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Comparison: Retirement Plans Self-Employed vs Traditional Employment

Nov 17, 2023


Retirement planning is a critical aspect of every physician's financial journey. Whether you're a self-employed physician or traditionally employed, planning for retirement is essential to ensure a secure and comfortable future. However, the retirement landscape differs significantly for these two groups. In this blog post, I’ll explore and compare the benefits of retirement plans for self-employed physicians and traditionally employed physicians, highlighting the unique advantages and challenges each group faces.

Retirement Plans for Self-Employed Physicians

  1. Flexibility and Control Self-employed physicians have the advantage of complete control over their retirement plans. They can choose from a wide range of retirement account options, including SEP-IRAs (Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Arrangements), Solo 401(k)s, and SIMPLE IRAs (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees). This flexibility allows them to tailor their retirement savings strategy to suit their specific needs and goals.

  2. Higher Contribution Limits Self-employed physicians can often contribute more to their retirement accounts than traditionally employed counterparts. For example, in 2021, a self-employed individual with a Solo 401(k) can contribute up to $58,000 annually, combining both employer and employee contributions. This higher contribution limit can significantly accelerate retirement savings.

  3. Tax Advantages Self-employed physicians can benefit from tax deductions on their retirement contributions. Contributions to SEP-IRAs and Solo 401(k)s are tax-deductible, reducing their taxable income and potentially lowering their overall tax liability. This tax advantage can be particularly valuable for high-earning self-employed physicians.

  4. Asset Protection Self-employed physicians may also enjoy greater protection of their retirement assets from legal liabilities. Certain retirement accounts, like 401(k)s, may provide a level of asset protection in the event of bankruptcy or legal judgments.

  5. Investment Choice Self-employed physicians have more control over their investment choices within their retirement accounts. They can select a diverse range of investments, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and alternative assets, to build a well-rounded portfolio that aligns with their risk tolerance and long-term objectives.

  6. Defined Benefit Plan- A defined benefit plan, also known as a pension plan, is designed to ensure that you can enjoy the fruits of their labor long after you hang up your stethoscope. Unlike other retirement plans, such as 401(k)s or IRAs, which rely on individual contributions and investment returns, a defined benefit plan guarantees a specific monthly income based on factors like years of service and average salary. Furthermore, this type of retirement plan offers unique advantages for doctors. It allows them to maximize their contributions while benefiting from generous tax advantages to your micro-corporation. The contributions made by both you and your micro-corporation will grow tax-deferred until retirement when you are taxed at potentially lower rates.

Retirement Plans for Traditionally Employed Physicians

  1. Employer Contributions One of the significant advantages for traditionally employed physicians is the potential for employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k)s or 403(b)s. Many employers match a portion of the employee's contributions, effectively providing "free" money for retirement. This matching contribution can significantly boost retirement savings over time.

  2. Steady Income Traditionally employed physicians typically enjoy a consistent income stream with a predictable salary and benefits package. This stability can make it easier to budget and consistently contribute to retirement accounts.

  3. Professional Networking In some cases, traditionally employed physicians may have access to professional networking opportunities that can lead to investment or partnership opportunities outside of their primary practice, potentially increasing their overall wealth-building potential.

  4. Group Plans Group retirement plans offered by employers often have lower administrative fees and access to institutional investment options, which can result in cost savings and potentially better investment returns compared to self-employed retirement accounts.

  5. Automatic Enrollment Some traditionally employed physicians are automatically enrolled in their employer's retirement plan, making it easy to start saving for retirement without the need for extensive research or decision-making.

Challenges and Considerations

While both self-employed and traditionally employed physicians have unique advantages, they also face specific challenges when it comes to retirement planning:

Self-Employed Physicians:

  1. Uneven Income: Self-employed physicians may experience fluctuating incomes, making it challenging to consistently contribute to retirement accounts. Creating a financial plan to manage income variability is crucial in such cases.

  2. Complexity: The flexibility of self-employed retirement plans comes with added administrative complexity and responsibility. Physicians must stay informed about contribution limits, tax rules, and plan maintenance.

  3. No Employer Match: Self-employed physicians do not have access to employer-matched contributions, missing out on the additional retirement savings boost that traditionally employed physicians often receive.

Traditionally Employed Physicians:

  1. Limited Control: Traditionally employed physicians may have limited control over the investment options and plan design of their employer-sponsored retirement accounts. This lack of control can impact their ability to tailor their investments to their specific goals and risk tolerance.

  2. Employer Dependency: They are reliant on their employer to provide retirement benefits. If the employer does not offer a suitable plan or decides to reduce or eliminate contributions, it can negatively affect the physician's retirement savings.

  3. Vesting Periods: Employer contributions may be subject to vesting schedules, meaning that physicians must work for a certain period before they fully own the employer-contributed funds.


Retirement planning is a vital aspect of every physician's financial well-being. The choice between self-employment and traditional employment plays a significant role in determining the retirement planning landscape. Self-employed physicians enjoy greater flexibility and control over their retirement accounts, with higher contribution limits and potential tax advantages. On the other hand, traditionally employed physicians benefit from employer contributions, stable incomes, and the ease of participating in group retirement plans.

Ultimately, the best retirement plan for a physician depends on individual circumstances, financial goals, and preferences. Some physicians may even choose to combine elements of both self-employment and traditional employment to optimize their retirement savings. Regardless of the path chosen, starting early, regularly contributing, and seeking professional financial advice are essential steps in ensuring a secure and comfortable retirement for physicians in both categories.

In my personal experience after I converted to an independent contractor through my PC-Employment Lite contract, I was able significantly enlarge my retirement contributions. Uing a 401(k)-Cash Balance Plan my wife and I were able to contribute nearly 4x the retirement funds as I could do as a W-2 employee.

Its what propelled me to this point where I can coast FIRE.

You can find out more about PC-employment lite here.

Let me help you set up your micro-corporation now and accelerate your net worth with a tax advantaged retirement program. Even if you are traditionally employed as a W-2, you can use your micro-corporation for your side income—and add even more into retirement—don’t miss out on this!

Do want to chat about your options, schedule an appointment to talk to me here.