Adult Financial Education

30
Dec

SECURE Act To Take Effect

SECURE ActCongress enacted a $1.4 trillion spending package on December 20, 2019. The package includes the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. The SECURE Act overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in the spring of 2019 but stalled in the Senate. The SECURE Act is the most sweeping set of changes to retirement legislation in more than a decade.

 

Many of the provisions offer enhanced opportunities for individuals and small business owners. But there is one big drawback for investors with significant assets in traditional IRAs and retirement plans. These individuals will want to revisit their estate plans to prevent their heirs from potentially facing high tax bills.

 

All provisions take effect on or after January 1, 2020, unless otherwise noted.

 

Elimination of the “stretch IRA”

One change requiring urgent attention is the elimination of the “Stretch IRA.” Suppose a non-spouse beneficiary inherited traditional IRA or retirement plan assets. The “Stretch IRA” let him or her spread required distributions and their taxes over their lifetimes.

The new law now requires the beneficiary to liquidate the inherited account within ten years of the account owner’s death. The beneficiary must be 10 years younger than the account owner for this rule to apply. Exceptions apply if the beneficiary is a spouse, disabled or chronically ill, or a minor child. This shorter distribution period could result in unanticipated tax bills for beneficiaries. This is also true for IRA trust beneficiaries, which may affect estate plans that intended to use trusts to manage inherited IRA assets.

 

Traditional IRA owners may want to also revisit how IRA dollars fit into their estate planning strategy. For example, it may make sense to consider the implications of converting traditional IRA funds to Roth IRAs. Beneficiaries inherit Roth IRAs tax free. Roth IRA conversions are taxable events. But investors who spread out a series of conversions over several years may enjoy the lower income tax rates expiring in 2026.

Benefits to individuals

On the plus side, the SECURE Act includes several provisions designed to help American workers and retirees.

 

  • People who choose to work beyond traditional retirement age will be able to contribute to traditional IRAs beyond age 70½. Earlier laws prevented such contributions.
  • Retirees will no longer have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and retirement plans by April 1 following the year in which they turn 70½. The new law generally requires RMDs to begin by April 1 following the year in which they turn age 72.
  • Employers generally must allow part-time workers age 21 and older who log at least 500 hours in three consecutive years generally to take part in company retirement plans offering a qualified cash or deferred arrangement. Before, the rule was 1,000 hours and one year of service. (The new rule applies to plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2021.)
  • Workers will receive annual statements from their employers estimating how much their retirement plan assets are worth expressed as monthly income received over a lifetime. This should help workers better gauge progress toward meeting their retirement-income goals.
  • New laws make it easier for employers to offer lifetime income annuities within retirement plans. Such products can help workers plan for a predictable stream of income in retirement. Also, employees can transfer lifetime income investments or annuities held within a plan that stops those investments to another retirement plan. The Direct Transfer avoids potential surrender charges and fees that may otherwise apply.

 

  • Individuals can now take penalty-free early withdrawals of up to $5,000 from their qualified plans and IRAs due to the birth or adoption of a child. (Regular income taxes will still apply, so new parents may want to be cautious.)
  • Taxpayers with high medical bills may be able to deduct unreimbursed expenses that exceed 7.5% (in 2019 and 2020) of their adjusted gross income. Also, individuals may withdraw money from their qualified retirement plans and IRAs penalty-free to cover expenses that exceed this threshold. Regular income taxes will apply. The threshold returns to 10% in 2021.
  • 529 account owners can now use these accounts to repay student loans. The limit is $10,000 over the account owner’s lifetime. 529 funds may also now pay for costs associated with registered apprenticeships.

Benefits to Employers

The SECURE Act also helps employers striving to provide quality retirement savings opportunities to their workers. Among the changes are the following:

 

  • The tax credit that small businesses can take for starting a new retirement plan has increased. The new rule allows employers to take a credit equal to the greater of (1) $500 or (2) the lesser of (a) $250 times the number of non-highly compensated eligible employees or (b) $5,000. The credit applies for up to three years. The earlier maximum credit amount allowed was 50% of startup costs up to a maximum of $1,000 (i.e., a maximum credit of $500).
  • A new tax credit of up to $500 is available for employers that launch a SIMPLE IRA or 401(k) plan with automatic enrollment. The credit applies for three years.
  • Employers may exclude part-time employees for nondiscrimination testing purposes of retirement plans.
  • Employers now have easier access to join multiple employer plans (MEPs) regardless of industry, geographic location, or affiliation. “Open MEPs,” as they have become known, offer economies of scale. They allow small employers access to pricing and other benefits often reserved for large organizations. Under old rule, groups of small businesses had to be affiliated somehow to join a MEP.)The legislation also provides that the failure of one employer in a MEP to meet plan requirements will not cause others to fail, and that plan assets in the failed plan will transfer to another. (This rule is effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2021.)
  • Auto-enrollment safe harbor plans may automatically increase participant contributions until they reach 15% of salary. The prior ceiling was 10%.

 

4
Nov

Could a HSA Help Strengthen Your Retirement Plan?

HSABy one estimate, a 65-year-old couple who retire in 2019 may need about $300,000 in savings to pay their health-care expenses in retirement. This includes premiums for Medicare Parts B and D, supplemental (Medigap) insurance, and median out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses, but not other health expenses such as long-term care, dental care, and eye care.1

Health expenses are rising faster than inflation, and even insured workers are finding it harder to pay their portion from year to year (premiums, copays, coinsurance, and deductibles), much less plan for the future. The stakes are even higher for early retirees (younger than 65) and self-employed individuals who must purchase their own health insurance and bear the entire cost themselves.

A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged account linked with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). They work together to help you cover your current health-care costs and also save for your future needs.

Tax trifecta

HSAs offer several tax benefits to help encourage diligent saving.

  1. Pre-tax contributions can often be made through an employer via payroll deduction, or you can make contributions yourself and take a tax deduction whether you itemize or not. Either way, HSA contributions reduce your adjusted gross income and federal income tax for the current year.
  2. Any interest or investment earnings compound on a tax-deferred basis inside the HSA.
  3. Withdrawals are tax-free if the money is spent on qualified medical expenses. When HSA money is spent on anything other than qualified medical expenses, withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income, and an onerous 20% penalty applies to taxpayers under age 65.

Depending on your state, HSA contributions and earnings may or may not be subject to state taxes.

Contribution rules

The maximum HSA contribution limit in 2020 is $3,550 for individual coverage or $7,100 for family coverage. This annual limit applies to all contributions, including those made by you, your family members, or your employer. You can contribute an additional $1,000 starting the year you turn 55. Once you sign up for Medicare, you can no longer contribute to an HSA.

Funds roll over from year to year and are portable, which means they are yours to keep. When HSA balances reach a certain threshold, you can steer the funds into a paired account with investment options similar to those offered in a 401(k). You can make 2019 contributions up to April 15, 2020.

Pros and cons

HDHPs are designed to help control health costs. HSA owners are forced to pay attention to prices, so they may select lower-cost providers and be more likely to avoid unnecessary spending. On the other hand, some people with HDHPs might be reluctant to seek care when they need it, because they don’t want to spend the money in their account. A high deductible can make it difficult to pay for a costly medical procedure, especially if there hasn’t been much time to build up an HSA balance.

To be eligible to establish or contribute to an HSA, you must be enrolled in a qualifying high-deductible health plan — an HDHP with a deductible of at least $1,400 for individuals, $2,800 for families in 2020. Workers who are offered HDHPs (as a choice or their only option) or purchase their own insurance often face much higher deductibles. In 2019, the average deductible for employer-provided HDHPs was $2,486 for individual coverage and $4,779 for family coverage.2

Qualifying HDHPs also have out-of-pocket maximums, above which the insurer pays all costs. In 2020, the upper limit is $6,900 for individual coverage or $13,800 for family coverage, but plans may have lower caps. This feature could help you budget accordingly for a worst-case scenario.

Premiums are typically lower for HDHPs than traditional health plans. Until the deductible is satisfied, members usually pay more up-front for services such as physician visits, surgery, and prescriptions, but typically receive the insurer’s negotiated discounts.

Some preventive care, such as routine physicals and cancer screenings, may be covered without being subject to the deductible. Under new IRS guidance issued in July 2019, the list of preventive care benefits that HDHPs may provide was expanded to include certain medications and treatments for chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, depression, heart disease, and kidney disease. Providing this coverage encourages patients to seek care before problems become more serious and costly.

Retirement strategy

Another HSA benefit is that account funds not needed for health expenses are available for any other purpose after you reach age 65. Although HSA funds cannot be used to pay regular health plan premiums, they can be used for Medicare premiums and qualified long-term care insurance premiums and services that you may need later in life.

If you can afford to fund your HSA generously while working, some of those dollars could be left untouched to accumulate for many years. You could even pay current medical expenses out of pocket and preserve your HSA assets for use during retirement. But save your receipts in case you have an unexpected cash crunch. You can reimburse yourself for eligible expenses at any time.

Compare carefully

Open enrollment is the time of year when employers typically introduce changes to their benefit offerings. If you purchase your own health insurance, you might also be presented with new options for 2020. The bottom line is that choosing and using your health plan carefully could help you save money. If you choose an HDHP, make sure to contribute the premium dollars you are saving to your HSA, and more if you can.

Before you sign up for a specific plan, read the policy information and look closely for any coverage gaps or policy exclusions, consider the extent to which your prescription drugs are covered, estimate your potential out-of-pocket costs based on last year’s usage, and check to see whether your doctors are in the insurer’s network.

1) Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2019
2) Kaiser Family Foundation, 2019
21
Oct

Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans

Employer sponsored retirement plansOctober 20 to 26, 2019, is National Retirement Security Week, a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the importance of saving for retirement. Established by Congress in 2006, National Retirement Security Week is designed to elevate public knowledge about retirement savings and to encourage employees to save and participate in their employer-sponsored retirement plans. What better time to review the benefits of your retirement plan and determine if you’re making the most of them?

Tax advantages

Whether you have a 401(k), 403(b), or governmental 457(b) plan, contributing helps benefit your tax situation. If you make traditional (i.e., non-Roth) contributions to your plan, they are deducted from your pay before federal (and most state) income taxes are calculated. This reduces the amount of income tax you pay now. Moreover, you don’t pay income taxes on those contributions — or any returns you earn on them — until you withdraw money from the plan, ideally when you are retired and possibly in a lower tax bracket.

If your plan offers a Roth account and you take advantage of this opportunity, you don’t receive an immediate tax benefit for participation, but you could receive a significant tax advantage down the road. That’s because qualified withdrawals from a Roth account are tax-free at the federal and, in many cases, state level.

A withdrawal from a Roth account is qualified if it’s made after a five-year holding period (which starts on January 1 of the year you make your first contribution) and one of the following conditions applies:

  • You reach age 59½ (55 if separated from service; 50 for qualified public safety employees)
  • You become disabled
  • You die, and your heirs receive the distribution

So should you contribute to a traditional account, a Roth account, or both? The answer depends on your personal situation. If you think you’ll be in a similar or higher tax bracket when you retire, you may find a Roth account appealing for its tax-free retirement income advantages. On the other hand, if you think you’ll be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, then a traditional account may be more appropriate to help reduce your tax bill now. Of course, you could also divide your contributions between the two types of accounts to strive for both benefits, provided you don’t exceed the annual maximum contribution amount allowed ($19,000 in 2019; $25,000 if you’re age 50 or older).1

Keep in mind that employer plans were created specifically to help Americans save for retirement. For that reason, rules were also established to discourage participants from taking money out early. With certain exceptions, withdrawals from traditional (non-Roth) accounts and nonqualified withdrawals from Roth accounts prior to reaching age 59½ are subject to regular income taxes and a 10% penalty tax.

Employer contributions

Employers are not required to contribute to employee accounts, but many do through matching or discretionary contributions. With a matching contribution, your employer can match your traditional pre-tax contributions, your after-tax Roth contributions, or both (however, all matching contributions will go into your traditional, tax-deferred account). Most match programs are based on a certain formula — for example, 50% of the first 6% of your salary that you contribute.

If your plan offers a matching program, be sure to contribute enough to take maximum advantage of it. Neglecting to contribute the required amount is essentially turning down free money.

Your employer may also offer discretionary contributions, which often take the form of profit-sharing contributions. These amounts generally go into your traditional account once per year, and typically vary from year to year.

Employer contributions are often subject to a vesting schedule. That means you earn the right to those contributions (and the earnings on them) over a period of time. Keep in mind that you are always fully vested in your own contributions and the earnings on them.

Review your strategy now

While most people understand that their employer-sponsored retirement plan is a key to preparing adequately for the day when the regular paychecks stop, they may not take the time to review their plan’s benefits and ensure they’re taking maximum advantage of them. National Retirement Security Week provides a perfect opportunity to review your plan materials, understand its features, and determine if any changes may be warranted.

1Special catch-up rules may apply to certain participants in 403(b) or 457(b) plans.