medical student loan refinancing

I’m a huge fan of Solo 401Ks for self-employed physicians.  You can max it out ($52K in 2014) on less income than a SEP-IRA, you can get a Roth option in it, and you can still have Backdoor Roth IRAs on the side.  If you’re an S Corp, the ability to max out the Solo 401K on less income allows you to declare more of your income a dividend (and thus less as salary) saving you even more in Medicare tax.  (I wouldn’t recommend trying to get your income low enough as a physician that you’re going to save any Social Security tax.)  The paperwork for establishing and maintaining a Solo 401K is slightly more difficult than a SEP-IRA, but still no big deal. Solo 401Ks also sometimes offer a loan option, like other 401Ks, but which you cannot get in an IRA, SEP or otherwise.

However, the question of where to open a Solo 401K isn’t nearly as straightforward.  My normal default in questions like these is to go to Vanguard (and I did).  However, this decision isn’t the “no-brainer” that going to Vanguard usually is.  Like the Vanguard brokerage, the Vanguard Solo 401K has some issues.


Insuring-Income-250x250-bannerThe Vanguard Individual 401K offers the Roth 401K option and all of the Vanguard mutual funds.  However, there is no brokerage option, so buying ETFs, even Vanguard ETFs, and mutual funds from other fund companies isn’t an option.  You cannot even get Vanguard’s less expensive Admiral shares, just the admittedly slightly more expensive investor shares.  The Vanguard Individual 401K also doesn’t accept incoming IRA rollovers, an important issue if you have a large traditional IRA you would like to rollover to a Solo 401K in order to allow Roth IRA contributions through the backdoor.  There is also no loan option, if that is important to you.


The Fidelity Self-Employed 401K Plan has a brokerage option (through which you can buy Vanguard and other ETFs) and its low cost Spartan index funds.  However, I have been told it has no Roth option, although the plan document doesn’t say that.  [Update:  Fidelity has confirmed to me that they do not have a Roth option for their individual 401(k).] It does, however, accept incoming rollover IRAs, so this is a great option if you need to do that in order to start doing Backdoor Roth IRAs.  Fidelity also offers 401K loans [Update: A reader has assured me that Fidelity most certainly DOES NOT offer 401(k) loans.]


The Schwab Individual 401K Plan allows you to buy Schwab funds/ETFs for free and Vanguard ETFs for $8.95 per trade.  They do not allow loans, but the plan document does state that a Roth option is available.  To add to the confusion, the plan document states you CAN take out loans. [Update: A reader called Schwab- the Roth option is not available despite what the plan document says.]  It seems to accept 401K/403B/457 rollovers, but not IRA rollovers.


The Etrade Individual 401K Plan allows Roth contributions and obviously has a brokerage option with $9.99 trades for any ETF.  They accept IRA rollovers and allow for loans.  They also will pay you if you transfer your current Solo 401K to them, $200 for $25K-$99K, $300 for $100K-$249K, and $600 for a $250K+ plus plan.

TD Ameritrade

The TD Ameritrade Individual 401K Plan offers full brokerage services including a number of commission-free ETFs from Vanguard and Ishares.  They have less information on the website than the other providers, so I am unsure as to the availability of loans, a Roth option, or whether or not they accept IRA rollovers.

Vanguard Fidelity Schwab Etrade TDAmeritrade
Index Funds Investor Shares Spartan and ETFs ETFs ETFs ETFs (some commission free)
Roth option Yes No No Yes ?
Loans No No No ? Yes ?
IRA Rollovers No Yes No Yes ?

There are at least 13 other Solo 401K providers, but I’d recommend choosing one of these 5.  Head to head, Etrade seems like the best overall option to me.  Perhaps when my plan hits $25K I’ll roll it over and collect that $200.

What do you think?  Where is your Solo 401K?  Why did you choose that one?  Comment below!