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Securing Your Retirement

By McKay Lindseymckayl@squire.com

As much as you love your job, you’re probably not going to want to work for the rest of your life. With the number of years the average American spends in retirement at an all-time high, in addition to figuring out how to fill your time, you need to consider how you’re going to fund your retirement. Congress recently passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act (SECURE Act), effective January 1, 2020, which made significant changes to help you “secure” your retirement.

Key Changes

  • Easier and less expensive for small businesses to set up safe harbor 401(k) plans
  • Allows more part-time workers to participate in 401(k) plans
  • 401(k) plans can offer annuities
  • Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) moved back from 70 ½ to 72
  • Removed age limit on IRA contributions
  • 10-year distribution schedule for non-spouse inherited IRAs
  • Penalty-free IRA and 401(k) withdrawals after the birth or adoption of a child
  • 529 account funds can be used to repay up to $10,000 of qualified student loan debt

401(k) Plan Changes

Under the SECURE Act, small businesses can receive a tax credit for starting a new retirement plan. The tax credit is the greater of $500 or $250 multiplied by the number of non-highly compensated employees up to $5,000. There is also a $500 tax credit for starting a new SIMPLE IRA or a 401(k) plan with automatic enrollment. These tax credits are available for up to three years.

Small businesses also have the option to save costs by joining with other businesses in a Multiple Employer Plan (MEP), which was previously only an option for related businesses. The failure of one business in the MEP will no longer disqualify the other businesses in the MEP under the SECURE Act.

Although 401(k)s and IRAs are meant to be used for retirement, the SECURE Act has made it easier for growing families to access their retirement monies to ease the financial pressures after the birth or adoption of a child. Up to $5,000 per individual may be withdrawn penalty-free from an eligible retirement plan (401(k), IRA, 403(b) or 457(b)) within one year following the birth or adoption of a child.

The eligibility barriers to participating in a 401(k) plan have been lowered to allow more part-time workers to participate. Employees age 21 and older who work 500 or more hours for three consecutive years will now be eligible to participate in their employer’s 401(k) plan. The prior eligibility requirement was one year of service and 1,000 hours. While these part-time employees may be eligible to participate, employer matching contributions will not be required for these participants.

IRA Changes

For individuals reaching age 70 ½ after December 31, 2019, Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from qualified retirement plans and IRAs are not required until age 72. Participants of qualified plans may further delay RMDs from their current employer’s plan if they continue working past age 72. Prior to the SECURE Act, Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from a traditional IRA were required when an individual reached age 70 ½.

With the removal of the age limit on IRAs, individuals with earned income may continue to contribute to an IRA as long as they live, however, RMDs from IRAs are still required after age 72.

Non-spouse beneficiaries of inherited IRAs are required to take RMDs over a 10-year period under the SECURE Act, rather than allowing beneficiaries to stretch RMDs over their lifetime. There are exceptions to the 10-year distribution schedule for certain eligible beneficiaries including: spouses, minor children, disabled individuals, chronically ill individuals, individuals within 10 years of the age of the IRA owner.

529 Education Savings Account Changes

Under the SECURE Act, an owner of a 529 plan may make a tax-free distribution of up to $10,000 to the account beneficiary to repay qualified student loan debt. It’s important to note that these distributions are allowed under federal law, but many states view these distributions as a non-qualified withdrawal.

While COVID-19 related issues have taken center stage for the past few months, don’t forget about these important changes the SECURE Act has made to help you “secure” your retirement. If you have any questions about how the SECURE Act affects you, contact a Squire professional for help.

Updated: Relief for Retirement Account Owners

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law. Since then, the U.S. Treasury Department has issued guidance to clarify and, in some cases, expand the provisions of the CARES Act dealing with retirement accounts and the relief offered to retirement account owners and/or beneficiaries.

We’ll answer some questions you may have about this new guidance and how it could impact you.

I understand that Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) are not required this year. Has this changed?
No, RMDs from any IRA, 401(k), 403(b), governmental 457(b) or federal Thrift Savings Plan account are still suspended for 2020. RMDs for beneficiaries of these accounts are also suspended for 2020.

I already took some or all of what I thought was my 2020 RMD. Is there a way for me to get that back into my account?
Yes, in late June, the Treasury Department released IRS Notice 2020-51, which provides substantial relief to taxpayers who took distributions of what would have been RMDs but for the CARES Act. In short, any 2020 distributions that were already taken and would have been an RMD can now be rolled back into an IRA or qualified plan by Aug. 31, 2020.

What about the 60-day rollover rule?
For distributions taken earlier this year that would have been RMDs (if not for the CARES Act), Notice 2020-51 extends the 60-day rollover window to Aug. 31, 2020. As such, if you took such a distribution and would like to return it (to a retirement account), you have until then to take action.

I already completed a 60-day IRA rollover within the past year. Can I still “fix” my unwanted 2020 “RMD”?
Yes! Notice 2020-51 provides relief for IRA owners who would otherwise be impacted by the once-per-year rollover rule. More specifically, rollovers of distributions that have already been received, and that would have been 2020 RMDs but for the CARES Act, will be disregarded for purposes of the once-per-year rollover rule, provided the rollover is completed by Aug. 31, 2020.

Is the rollover relief available for beneficiaries as well?
Yes! In an unprecedented move that surprised many observers, the IRS is even allowing beneficiaries to return unwanted 2020 distributions (that would have been RMDs, if not for the CARES Act). The rollover must be deposited back into the inherited IRA that it was withdrawn from, and the deadline to complete the rollover is again Aug. 31, 2020.

I had federal and/or state income tax withheld from distributions I already received. Will that money be put back automatically and if not, what do I do?
If you had taxes withheld on your RMD, and you only roll the net amount (the amount you received after taxes were deducted) back into your IRA, then the amount of tax withheld will be taxable on your 2020 tax return. As an alternative, if you have the ability to “make up” the amount withheld with other funds, you can roll the full amount of your distribution (the amount you received, plus the taxes that were withheld) back into the IRA. That will eliminate any taxation of your RMD in 2020, because the entire amount will have been rolled back. You will still receive credit for the taxes withheld when you file your 2020 income tax return, though, so you may want to talk to your tax preparer and adjust your estimated taxes to take the withheld amounts into account.

Has the IRS expanded the availability of Coronavirus-Related Distributions?
Yes. In June, the IRS released Notice 2020-50, in which it significantly expanded the conditions for which an individual may qualify to take a Coronavirus-Related Distribution. More specifically, individuals who have had pay or self-employment income reduced due to COVID-19 and individuals who have had a job offer rescinded or the start date of a job delayed due to COVID-19 are now eligible to take such distributions.

In addition, Notice 2020-50 extends the ability to take a Coronavirus-Related Distribution to those who have had a spouse or household member financially impacted by the situations described in the CARES Act and as added to by Notice 2020-50.

As a result, those eligible to take a Coronavirus-Related Distribution now include:

  • Anyone, plus their spouse or dependent, who is diagnosed with COVID-19 by an approved test.

  • Anyone who experiences adverse financial consequences resulting from the individual, spouse or household member who:

    • Is quarantined, furloughed, laid off or has work hours reduced due to COVID-19.

    • Is unable to work due to lack of childcare due to COVID-19.

    • Is closing or reducing hours of a business they own or operate due to COVID-19.

    • Has pay or self-employment income reduced due to COVID-19.

    • Has a job offer rescinded or start date of a job delayed due to COVID-19.

As a reminder, benefits of Coronavirus-Related Distributions, which are limited to a maximum combined amount of $100,000 from all retirement accounts and which must be taken in 2020, include the following:

  • Exemption from the 10% early distribution penalty for those under age 59½.

  • By default, the income from the distributions is split evenly on the 2020, 2021 and 2022 income tax returns. Alternatively, taxpayers may elect to include all the income in 2020.

  • The distributions may be rolled over (repaid) for up to three years from the date the distribution is received, thus eliminating the income taxes that would otherwise be owed on the distribution.

 

 

 

The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.
IRN-20-686

9 Smart Strategies for Handling RMDs

 

After decades of squirreling away money in tax-advantaged retirement accounts, investors entering their seventies have to flip the script. Starting at age 70½, Uncle Sam requires taxpayers to draw down their retirement account savings through annual required minimum distributions. Not only do you need to calculate how much must be withdrawn each year, you must figure and pay the tax on the distributions.

There’s no time like the present to get up to speed on the RMD rules. Once you know the basic rules, graduate to smart strategies that can whittle down these taxable distributions and make the most of the money that you must withdraw. Uncle Sam may not give you a choice on taking these distributions, but you do have options for handling the money. “Retirement income planning is as much about managing distributions as investment income,” says Rob Williams, vice president of financial planning for the Schwab Center for Financial Research.

RMD Basics No. 1: When is your First RMD Due?

First, let’s start with the basics. Original owners of traditional IRAs are subject to required minimum distributions when they turn 70½. The RMD is taxed as ordinary income, with a top tax rate of 37% for 2019.

You must take your first RMD by April 1 of the year after you turn 70½. The second and all subsequent RMDs must be taken by December 31.

An account owner who delays the first RMD will have to take two distributions in one year. For instance, a taxpayer who turns 70½ in March 2019 has until April 1, 2020, to take his first RMD. But he’ll have to take his second RMD by December 31, 2020.

To determine the best time to take your first RMD, compare your tax bills under two scenarios: taking the first RMD in the year you hit 70½, and delaying until the following year and doubling up RMDs. “It’s important to look at whether [doubling up] will push you into a higher tax bracket,” says Christine Russell, senior manager of retirement and annuities for TD Ameritrade, and whether it will subject you to higher income-related Medicare premiums. Doubling up could be the right strategy, however, if you’re retiring in the year you turn 70½ and your wages plus the first RMD would push you into a higher tax bracket.

RMD Basics No. 2: How to Calculate RMDs

To calculate your RMD, divide your year-end account balance from the previous year by the IRS life-expectancy factor based on your birthday in the current year. For most people, the appropriate factor is found in Table III toward the end of IRS Publication 590-B. Let’s say an IRA owner with an account balance of $750,000 as of December 31, 2018, turns 72 in 2019. The RMD for 2019 will be about $29,297. (Calculate your 2019 RMD right now.)

If you own multiple IRAs, you need to calculate the RMD for each account, but you can take the total RMD from just one IRA or any combination of IRAs. For instance, if you have an IRA that’s smaller than your total RMD, you can empty out the small IRA and take the remainder of the RMD from a larger IRA.

A retiree who still owns 401(k)s at age 70½ is subject to RMDs on those accounts, too. But unlike IRAs, if you own multiple 401(k)s, you must calculate and take each 401(k)’s RMD separately. A retired Roth 401(k) owner is also subject to RMDs from that account at age 70½, though the distributions would be tax-free.

You can take your annual RMD in a lump sum or piecemeal, perhaps in monthly or quarterly payments. Delaying the RMD until year-end, however, gives your money more time to grow tax-deferred. Either way, be sure to withdraw the total amount by the deadline.

RMD Basics No. 3: Penalties for Missing RMD Deadlines

What happens if you miss the deadline? You could get hit with one of Uncle Sam’s harshest penalties—50% of the shortfall. If you were supposed to take out $15,000 but only took $11,000, for example, you’d owe a $2,000 penalty plus income tax on the shortfall. “Fifty percent is a hefty price to pay,” says Williams.

But this harshest of penalties may be forgiven—if you ask for relief. “Fortunately, the IRS is relatively lenient, as long as once you realized you missed it, you take your RMD,” says Tim Steffen, director of advanced planning at Robert W. Baird & Co. You can request relief by filing Form 5329, with a letter of explanation including the action you took to fix the mistake.

One way to avoid forgetting: Ask your IRA custodian to automatically withdraw RMDs. At Fidelity Investments, “about 50% have chosen to automate” RMDs, says Joe Gaynor, Fidelity’s director of retirement and income solutions.

RMD Strategy No. 1: Work Waiver

Now that we’ve covered the basic RMD rules, it’s time to look at all the options for minimizing those required distributions.

First, check to see if you have an RMD escape route. Every rule has an exception, and the RMD rules are no different. There are a number of instances where you can reduce RMDs—or avoid them altogether.

If you are still working beyond age 70½ and don’t own 5% or more of the company, you can avoid taking RMDs from your current employer’s 401(k) until you retire. You must still take RMDs from old 401(k)s you own and from your traditional IRAs.

But there’s a workaround for that: If your current employer’s 401(k) allows money to be rolled into the plan, says Kelly Famiglietta, vice president and partner of retirement plan services at financial-services firm Charles Stephen, “you could roll in the other accounts to postpone all RMDs.” And, voila!, you won’t have to take any RMDs until you actually retire.

RMD Strategy No. 2: Roth Rollovers

For those who own Roth 401(k)s, there’s a no-brainer RMD solution: Roll the money into a Roth IRA, which has no RMDs for the original owner. Assuming you are 59½ or older and have owned at least one Roth IRA for at least five years, the money rolled to the Roth IRA can be tapped tax-free.

Another Roth solution to say goodbye to RMDs: Convert traditional IRA money to a Roth IRA. You will owe tax on the conversion at your ordinary income tax rate. But lowering your traditional IRA balance reduces its future RMDs, and the money in the Roth IRA can stay put as long as you like. “It’s something to consider, particularly now that tax rates are lower,” says Scott Thoma, principal at Edward Jones.

Converting IRA money to a Roth is a great strategy to start early, but you can do conversions even after you turn 70½. You must take your RMD first. Then you can convert all or part of the remaining balance to a Roth IRA. You can smooth out the conversion tax bill by converting smaller amounts over a number of years.

“Roth conversions are a hedge against future increases in taxes, and they provide flexibility,” says Williams. For instance, while traditional IRA distributions count when calculating taxation of Social Security benefits and Medicare premium surcharges for high-income taxpayers, Roth IRA distributions do not. And if you need extra income unexpectedly, tapping your Roth won’t increase your taxable income.

RMD Strategy No. 3: Carve Outs

About five years ago, a new option known as the qualified longevity annuity contract, or QLAC, arrived. You can carve out up to $130,000 or 25% of your retirement account balance, whichever is less, and invest that money in this special type of deferred income annuity. Compared with an immediate annuity, a QLAC requires a smaller upfront investment for larger payouts that start years later. The money invested in the QLAC is no longer included in the IRA balance and thus is not subject to RMDs. Payments from the QLAC will be taxable, but because it is longevity insurance, those payments won’t kick in until about age 85.

Another carve-out strategy applies to 401(k)s. If your 401(k) holds company stock, you could take advantage of a tax-saving opportunity known as net unrealized appreciation, says Russell. You roll all the money out of the 401(k) to a traditional IRA, but split off the employer stock and move it to a taxable account, paying ordinary income tax on the cost basis of the employer stock. You’ll still have RMDs from the traditional IRA, but they will be lower since you removed the company stock from the mix. And any profit from selling the shares in the taxable account now qualifies for lower long-term capital-gains tax rates.

RMD Strategy No. 4: Younger Spouse

In the beginning of this story, we gave you the standard RMD calculation that most original owners will use—but original owners with younger spouses can trim their RMDs. If you are married to someone who is more than ten years younger, divide your year-end account balance by the factor listed at the intersection of your age and your spouse’s age in Table II of IRS Publication 590-B—rather than Table III—to calculate your RMD. Table II factors in the younger spouse’s longer life expectancy, reducing your required distribution.

For instance, if you are 72 and married to a 59-year-old, Table II tells you to use a factor of 27.7. If your IRA was worth $500,000 at year-end 2018, you’d take out about $18,051 in 2019. That’s about $1,480 less than if you used the calculation that didn’t take into account your younger spouse’s life expectancy.

RMD Strategy No. 5: Pro Rata Payout

If you can’t reduce your RMD, you may be able to reduce the tax bill on the RMD—that is, if you have made and kept records of nondeductible contributions to your traditional IRA, says Steffen. In that case, a portion of the RMD can be considered as coming from those nondeductible contributions—and will therefore be tax-free.

Figure the ratio of your nondeductible contributions to your entire IRA balance. For example, if you contributed a total of $200,000 to your IRA and $20,000 was nondeductible, 10% of a distribution from the IRA will be tax-free. Each time you take a distribution, you’ll need to recalculate the tax-free portion until all the nondeductible contributions have been accounted for.

RMD Strategy No. 6: Re-invest

If you can’t reduce or avoid your RMD, look for ways to make the most of that required distribution. You can build the RMD into your cash flow as an income source. But if your expenses are covered with other sources, such as Social Security benefits and pension payouts, put those distributions to work for you. After all, “the IRS isn’t telling you to spend the money,” Williams says. “It just wants the tax dollars from you.”

While you can’t reinvest the RMD in a tax-advantaged retirement account, you can stash it in a deposit account or reinvest it in a taxable brokerage account. If your liquid cash cushion is sufficient, consider tax-efficient investing options, such as municipal bonds. Index funds don’t throw off a lot of capital gains and can help keep your future tax bills in check.

If you’re selling investments to satisfy your RMD, review your portfolio’s allocation. “You could use the RMD to reallocate,” says Gaynor. Meet the RMD by selling off investments in overweighted categories, and you’ll rebalance your portfolio back to your target allocations at the same time.

RMD Strategy No. 7: Transfer In-Kind

Remember that the RMD doesn’t have to be in cash. You can ask your IRA custodian to transfer shares to a taxable brokerage account. So you could move $10,000 worth of shares over to a brokerage account to satisfy a $10,000 RMD. Be sure the value of the shares on the date of the transfer covers the RMD amount. The date of transfer value serves as the shares’ cost basis in the taxable account.

The in-kind transfer strategy is particularly useful when the market is down. You avoid locking in a loss on an investment that may be suffering a temporary price decline. But the strategy is also useful when the market is in positive territory if you feel the investment will continue to grow in value in the future, or if it’s an investment that you just can’t bear to sell. In any case, if the investment falls in value while in the taxable account, you could harvest a tax loss.

RMD Strategy No. 8: Give to Charity

If you are charitably inclined, consider a qualified charitable distribution, or QCD. This move allows IRA owners age 70½ or older to transfer up to $100,000 directly to charity each year. The QCD can count as some or all of the owner’s RMD, and the QCD amount won’t show up in adjusted gross income.

The QCD is a particularly smart move for those who take the standard deduction and would miss out on writing off charitable contributions. But even itemizers can benefit from a QCD. Lower adjusted gross income makes it easier to take advantage of certain deductions, such as the write-off for medical expenses that exceed 10% of AGI in 2019. Because the QCD’s taxable amount is zero, the move can help any taxpayer mitigate tax on Social Security or surcharges on Medicare premiums.

Say your RMD is $20,000. You could transfer the whole $20,000 to charity and satisfy your RMD while adding $0 to your AGI. Or you could do a nontaxable QCD of $15,000 and then take a taxable $5,000 distribution to satisfy the RMD.

The first dollars out of an IRA are considered to be the RMD until that amount is met. If you want to do a QCD of $10,000 that will count toward a $20,000 RMD, be sure to make the QCD move before taking the full RMD out.

Of course, you can do QCDs in excess of your RMD up to that $100,000 limit per year. “A QCD can be your RMD, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Steffen.

RMD Strategy No. 9: RMD Solution

You can also use your RMD to simplify tax payments. With the “RMD solution,” you can ask your IRA custodian to withhold enough money from your RMD to pay your entire tax bill on all your income sources for the year. That saves you the hassle of making quarterly estimated tax payments and can help you avoid underpayment penalties.

Because withholding is considered to be evenly paid throughout the year, this strategy works even if you wait to take your RMD in December. By waiting until later in the year to take the RMD, you’ll have a better estimate of your actual tax bill and can fine-tune how much to withhold to cover that bill.

Social Security: Why Claiming Early Could be…..

Despite a permanently reduced monthly benefit, here’s why more workers could opt to take their payout as early as age 62.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably going to be reliant on Social Security for a portion of your retirement income. According to data from the Social Security Administration (SSA), 62% of current retirees lean on the program for at least half of their income, with just over a third reliant on Social Security for virtually all (90%-plus) of their income.

This more or less corroborates surveys conducted by Gallup of retired and non-retired individuals. Of the retirees, just 1 in 10 aren’t reliant on their Social Security income in any way. Meanwhile, more than 4 out of 5 non-retirees expect to lean on their retirement benefit as a major (30%) or minor (54%) income source.

All of this data leads to one conclusion: Your claiming age is extremely important.

A Social Security card standing up on a counter, with the name and number blurred out.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Your claiming age can have a huge impact on your monthly benefit check

As a refresher, there are four factors that have a high bearing on what you’ll be paid by Social Security during retirement, assuming you’ve earned the required 40 lifetime work credits to receive a benefit. The first two factors are intertwined: your work history and earnings history.

When calculating your retirement benefit, the SSA will take into account your 35 highest-earning, inflation-adjusted years. If you have any hope of maximizing what you’ll receive from the program, you’ll want to work at least 35 years to avoid any zeros being averaged in for each year you didn’t work.

The third factor, which we have absolutely no control over, is your birth year. The year you’re born determines your full retirement age, or the age at which you become eligible to receive 100% of your retirement benefit. Put simply, claiming benefits prior to your full retirement age will result in a permanent reduction to your monthly benefit of as much as 30%, whereas claiming after your full retirement age can boost your payout by as much as 32%, all depending on your birth year.

The final factor is your claiming age. Retirement benefits can be claimed as early as age 62, but the SSA gives people incentives to wait by increasing their payouts by 8% per year, up until age 70. Assuming you were looking at two identical individuals (i.e., same work history, earnings history, and birth year), the one claiming at age 70 could receive a monthly payout that’s up to 76% per month higher than the individual claiming as early as possible at age 62.

So, everyone obviously waits then, right? Well, not exactly.

A hand filling out a Social Security benefits application form, which sits under a pair of glasses and a calculator.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Expect a claiming-age trend reversal next decade

Historically, a majority of Americans claim benefits prior to reaching their full retirement ages. Whether that’s because they need the money or simply don’t understand their options isn’t clear. What is clear is the data, which showed that 60% of retired workers in 2013 took their benefits between ages 62 and 64, with another 30% claiming at ages 65 or 66 (age 66 was the full retirement age in 2013). Comparatively, just 1 in 10 retirees took their benefits after their full retirement age.

However, there has been a modest reversal of this trend in recent years. Data from the SSA finds that more people are waiting to take Social Security, albeit very few are still waiting until after their full retirement age. At last check, 57% were claiming prior to their full retirement age, with 34.3% signing up at age 62. Of course, this data also includes those folks receiving a disability payout and is therefore not an apples-to-apples comparison to the 2013 data.

This push to a later claiming age is certainly preferable, especially with the average American living longer than their parents or grandparents and potentially needing more income for a longer period of time. But as time passes, my suspicion is we’ll again see this trend reverse, with more retirees choosing to claim earlier rather than waiting.

The reason? A forecasted cut to Social Security benefits, as highlighted in the 2018 Trustees report.

Scissors cutting through a hundred dollar bill.

Benefit cuts could be coming, and retirees will want to stay ahead of the curve

According to the Trustees report, Social Security will face an inflection point this year. In other words, it’ll expend more than it collects in revenue for the first time since 1982. This might not seem like a big deal, but this net cash outflow is expected to rapidly grow in size beginning in 2020 and beyond.

By the time 2034 rolls around, the program’s $2.89 trillion in asset reserves is expected to be completely gone. Should this happen and Congress fails to generate additional revenue and/or institute expenditure cuts, a projected across-the-board cut to benefits of 21% would be needed to sustain payouts through 2092.

There are two considerations to make here. First, there are a lot of Americans who incorrectly believe that Social Security running out of its excess cash means the program is insolvent. In fact, more than half of all millennials surveyed by Pew Research Center in 2014 believed they wouldn’t receive a red cent from Social Security by the time they retire. This fear of Social Security going bankrupt (which actually can’t happen) is probably one driving force for early claimants.

The other consideration here is the notion that benefits could be slashed by more than a fifth come 2034. Workers who come of claiming age in the next five to 15 years are probably going to give serious consideration to taking their benefits sooner rather than later and reaping the rewards of a check that isn’t reduced by up to 21% (even if claiming early will itself result in a permanent monthly reduction).

A man holding up a large sign in front of his head with multiple question marks drawn on it.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Is this the right move?

But is it the right move? The honest answer is, no one knows. Congress could allay these concerns by passing a bipartisan fix to the program that doesn’t result in a huge benefit cut in less than two decades’ time, which would make early claimants none-too-pleased.

We also (thankfully) don’t know our expiration date, which means that we can never be certain that we’re making the best possible claiming decision. And by “best possible,” I mean the decision that results in the highest amount of lifetime benefits being received.

What I do believe is that the longer Congress waits to act and the larger Social Security’s cash shortfall becomes, the more likely it is that we’ll see aged beneficiaries making earlier claims.

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https://www.fool.com/retirement/2018/12/20/social-security-why-claiming-early-could-be-all-th.aspx

7.. Blunders that can Ruin Your Retirement

7 Social Security Blunders that can Ruin Your Retirement

https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/retirement/7-social-security-blunders-that-can-ruin-your-retirement/ar-BBP4ReU?ocid=spartandhp

Even a minor Social Security misstep can rob your nest egg of tens of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits.

So, it pays to understand how the system works and how to maximize your Social Security checks.

The following are some of the biggest and most costly mistakes you could make when navigating Social Security — and how to avoid making them.

1. Taking Social Security early

It’s tempting to start taking Social Security before you reach what the federal government calls your “full retirement age.” But you’ll wind up with a smaller check each month.

Technically, you should receive the same total amount of benefits over the span of your retirement no matter the age at which you claimed benefits. The Social Security system is designed to be neutral in this regard.

Still, claiming early can be risky because once you claim benefits, you will be stuck with the same size check for life. The amount of a person’s monthly benefit typically will never increase except for inflation adjustments.

If you’re the main breadwinner in your family, you may want to think twice about starting your Social Security benefit early since your spouse may receive that smaller benefit amount one day.

Jeffrey A. Drayton of Jeffrey A. Drayton Financial Planning and Wealth Management in Maple Grove, Minnesota, tells Money Talks News:

“When one of you dies, the surviving spouse will get to keep whichever benefit is larger. If yours is the larger benefit, do you really want to reduce it? Doing so means that you might be reducing this lifelong annuity that gets adjusted for inflation permanently not just for yourself but also your spouse.”

 

2. Claiming benefits and continuing to work

If you claim Social Security before reaching full retirement age and continue working, you might have to pay penalties against your Social Security benefit. It depends on how much money you earn, as we detail in “The Danger of Working While Collecting Social Security.”

One solution is to wait until full retirement age to claim Social Security. There is no penalty for working while taking benefits after your full retirement age, regardless of how much income you earn.

3. Not checking your earnings record

The amount of your retirement benefit is based on your top 35 years of earnings. So, if there’s an error in your Social Security earnings record, the amount of your monthly check could suffer for it.

For example, if an employer fails to correctly report your earnings for even one year, your monthly benefit upon retiring could be around $100 less, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). That amounts to a loss of tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your retirement.

While employers are responsible for reporting your earnings, you are responsible for checking your earnings record, as only you can confirm the information is accurate.

To review your earnings record, log into your mySocialSecurity account, or first create an account if you have yet to do so.

You’ll want to check each year. The SSA explains:

“Sooner is definitely better when it comes to identifying and reporting problems with your earnings record. As time passes, you may no longer have past tax documents and some employers may no longer be in business or able to provide past payroll information.”

4. Making an isolated decision

A Social Security decision is just one piece of a retirement income puzzle, says Charlie Bolognino, a certified financial planner at Side-by-Side Financial Planning in Plymouth, Minnesota.

It can impact how you draw down other retirement income sources — such as a pension, 401(k) or cash savings. It can also impact the amount of retirement income you lose to federal or state taxes.

Failing to consider these other retirement funding factors when making Social Security decisions — as well as rushing to those decisions — can therefore cost you a big chunk of your nest egg.

“This is a big decision with potentially thousands of dollars at stake, so don’t short-cut it,” Bolognino tells Money Talks News. “Find a reputable benefit option comparison tool or work with a financial planner who can help you evaluate options in the context of your broader financial picture.”

5. Failing to understand what qualifies you for Social Security

Social Security retirement benefits are not a guarantee. You must qualify for them by paying Social Security taxes during your working years, or be married to someone who qualifies for benefits, Drayton says.

He continues:

“The qualification rules are complicated. The short answer most people give is that you need to work for at least 10 years. However, it is based on a system of credits and quarters, and there are different types of qualifications for different types of benefits.”

The bottom line? Know your qualification status and, if you’re ineligible, how to qualify for benefits.

To find out whether you’re eligible for retirement benefits or any other benefits administered by SSA, check out the SSA’s Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST). You can also use the tool to find out how to qualify and apply for benefits.

6. Not knowing the Social Security rules regarding divorce

You may be eligible to claim a spousal benefit based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record after a divorce. So, failing to realize this can cost you a lot.

Generally, the person entitled to the smaller benefit amount may be eligible for this type of spousal benefit — provided they were married for at least 10 years, haven’t remarried and meet a few other requirements.

7. Not accounting for dependent benefits

If you still have dependent children when you claim Social Security retirement benefits, they may be eligible to receive benefits, too. An eligible child can receive up to 50 percent of your full retirement benefit amount each month, according to the SSA.

Your family would receive that amount on top of your own benefit amount. Payments to your dependents would not decrease your benefit. So, understanding the benefits that your dependents might be eligible for can help you maximize your family’s collective benefit amount.

 

4 Money Mistakes Millennials Are Making

Re-posted from MSN.COM

The crushing weight of student debt and the Great Recession have shaped millennials’ relationship with money, for better or worse. In some, it has created enough anxiety about financial security that they save as much as they can and avoid any type of credit agreement that could cause them to take on more debt. Others become so preoccupied with their present expenses that they fail to save for the future.

Unfortunately, both approaches have their drawbacks. Here are a few of the most common money mistakes millennials are making — and what you can do to fix them.

1. Not preparing for the unexpected

About 46% of millennials don’t have any money set aside in an emergency fund, according to a 2017 survey by GOBankingRates. This can pose a problem when an unexpected event like a home repair, a costly medical bill, or a sudden job loss puts an extra strain on your budget. Without any savings to cover these financial emergencies, you may have no choice but to take on debt or fall behind on your rent or mortgage payment and other bills, which can have a serious impact on your creditworthiness.

Most experts recommend keeping at least three to six months’ worth of expenses in a savings account to help cover unexpected expenses. Look at your monthly bills and calculate how much you would need to cover them. Then multiply that number by three (or six if you want to be extra safe) and create a weekly savings goal to help you reach it.

2. Avoiding credit

Only 1 in 3 millennials owns a credit card, according to a recent study by Bankrate. While it’s wise not to overuse credit, avoiding it entirely can pose problems, especially when you go to buy a home or finance another big purchase.

Just about everyone will apply for a loan at some point in their lives. When you do, your lender will pull your credit reports to assess how responsible you’ve been with your money in the past. Your credit reports contain information on all active credit accounts in your name, but if you don’t have any, you’re not giving lenders anything to go on. This can make them hesitant to work with you, and they may deny your loan application or charge you a higher interest rate than someone with a well-established credit history. If you’d like to become a homeowner someday, then a nonexistent credit history will be a major obstacle.

You don’t have to use credit cards, but it is important to build up your credit history in some way. Paying off student loans can help, and if you take out an auto loan or personal loan, these will appear on your credit report as well. But for many, credit cards are the ideal credit-building tool because you can use them regularly, and as long as you pay the balance in full each month, you won’t have to pay any interest at all.

3. Not saving for retirement

For many millennials, paying off student loans is a much more pressing concern than saving for retirement. After all, they have 30 to 40 years left to work, so what’s the big deal if they put off retirement savings for a few years?

The trouble is that your most valuable retirement contributions are the ones you make while you’re young. The sooner you put funds in a retirement account, the more compound interest can make them grow. When you get a late start, your money has less time to gain interest before you need to start using it.

Say you put $10,000 in a retirement account when you’re 25 years old. Assuming your investments earn 8% per year, that $10,000 will have grown to $253,000 by the time you’re ready to retire at age 67. If you waited until age 35 to put that money in, it would only grow to $117,000. And if you waited until 45, you’d end up with only $54,000.

Waiting to start saving for retirement may not seem like a big deal, but it can mean a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you have any extra money left over after you’ve paid your bills each month, put it into your 401(k). If your employer doesn’t offer one, then open an IRA.

4. Spending frivolously

Millennials are more likely to indulge their immediate wants than baby boomers and Gen X-ers are today. In a survey by Schwab, 60% of millennials admit to spending more than $4 on their coffee (though it doesn’t specify how often), and they’re more likely to eat out and spend money on clothing and electronics they don’t need. While it’s healthy to indulge these wants occasionally, doing it frequently can take a large chunk out of your budget, leaving you less money to put toward retirement and your emergency fund.

Take a good look at how much you’re spending on the non-essentials each month and look for areas where you may be able to cut back. Making your coffee at home, rather than purchasing it at your favorite chain, will save you over $1,300 a year on average. This assumes that an average cup of Joe from a cafe is $4, while the cost of making a cup at home is $0.17, and you are drinking one cup per day. Dining in and curbing your shopping could free up even more money.

For millennials, it’s all about maintaining a balance between what you need now and what you’ll need later. By remaining mindful of how your present decisions are impacting your future finances, you’ll be able to make smart choices that will serve you well today and in all of your tomorrows.

Are You Making These 4 Major 401K Mistakes?

Re-posted from Are you Making these 4 Major 401K Mistakes?

If you’re lucky enough to have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k), you should know that you have a great opportunity to accumulate a bundle in time for retirement. That’s because 401(k)s allow you to contribute much more on an annual basis than IRAs. The current yearly limits are $18,500 for workers under 50 and $24,500 for those 50 and over. By comparison, IRAs max out at $5,500 and $6,500 a year, respectively.

Still, having a 401(k) will only get you so far if you don’t manage it wisely. With that in mind, here are a few major mistakes you should make every effort to avoid.

1. Not contributing enough to snag your employer’s match

One benefit of having a 401(k) is the opportunity to build wealth not just with your own money but your employer’s as well. In fact, 92% of companies that offer a 401(k) also match worker contributions to some degree. But to get that money, you’ll need to contribute money of your own. Unfortunately, an estimated 25% of workers don’t put in enough to capitalize fully on their employers’ matching dollars, and are thus leaving a collective $24 billion on the table each year.

If you’re not getting your employer match, you’re kissing free money goodbye — so don’t let that continue. Figure out how much you need to put into your 401(k) to get that match, and cut corners in your budget to make up for a slightly smaller paycheck. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on not just your company match itself, but the potential to invest it and grow it into a larger sum over time.

2. Not increasing your contributions year after year

Many workers get a raise year after year. If you’re one of them, then you’re doing yourself a major disservice by not sticking that extra money into your 401(k) before it shows up in your paychecks.

Think about it: Unless your expenses go up drastically from year to year, you can probably get by without that additional money. So, if you arrange to have it land in your 401(k) from the start, you won’t come to miss it.

3. Sticking with your plan’s default investment 

When you first sign up for a 401(k), you’ll be automatically invested in your plan’s default option until you select your own investments. That default option is usually a target date fund, and while that may be a good choice for some workers, it’s not necessarily the best choice for you.

Target date funds are designed to grow increasingly conservative as their associated milestones near. For example, if you invest in a target date fund for retirement over a 30-year period, you’ll generally start out with a more aggressive investment mix and will shift toward safer assets as that period winds down.

The problem with target date funds is that they don’t necessarily provide the best returns on investment, nor is your 401(k)’s default target date fund designed to align with your specific strategy or tolerance for risk. A better bet, therefore, is to review your plan’s investment options and choose those that are more likely to help you meet your goals. Keep in mind that you may, after reviewing your choices, decide to stick with that default fund, and that’s fine. Just don’t make the mistake of not exploring alternatives first.

4. Not paying attention to investment fees

Of the various investments you’ll get to choose from in your 401(k), some are bound to be more expensive than others. But if you don’t pay attention to fees, you could end up losing thousands upon thousands of dollars in your lifetime without being any the wiser. The funds in your 401(k) are required to disclose their associated fees, so take a look at those numbers and aim to keep them as low as possible without compromising on returns. You can generally pull this off by sticking mostly to index funds, which are passively managed and don’t have the same costs as actively managed mutual funds.

Participating in a 401(k) plan is a great way to set yourself up for a comfortable retirement. Avoiding these mistakes will help you make the most of that plan, leaving you with a higher ending balance by the time your golden years eventually roll around.

SPONSORED: The $16,728 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook

If you’re like most Americans, you’re a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known “Social Security secrets” could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $16,122 more … each year. Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we’re all after.

Teresa Staker
Teresa Staker
Administrative Assistant
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5 ways the tax bill will affect your retirement

Re-posted from marketwatch.com

The $1.2 trillion tax overhaul that was signed into law by President Trump on Friday will affect your retirement in a number of ways.

The tax plan no longer includes lowering contribution limits on retirement accounts or nixing traditional individual retirement accounts in lieu of Roth individual retirement accounts (which would have shifted when retirement savers pay taxes on their savings), but it does address individual retirement accounts and increases the standard deduction (by almost double), which could affect the way people itemize their charitable donations. These changes would be for next year’s taxes, to be filed in 2019 — 2017 tax returns are due on April 17.

 When it comes to retirement, 60s are the new 50s

Here are five ways retirees will be affected:

Retirees will have to be more strategic about their IRA conversions

The new tax bill would stop what’s called “recharacterizations” of IRAs. Recharacterizations allow a person to undo their decision to rollover or convert accounts to Roth IRAs. Therefore, retirement savers who have already made these conversions this year should consider before the new year if they want to reverse them.

And contribute to charity twice every two years

Retirees likely won’t be itemizing since they don’t have many deductions, except for charitable contributions, property taxes and perhaps state income taxes, said Andrew Houte, director of retirement planning at Next Level Planning and Wealth Management in Brookfield, Wis. Some retirees may want to take advantage of Qualified Charitable Distributions, which allow them to donate directly to charity from their individual retirement accounts without having to itemize those donations (after 70 ½ years old). Because of the increase in the standard deduction, retirees may benefit from making more charitable donations, but less frequently — for example, donate twice as much, but every other year — which would help taxpayers by having more to write off than the standard deduction limit, said Scott Bishop, executive vice president of financial planning at advisory firm STA Wealth in Houston, Texas. More people may also invest in donor-advised funds instead of donating cash, he said.

Personal income tax rates are changing, but still important

Personal income taxes would be lowered for most households — to 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%. Retirees will have to watch their income to avoid ending up in a higher tax bracket, Bishop said. Income includes withdrawals from retirement accounts, required minimum distributions and ordinary income. For example, people with large balances might want to begin distributions before turning 70 ½ years old, when they’ll be required to take distributions in some accounts — that way, when they get there, they won’t be forced into a higher tax bracket. It takes a little calculating, and predicting what income will look like in the future versus now, but it could save retirees money down the road.

Also see: The four worst things about the tax bill

Small businesses may not offer retirement accounts

Most 401(k) plans and similar defined contribution benefits are offered by large employers because they’re too expensive for small businesses to administer. Under tax reform, it may become even less advantageous for small businesses to host these accounts, said Trevor Gerszt, chief executive officer of CoinIRA, a company that allows savers to convert assets into digital currency, such as bitcoin. The bill reduces the income tax rate for small businesses but does not address offering or contributing to retirement plans, which are incentives to establish these accounts, according to the American Retirement Association.

Some retirees may want to move

Deductions for mortgage interest rates were left untouched, and $10,000 in local property taxes will be deductible on a federal level. That means income tax-free states will be best for retirees, according to Brett Anderson, a financial adviser and president of St. Croix Advisors in Hudson, Wis. Retirees are more easily able to move from state to state because they have no job tying them down, he said, which also means they can be more sensitive to the various income tax rates in various states. There are a few states that soar above the rest for tax-friendly states best for retirees, such as Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming.

The new bill also reduces the maximum amount of mortgage debt a person can acquire for their first or second residence, to $750,000 for married couples filing joint tax returns (or $375,000) for those married filing separately, down from $1 million. This won’t affect home purchases before Dec. 16, 2017 so long as the home closed before April 1, 2018.

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