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Retirement Planning for Personal Trainers

The benefit of being a personal trainer with a healthy lifestyle is that you can probably expect to enjoy a long, active life. While it can be possible to teach group fitness classes or train clients well into your 70s, it’s important to make a decision now: Do you want to have to work that long, or would you rather have the choice to work simply because you enjoy helping others? Do you know the age at which you would like to retire? Are you on track to accumulate the money you will need to support your retirement?

Whether you are right out of college and just starting your career or have been working in the field for a while, it’s crucial to consider your long-term financial health. Explore a few important saving vehicles you can use now to help you enjoy your life in later years.

Note: Do not take the information in this article as specific financial advice; this is an overview of the various options available.

Assessing Your Finances

Just as conducting an exercise assessment helps you identify the best activity plan for a client, doing a financial assessment to establish your current income and identify the money available to set aside will help with retirement savings. In establishing a budget to identify income streams and expenses that must be paid, consider these items:

  • net take-home pay from all sources, including employment at a health club, private clients or revenue from other products or services
  • necessary monthly expenses, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, communications (phone/Internet), equipment, continuing education, fitness insurance and other costs associated with running your business
  • ancillary expenses for entertainment, travel or hobbies
  • any other expenses necessary for child, pet or household upkeep

Once you have identified income
from all sources, as well as necessary expenses, you will have an idea of how much money you can dedicate to saving for retirement (or for short or medium-term savings goals).

A Plan for Everyone

Whether you work as an employee or operate your own business, you can create a retirement savings plan that fits your needs.

Employee. If you work for an employer, the company may offer a retirement savings plan like a 401(k). Named for the section of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code that established this savings plan, a 401(k) offers these benefits:

  • It forces you to save on a regular basis
    because the money comes out of your pretax earnings (it’s set aside before it ever gets to you).
  • The money you save is not taxed, so these savings can earn compounding interest, allowing them to grow tax-free until you must start taking disbursements.
  • Some employers make matching contributions to their employees’ 401(k) plans. If you work for one that does and you’re not taking advantage of it, then you’re losing valuable dollars that could be earning interest for you. For example, a trainer making $60,000 a year could place 10% of her income in a 401(k) plan where it would accumulate compounding interest while reducing her taxable income to $54,000. If her employer matched 50% of her individual contributions, it would give the trainer an extra $3,000 a year in tax-free income.

    Self-Employed or Business Owner. If you are self-employed as an independent trainer or a small-business owner of a studio, you also have options for retirement planning that can help you save while reducing your taxable income.

    It’s important to know that small businesses with fewer than 100 employees can offer either a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan or a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE). For example, the SEP plan may allow a business owner to save up to $52,000 into a retirement plan and deduct that amount from taxable income. If you want to maximize the amount you earn from your business, using one of these plans can allow you to save for retirement while simultaneously reducing your tax burden.

    Either one of these plans would be an excellent option for fitness professionals who establish a business entity such as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) or sole proprietorship for purpose of providing fitness services. Studio owners: Know that employees of the studio are eligible for the plan, and you must provide the same level of contribution to each individual. The U.S. Department of Labor explains how employers can establish retirement plans at www.dol.gov/dol/topic/retirement/, and a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® can help identify the best plan for your needs.


    Another option for retirement is a traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or a Roth IRA (named after the Senator who wrote the law). An IRA allows you to save a certain amount of money each year in a designated account. The difference between the two plans is that a traditional IRA allows you to take a tax deduction for the amount you contribute; for 2014, the contribution level for either plan was $5,500 for individuals aged 49 and under and $6,500 for those aged 50 and older. If you earned $60,000 and opened a traditional IRA, you could place $5,500 in the account and be taxed on only $54,500 of your income. However, in a Roth IRA plan you’d make the contributions in after-tax income. By paying the taxes now, however, the benefit is that you will not pay taxes on the money when you take it in disbursements during your retirement. The Roth IRA allows additional flexibility; you can borrow money from the plan for the purchase of a home or to pay for education. However, there are a number of rules, so it is best to consult with a planner or accountant to learn all of the options available.

    An Expert to Guide You

    Working with a financial planner can help you make sense of the retirement plans that apply to you and help you identify the best solutions for your needs, says Taylor Schulte, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® and founder of Define Financial in San Diego. “Because it’s not easy for a couch potato to jump right into a 5-day-a-week workout plan, a good trainer might start with 1 or 2 days and slowly add more as the client begins to make exercise a regular habit,” he says. “The same idea can be applied to your retirement plan. A planner can help you establish a plan and start with a small, monthly contribution—maybe it’s $20 per month. As you begin to get more comfortable with the process, you can consider adding more where you see fit.”

    The most important thing, according to Schulte, is to start as early as possible. Even if you can save only a few hundred dollars a year to start with, the power of compounding interest can lead to a significant difference in your long-term accumulation. Here is a powerful example of how a few years can make a difference:

    Joe and Jane are twins.

    Jane starts saving for retirement at age 22 and for 10 years puts $3,000 a year into a Roth IRA, setting aside a total of $30,000. Joe doesn’t start saving until age 32 and saves $3,000 a year every year until age 62, placing a total of $90,000 into a Roth IRA.

    Assuming an average return of 8%, Jane will have a larger retirement nest egg at 62 than her brother. Thanks to compounding interest, Jane’s original $30,000 of savings will grow to $437,320, even if she stops saving money after 10 years, while her twin brother will accrue $339,850—almost $100,000 less than Jane, even though he puts $60,000 more into his retirement account (Sullivan 2013).

    A Long-Range Plan

    Bottom line for retirement savings: The sooner you start saving, the more you maximize the amount you can accumulate over the course of your career. At first you might miss the money going into a retirement plan. But once you adjust your spending to account for the change in income, you’ll likely not feel it as much. The long-term benefits are that you reduce your annual tax burden, except when saving in a Roth IRA, and the money you place in an approved retirement plan can grow tax-free.

    Saving enough money for a comfortable retirement should follow this approach: assessing the needs and setting a goal for retirement, creating and following a plan to work toward that goal, and performing periodic evaluations to make sure you’re on the right track. Happy saving.

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