IRA VS 401K: Differences & Which One Is Preferable

IRA vs 401k
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IRA vs 401K: The 401K is an employer-sponsored plan with its own set of rules. On the other hand, a traditional IRA is established by the owner without involving the employer. In this article, we’ll treat the IRA vs 401K as regards their differences, similarities, and their withdrawal rules. We’ll also compare Solo 401K vs SEP IRA for small businesses.

IRA vs 401K Plans: An Overview

401K and IRA plans are the two main ways to save for retirement. Employers may offer participation in a defined-contribution plan, such as a 401(k), to their employees as a tax-advantaged way to save for retirement.

Employees typically contribute a percentage of their salary to their 401(k), with the employer matching up to a certain limit. If the company has 100 or fewer employees, employers may also provide a simplified employee pension (SEP) IRA or a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA.

Individuals can save on their own by opening an IRA (a person can have both a 401(k) and an IRA). IRAs, on the other hand, do not offer employer-matching contributions. Different types of IRAs have different income and contribution limits, as well as different tax advantages. Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s both grow tax-free, which means there is no tax on the interest and earnings earned over time. Distributions or withdrawals from these accounts, however, are typically taxed at your then-current income tax rate in retirement.

However, there are several IRAs that provide for tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Most IRAs and 401(k)s do not permit withdrawals until the owner reaches the age of 591; otherwise, the Internal Revenue Service imposes a tax penalty (IRS).

Again, exceptions to the early withdrawal penalty may exist depending on the specific retirement account and a person’s financial position.


A 401(k) is tax-advantaged retirement savings account that employers provide to their employees. Employees contribute to their accounts through elective salary deferrals, which means that a percentage of their pay is withheld and deposited to the 401(k).

The funds are invested in various investments, often a portfolio of mutual funds that the sponsor chooses. The fund selections are intended to fit a specified risk tolerance, so employees can only take on as much aggressive or cautious risk as they are comfortable with. Income from investments grows and compounds tax-free.

Many employers also provide Roth 401(k)s. Contributions are supported with after-tax dollars, so they are not tax-deductible; however, eligible withdrawals are tax-free.

SEP IRA vs. Solo 401k

According to a 2019 report from SCORE, a non-profit advisor to small businesses, only 28% of businesses with fewer than 10 employees have a retirement plan. The solo 401(k) and SEP IRA are two plans that can assist small businesses in providing for their employees.

Both types of plans can be started relatively quickly and without many of the hassles of traditional plans, such as a 401(k), which are frequently avoided by small businesses due to their size.

SEP IRA vs. Solo 401k: What They Represent

Solo 401 (k)

Consider the solo 401(k) a 401(k) just for you—or you and a spouse if you’re the only two employees in your company. It can offer the same benefits as a traditional 401(k) plan—tax breaks, tax-deferred growth, and tax-free growth if you choose a solo Roth 401(k)—and you can also get some extra benefits, allowing you to save even more money in your plan.

You can save up to $20,500 (in 2023) in your self-employed 401(k) plan as an employee deferral, just like you would in a regular 401(k). You’ll also be able to add to the plan. Because you are also the employer, you can make an employer contribution to the account of up to 25% of the business’s income, up to a maximum account value of $61,000. (for 2023).

The fact that your employee contribution is not limited to a percentage of your pay is an appealing feature of the solo 401(k). That is, you can contribute your entire salary to the plan right away, up to the annual maximum. Then you can make 25 percent employer contributions. This configuration enables you to quickly accumulate funds in your solo 401(k) plan.

Those over the age of 50 can contribute an additional $6,500 catch-up contribution (in 2023), as is customary for other employer-sponsored plans.


The SEP-IRA expands on the classic IRA concept to meet the needs of freelancers, business owners, and others who have employees. SEP stands for “simplified employee pension,” and it allows a business (including self-employed individuals) to contribute to employees’ retirement plans, allowing them to save for retirement through their workplace.

A SEP IRA allows you to set aside up to 25% of your business’s profits, or up to $61,000 per year (as of 2023). As a result, this plan may be especially beneficial to self-employed individuals. Even if you have a 401(k) at your primary company, if you pay yourself, you can contribute to a SEP. Thus, making it an appealing way for freelancers to save money.

Despite its larger contribution maximum, the SEP IRA is subject to the same investing, distribution, and rollover rules as a conventional IRA, including early withdrawal rules (which lead to a 10 percent penalty tax and required minimum distributions by age 72). Money invested in the plan is tax-deductible and grows tax-free until retirement. When you withdraw it, you’ll have to pay taxes on the distributions, just like a standard IRA.

SEP IRA vs. Solo 401k: Differences

Both the solo 401(k) and the SEP IRA allow you to save similar amounts of money each year, but both plans differ in important ways, and you should study the fine print to determine which plan is appropriate for your position.

The following are three significant discrepancies between the SEP IRA vs. Solo 401k:

#1. Rates of contribution

Despite comparable annual contribution limitations, the solo 401(k) can help you save faster. The SEP IRA allows you to save up to 25% of your earnings in the account. In contrast, with a solo 401(k), you can save up to 100% as an employee contribution, up to the yearly limit, and then switch to employer contributions at a rate of up to 25%.

This 401(k) function is especially useful if you have a side job in addition to your principal employment and can save money at a higher rate. However, keep in mind that your yearly maximum contribution limit applies to all of your 401(k) contributions combined.

#2. Possibility of adding more personnel

A solo 401(k) will not work for a firm with employees, with the exception of a spouse who works in your business. If this is the case, you may want to consider a SEP IRA, which allows you to set up a plan for several employees. If you’re putting together a plan for your employees, compare the SEP IRA to the SIMPLE IRA to find which works best.

#3. Roth investments

If you want the tax-free growth of a Roth plan, your only alternative (apart from a Roth IRA) is a solo 401(k). You can also contribute to your solo 401(k) after-tax as well as pre-tax. In contrast, the SEP IRA limits you to the rules of a traditional IRA, even if the annual maximum contribution is significantly larger.

IRA vs. 401K: Withdrawal Rules and Penalties

Before we compare IRA vs. 401(k) in terms of withdrawal rules, let’s see what the withdrawal rules for each are:

401(k) Early Withdrawal rules

Early withdrawals are those made from a 401(k) before the age of 59 1/2. IRS taxes them as regular income. They are also liable to an additional 10% penalty, but there are some exceptions to this regulation. If you are fully and permanently incapacitated, lose your work before the age of 55, or are the subject of a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) following a divorce, you can accept the money without penalty.

You can also use 401(k) funds to cover medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (MAGI) as long as your insurer does not cover them. In other words, you paid for them with your own cash.

When you take an early withdrawal, you will not only lose a significant portion of your savings to taxes, but you will also miss out on the growth that would have occurred on the withdrawn amount.

Some 401(k) plans permit hardship distributions, although they are frequently subject to approval by your employer. They must satisfy a big, immediate demand. They must also be no more than the amount required to meet that demand. 

Borrowing from a 401(k) Plan 

If your workplace allows it, a 401(k) loan may be a better option than an early distribution. This loan does not require a credit check. Interest rates are typically cheaper than with other types of loans. However, fees may apply. You must repay yourself with interest within five years—or virtually immediately if you leave your job.

If you accept a loan, you will forfeit one of the 401(k)’s benefits since you would have to pay yourself back with after-tax money. You’ll also miss out on potentially important months or years of earnings on that money.

Another significant disadvantage is that you may be required to repay the loan within 90 days if you leave your job for any reason. If you do not, your loan balance will be regarded as taxable income in that year. This could push you into a higher tax band, as well as subject you to the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Early IRA Withdrawal Rules

Early withdrawals from regular IRAs are also taxed and subject to a 10% penalty. They have many of the same penalty exceptions as 401(k)s, but there are a few variances.

You can withdraw money early if you use it to pay for higher education expenditures, health insurance premiums you must pay while unemployed, or a first-time house purchase.

IRAs do not require a QDRO to be divided after a divorce. However, they are still subject to certain rules.

Roth IRA vs Roth 401K: Withdrawal Rules

Roth accounts are funded with after-tax cash. Therefore, withdrawing funds from them is not handled the same as withdrawing funds from traditional IRAs and 401(k)s. Distributions are tax-free if you are at least 59 1/2 years old and have kept a Roth account for at least five years. If the account owner becomes disabled or dies, the age rule does not apply.

There is still a 10% tax penalty for withdrawing money early, but solely on earnings. Because you’ve already paid taxes on the money, you can take the amount of your original contributions tax-free before the age of 59 1/2.

Minimum Distributions Required

When you reach the age of 72, you must begin taking the required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your conventional IRA account. If you don’t, the IRS will fine you 50% of the amount you should have taken out.

Prior to the passing of the SECURE Act of 2019, the required starting age for RMDs was 70 1/2, and it remains so for anyone who achieves that age before January 1, 2020. All others are 72 years old as of that date.

The IRS utilizes life expectancy data to calculate how much you must withhold each year to avoid the 50% penalty. However, your 401(k) can remain intact as long as you continue to work, and nothing requires Roth IRA owners to take RMDs at any time.

What is the advantage of an IRA over a 401k?

If you roll your 401(k) money into an IRA, you won’t have to pay taxes on it right away, and your savings for retirement will continue to grow tax-free. Your old 401(k) plan might not have given you as many investment options or as much control as an IRA.

Is an IRA worth it if you have a 401k?

Despite the bright outlook, it makes sense to supplement your 401(k) with an individual retirement account (IRA) (k). You can save more with an IRA, and you may have more investment options than with a company-sponsored retirement plan.

Are IRAs still a good idea?

If you’re an investor, an IRA presents a great opportunity to reduce your taxable income in retirement. You can invest in your retirement and save money on taxes at the same time. However, astute retiree savers are aware of a better tax-cutting strategy: You should open a Roth IRA.

Is it normal for an IRA to lose money?

An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a tax-advantaged investment account that some people use to set money aside for retirement. Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) allow for a variety of investments, but there is always the risk of losing money due to the ups and downs of the market.

What percentage of salary should go to IRA?

Indeed, the majority of financial advisors recommend putting away 15% of your annual salary for retirement (including any employer contribution).

What is a good age to start an IRA?

The good age for you to start your IRA is between 32 to 60 years. Right about now is when most people’s interest in opening an IRA peaks, and for a good reason. You’re at the height of your earning potential and should have no trouble financing this endeavor. Start putting away as much money as you can toward your retirement fund now.

What happens to my 401k if I quit?

If your new company offers a 401(k) plan, you can transfer your existing account to it. The alternative is to transfer the funds from your 401(k) to an IRA (IRA). If your 401(k) balance is not too small, you can also leave it with your former employer.

In Conclusion,

IRAs and 401(k) plans are both excellent investment vehicles with distinct advantages. Because a 401(k) is an employer-sponsored plan, your investment options are limited, but your contribution limits are substantially higher than in a standard or Roth IRA. Ideally, you can combine the two accounts to build a comprehensive retirement portfolio that will allow you to rest and enjoy your golden years.

What Does IRA Fall Under?

IRAs are tax-advantaged retirement savings schemes with a variety of investment possibilities. Many investors use IRAs as their primary source of retirement savings.

Can I Have a Solo 401K and a Sep IRA?

es and no, you can contribute to both a Solo 401(k) and a SEP IRA in the same year. Everything depends on the forms you employ. You can keep both plans in place for your small business, but there is no benefit to doing so.

What Is the Best Retirement Plan for Self Employed?

The best retirement plan for self-employed individuals is the traditional IRA or Roth IRA.

  1. 401k Contribution Limits 2023: A Comprehensive Listing & All You Need(Updated.
  2. SELF DIRECTED 401K: All You Need To Know(Opens in a new browser tab)
  3. ROTH 401(K): Withdrawal Rules and Comparisons(Opens in a new browser tab)
  4. 401k BENEFITS: 2023 401k Benefits for Employees and Employers(+Detailed Guide)
  5. 401k: Easy Guide for Beginners and Pros(+Best 15 Plans in 2023)
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