FORTUNE Small Business:

Finding health and retirement coverage

Experts warn against one-stop benefit shopping.

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Get small-business intelligence from the experts. Here's a chance for YOU to ask your pressing small-business questions, and FSB editors will help you get answers from the appropriate experts.
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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: I own a carpet cleaning company. I am looking to move my existing health care insurance and 401(k) to one company. Do you have any suggestions on the best provider to contact?

- Scott, Cleveland, Ohio

Dear Scott: Finding a company that provides all-in-one benefit service to small businesses like yours may be a challenge.

"I haven't seen a lot of companies that offer both health and retirement programs," says Gene Fairbrother, lead small-business consultant for the National Association for the Self-Employed, a support and lobbying group for self-employed workers and very small businesses.

To specialize in both, a broker would require two different licenses and areas of expertise. Large corporations may contract with an employee management firm that offers all types of benefit services, says Fairbrother, who is also president of Dallas, Texas-based MBA Consulting, which specializes in small-business issues.

Different benefits, different providers

Employee health insurance and retirement programs really don't have anything to do with the other, says Fairbrother. When choosing which company to work with for each, his advice is: "You have to look at whether you're getting the best return on your investment. If one company happens to offer the best of both worlds, there's no reason not to give both to the same person. But each program has to stand on its own. Don't ever combine two of anything just because you like one of the programs."

Before meeting with any broker, do some research.

"Go to the library or bookstore, and have a foundation of knowledge so you can ask intelligent questions," says Fairbrother. There's a wealth of information online, also. Try the U.S. Department of Labor's website. The IRS has a great site with an overview of retirement plan options for small businesses, as does the SBA. Be sure to get comparative bids from several companies before choosing a plan.

Trade and business organizations often offer benefits plans to members. The Council of Smaller Enterprises, the small business division of the Greater Cleveland Partnership - your area's chamber of commerce - offers health insurance to members, says Amanda Marko, senior director of public affairs and corporate communications for the partnership. The plan is tailored to the needs of small businesses: "Most of our 17,000 members are microbusinesses, with 10 or fewer employees," she says.

COSE does not currently offer retirement plans, though it might start later this year, says Nancy Pokorny, vice president of business development. However, it can be a good place to check in with during your research: "We do serve as a one-stop source for helping business owners find and connect with the right 401(k) provider," she says. To top of page

Do you have one provider for your health care and 401k? Tell us what works best for your company.

A quick question from FSB: For a future story, we would like to find business owners who routinely sleep no more than 4 to 6 hours per night. If you're a night-owl entrepreneur, write to Anne Fisher at and tell us how you adapted to your current schedule.

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