It's never too early to start planning or saving for retirement, all the financial experts say. But if you work for yourself or own a small business, did you know you can establish a 401(k) -- a tax-advantaged, defined contribution account named after a section of the U.S. Internal Revenue code?
Employers and employees can make contributions to their account through automatic payroll withholding, and employers can match some or all of the employee contributions.
There are two types of 401(k) plans, a traditional 401(k) and a Roth 401(k). Earnings resulting from choices made in the 401(k) aren't taxed until money is withdrawn, and in a Roth 401k, withdrawals can be made tax-free. Contributions by employees into a 401(k) are pre-tax, and reduce the taxable income for the year they are contributed; but are taxed as income when withdrawn. Contributions to a Roth 401(k) are made after-tax, so those withdrawals are tax-free.
Traditional pensions are defined-benefit plans in which a company contributes a defined amount to an employee's retirement. But through the years, more and more employers have decided to shift the employees' retirement savings and risk to the employees themselves.
Offerings in 401(k) plans from employers usually include stock and bond mutual funds, as well as target-date funds and guaranteed investment contracts issued by insurance companies, and even an employer's own stock.
The maximum amount any employee or employer can contribute is calculated and adjusted every year. In 2019, it is $19,000 for workers under age 50 and $25,000 for those 50 and older.
Some plans require a minimum amount to start; others have no minimum.
As with all such investment and financial matters, speak with a trusted financial planner before investing in any of these curated recommendations.Here are the 12 best 401(k) providers TheStreet could find for you:
12 Best 401K Providers of 2019
1. Charles Schwab:
Schwab (SCHW - Get Report) , a well-known name in low-cost investing, says "If you're self-employed or run an owner-only business, you can make substantial contributions toward your retirement with an Individual 401(k) plan. It's easy to administer and has many of the same benefits as a traditional 401(k). Best of all, you direct how your contributions are invested."
Schwab has an Index Advantage 401(k) plan designed to "lower costs, simplify investing and help workers better prepare for retirement." The plan consists of index mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) with low operating expenses -- unlike actively managed mutual funds. According to Schwab, this saves about 60% to 85% of operating expenses. The plans have no annual fees, and participants get full access to all of Schwab's brokerage and banking services. Automatic enrollment can be used, and employees can get help or use a self-directed brokerage account, according to the company.
Its Index Advantage 401(k) plans come with advisor services, and also provides enrollment in interest-bearing savings through Schwab Bank. There is also no minimum amount to open an account, contributions are tax-deductible and earnings are tax-deferred.
2. Employee Fiduciary:
Billing itself as "America's low cost 401(k)," Employee Fiduciary contends its retirement plans "offer small businesses the same low fees, quality service and investment choice as plans sponsored by our country's largest corporations."
The minimum amount required to start a plan with Employee Fiduciary is $500, or $1,000 to convert to a plan that already exists. The plans have more than 377 mutual fund families, including Vanguard, all available ETFs and access to brokerage through TD Ameritrade (AMTD - Get Report) . Business owners are encouraged to compare their current providers' 401(k) fees to Employee Fiduciary's.
Small employers pay $1,500 a year for up to 30 employees, and 0.08% of assets under management.
Despite its low fees, the company offers similar services to a full-price provider: benefit statements, annual report summaries and tax return forms.
3. Edward Jones:
Mostly known for its financial advising services, Edward Jones also offers a variety of options for small employers with its 401(k) retirement plans. The company offers plans that include stocks, bonds, mutual funds and government securities, as well as education and administrative support for business owners and employees. After establishing a plan, employees can review accounts online or through mobile apps.
Here's one that's not on a lot of lists, as it's relatively new: Betterment for Business began offering 401(k) plans to smaller businesses as recently as 2016. It is a robo-adviser, a digital platform providing automated, algorithm-driven financial planning services with little to no human supervision.
Like a typical robo-advisor, Betterment collects information about your financial situation and future goals through an online survey, then uses the data to offer advice and automatically invest client assets.
Being a robo-adviser, Betterment addresses cost issues of a company 401(k) plan by using proprietary algorithms, and says it eliminates fee-hiding by using ETFs.
Paychex has a sterling reputation as an all-in-one service for small employers, with bundled record-keeping and administration services. It has both a payroll service and 401(k) plans, and provides both cheaper than some providers.
A 401(k) plan from Paychex has multiple design options as well as investment options.
It also offers business loans, HR services, and outsourced benefits administration, and coordinates with 401(k) providers. Small employers are billed based on the number of employees and pay periods per year.
Like Paychex, ADP is another 401(k) provider offering combined services for small employers including administration services, payroll, HR, insurance, and tax filing. ADP's 401(k) plans specialize in companies with one to 49 employees. Also, employers who switch from another provider to ADP have the option of letting employees transfer their existing plans as well.
ADP's plans offer investment possibilities from more than 130 managers, with three investment line-ups for participants, based on familiarity with investing and financial assets.
7. American Funds:
American Funds, with more than 360,000 retirement plans overall, provides 401(k) options that can be tailored to any company size, including startups or those having recently merged or made acquisitions.
American Funds' 401(k) plans offer both traditional and Roth options, and investment choices can be objective-based or individually selected mutual funds.
Fidelity, one of the top mutual-fund management companies, frequently administers 401(k) plans for major corporations. It offers consultants to help business owners choose a plan, and provides access for employees and owners via internet once the plan is established. The company also offers, like many, a mobile app that allows employees to monitor individual accounts.
In addition, Fidelity provides integration with payroll services, as well as plan administration, record-keeping, trading and investment advisory services. Fidelity's plans are considered ideal for public and private companies with over 20 employees, though self-employed 401(k) plans are also available.
9. T. Rowe Price:
Providing investment and retirement services for more than 80 years, T. Rowe Price is well respected. For an employer with 1,000 employees or less, the company's 401(k) plans are worth considering.
The company offers more than 90 no-load mutual funds or common trusts -- funds that charge no commission or sales fee -- and more than 5,400 non-proprietary funds. It offered its first no-load fund in 1939, two years after the company started. Mutual fund investment options include stock funds, bond funds, target date funds, asset allocation funds, and money market funds, which all have no sales fees.
T. Rowe Price even offers 403(b) retirement plans for nonprofit or tax-exempt organizations like churches, hospitals and schools.
While Vanguard is known among the largest mutual fund companies worldwide, it also offers low-cost 401(k) investment options, including ETFs and professionally-managed mutual funds.
It offers more than 100 U.S. mutual funds -- some which are the most inexpensive in the industry -- target date funds and low-cost and diversified ETFs. Customer service is handled by a 401(k) administrator, not Vanguard. If a company already has its own 401(k) plan administrator, Vanguard's plans are easily integrated as options.
While Vanguard doesn't provide plan administration, payroll, HR or banking and administrative services, it is the money manager for its 401(k) plans.
Here's another relatively lesser-known 401(k) plan provider: ShareBuilder has plans designed specifically for small employers.
ShareBuilder provides four 401(k) options: individual, simplified, customized or tiered profit sharing. Each plan has its own distinct vesting, matching, and profit-sharing options. Once the plans are established, employees can transfer existing retirement accounts into their new 401(k) account -- and ShareBuilder plans integrate with a majority of payroll providers.
12. Merrill Edge:
MerrillEdge's small business 401(k) plan includes streamlining, convenience and affordability as advantages, as well as the usual tax deductions for the employer, fiduciary support for investments and educational support for employees.
Also, employers have flexibility to contribute on a year-to-year basis, as opposed to an annual requirement.
MerrillEdge charges an annual asset-based fee of 0.52%, which is still lower than many competitors. Its plan, like many, offers online account management, but it also has an automatic enrollment option and a Roth 401(k) option.
It's never too late - or too early - to plan and invest for the retirement you deserve. Get more information and a free trial subscription to TheStreet's Retirement Daily to learn more about saving for and living in retirement. Got questions about money, retirement and/or investments? Email Robert.Powell@TheStreet.com.