needs a lot of work but not offering one isn’t the solution.

Get Everyone on the Same Page

If you’re a W2 employer for a company that doesn’t offer a 401(k) you’re at a huge disadvantage. You are effectively losing $17,500(2013 contribution limit) worth of tax advantaged space. I would try to get all of the employees on the same page and show them how much of a disadvantage it is not having a 401(k). That way, you can all calmly and reasonably approach the boss and carefully lay out the reasons why you want a 401(k). Don’t go in and make demands, instead be reasonable yet firm that you all deserve a 401(k).

Open a Traditional IRA

The best thing about a traditional IRA is that you can open it with almost any broker and invest in anything you want, from Lending Club to CMC Markets. IRA’s are very flexible and you should choose a broker that offers low cost funds in order to maximize your earning potential. The only problem with IRA’s is that you will be limited to $5,500 a year(2013 contribution limit) so it’s not a great substitute for a 401(k).

I would probably stay away from a Roth IRA since the contributions wouldn’t be tax deductible like with a traditional IRA. And since you only get to pick one(traditional or Roth), I’d go with the deductible one since you don’t get a 401(k) contribution deduction.

1099 Income Means You Can Open a Solo 401(k)

If you get paid in 1099 income or you own your own business, then you have the option of opening a solo 401(k). Usually when an employer pays you with a 1099, it means that you are a contract type or temporary employee. You won’t get any benefits like medical and 401(k) but getting paid with a 1099 means you are self employed, and technically you now own a business. That business is you.

A solo 401(k) does exactly what it sounds like and allows you to open a 401(k) for yourself in order to deduct your business income. This is a great option for those with 1099 income since you can open a solo 401(k) pretty easily with whichever broker you choose. Things can get a little bit more complicated though around tax time, so I would probably consult with a tax specialist here.

If you have W2 and 1099 income, you can still open a solo 401(k) but the $17,500 contribution limit applies across all your 401(k) accounts. So you won’t be able to ever contribute more than $17,500 across all your 401(k) accounts. But this could come in handy if you have W2 and 1099 income and your W2 employer doesn’t offer a 401(k) or if you leave your W2 job halfway through the year and your new employer won’t allow you to make 401(k) contributions for 6 months.

Having no 401(k) shouldn’t be an excuse for not being able to save. Instead, it just means that you’re going to have to work a little bit harder. Having 1099 income makes things way easier but if you don’t, don’t give up. Losing out on $17,500 of tax advantaged space is a big deal so maybe it’s time you start looking for other opportunities in the area, or at least ask for a raise!

Readers, have you ever worked for a company that didn’t offer a 401(k)? If so, how many employees were there? I would really have to love the company to work for one with no 401(k) but I love saving!

Track All Your Accounts With Personal Capital

Personal CapitalPersonal Capital lets you see all of your accounts in one convenient place.  Sign up now for free.

-Harry @ PF Pro

The following two tabs change content below.
Hi, I'm Harry, the owner and head writer for Your PF Pro. I started this site back in 2011 in order to create a place where young professionals could come and get all of their financial questions answered. On the site, you'll find articles on everything from asset allocation for retirement to saving money at Chipotle! So enjoy..

Latest posts by Harry Campbell (see all)


  1. says

    I think I would have to go with the Roth over the Traditional. If you can only afford to go with one, I’d rather go with the tax free growth because there is a good chance you may not be itemizing. Plus, over the long run, you’ll be saving way more money with tax free growth than the deduction you get for the Traditional IRA. Regardless, the important thing is to start one of them and save!
    Greg@ClubThrifty recently posted…How to Buy a Used Car Like a BossMy Profile

    • says

      Hmm I actually didn’t think about it that way. I’m not sure if this is exactly what you meant but since a 5k roth contribution is actually a $6,667 traditional contribution(assuming 25% tax rate) you are effectively able to contribute more with a roth contribution.

      As for the savings though, that is actually a myth. Your traditional IRA contribution is pre-tax so a 5k contribution is not the same as a 5k Roth IRA contribution. If you do the calculations over taking into account the initial taxes paid on roth ira, the amounts would be exactly the same after X amount of years.

    • says

      Thanks Tushar, yea I can’t even imagine what it would be like to not have a 401(k). I just started maxing it out this year so needless to say it’s a big portion of my retirement savings!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge