Tax Efficiency in Retirement

How much attention do you pay to this factor?

Will you pay higher taxes in retirement? Do you have a lot of money in a 401(k) or a traditional IRA? If so, you may receive significant retirement income. Those income distributions, however, will be taxed at the usual rate. If you have saved and invested well, you may end up retiring at your current marginal tax rate or even a higher one. The jump in income alone resulting from a Required Minimum Distribution could push you into a higher tax bracket.

While retirees with lower incomes may rely on Social Security as their prime income source, they may pay comparatively less income tax than you will in retirement – because up to half of their Social Security benefits won’t be counted as taxable income.1

Given these possibilities, affluent investors would do well to study the tax efficiency of their portfolios as some investments are not particularly tax-efficient. Both pre-tax and after-tax investments have potential advantages.

What’s a pre-tax investment? Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s are classic examples of pre-tax investments. You can put off paying taxes on the contributions you make to these accounts and the earnings these accounts generate. When you take money out of these accounts come retirement, you will pay taxes on the withdrawal.2

Pre-tax investments are also called tax-deferred investments, as the invested assets can benefit from tax-deferred growth.

What’s an after-tax investment? A Roth IRA is a classic example. When you put money into a Roth IRA during the accumulation phase, contributions aren’t tax-deductible. As a trade-off, you don’t pay taxes on the withdrawals from that Roth IRA (providing you have followed the IRS rules for the arrangement). Thanks to these tax-free withdrawals, your total taxable retirement income is not as high as it would be otherwise.2

As everyone would like to pay less income tax in retirement, the tax-free withdrawals from Roth IRAs are very appealing. Given the huge federal deficit, the pressure is on to raise tax rates in the coming years – and in that light, after-tax investments look even more attractive.

It is also possible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, so many investors are considering paying taxes on a Roth conversion today in order to get tax-free growth tomorrow. 

Certain tax years can prove optimal for a Roth conversion. If a high-income taxpayer is laid off for most of a year, closes down a business or suffers net operating losses, sells rental property at a loss or claims major deductions and exemptions associated with charitable contributions, casualty losses or medical costs … he or she might end up in the lowest bracket, or even with a negative taxable income. In circumstances like these, a Roth conversion may be a good idea. 

Should you have both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA? It may seem redundant, but it could actually help you manage your marginal tax rate. It gives you an option to vary the amount and source of your IRA distributions in light of whether tax rates have increased or decreased. 

Smart moves can help you reduce your taxable income & taxable estate. An emphasis on long-term capital gains may help, as they aren’t taxed as severely as short-term capital gains (which are taxed at the same rate as ordinary income). Tax loss harvesting (selling the “losers” in your portfolio to offset the “winners”) can bring immediate tax savings and possibly help to position you for better long-term after-tax returns.

If you’re making a charitable gift, giving appreciated securities you have held for at least a year may be better than giving cash. In addition to a potential tax deduction for the fair market value of the asset, the charity can sell the stock without triggering capital gains. If you’re reluctant to donate shares of your portfolio’s biggest winner, consider this: you could donate the shares, then buy more of that stock and get a step-up in cost basis as a consequence.3 

The annual gift tax exclusion gives you a way to remove assets from your taxable estate. In 2015, you can gift up to $14,000 to as many individuals as you wish without paying federal gift tax. If you have 11 grandkids, you could give them $14,000 each – that’s $154,000 out of your estate. The drawback is that you relinquish control over those dollars or assets.4

Are you striving for greater tax efficiency? In retirement, it is especially important – and worth a discussion. A few financial adjustments could help you lessen your tax liabilities.

Citations.

1 – ssa.gov/planners/taxes.htm [2/23/15]

2 – denverpost.com/business/ci_27383286/ira-vs-401-k-which-is-better [1/25/15]

3 – desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2014/11/01/jim-sandager-donate-shares-directly-charities/18304273/ [11/1/14]

4 – accountingweb.com/article/how-make-most-federal-annual-gift-tax-exclusion/224201 [12/18/14]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Bank of America, Qwest, Verizon, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

 

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The Difference Between Good & Bad Debt

Some debts are worth assuming, but others exert a drag on retirement saving. 

Who will retire with substantial debt? It seems many baby boomers will – too many. In a 2014 Employee Benefit Research Institute survey, 44% of boomers reported that they were concerned about the size of their household debt. While many are carrying mortgages, paying with plastic also exerts a drag on their finances. According to credit reporting agency Experian, boomers are the generation holding the most credit cards (an average of 2.66 per person) and the biggest average per-person credit card balance ($5,347).1,2  

Indebtedness plagues all generations – and that is why the distinction between good debt and bad debt should be recognized.    

What distinguishes a good debt from a bad one? A good debt is purposeful – the borrower assumes it in pursuit of an important life or financial objective, such as homeownership or a college degree. A good debt also gives a borrower long-term potential to make money exceeding the money borrowed. Good debts commonly have both of these characteristics.

In contrast, bad debts are taken on for comparatively trivial reasons, and are usually arranged through credit cards that may charge the borrower double-digit interest (not a small factor in the $5,347 average credit card balance cited above).

Some people break it down further. Thomas Anderson – an executive director of wealth management at Morgan Stanley and the author of the best-selling The Value of Debt in Retirement – identifies three kinds of indebtedness. Oppressive debt is debt at 10% or greater interest, a payday loan being a classic example. Working debt comes with much less interest and may be tax-deductible (think mortgage payments), so it may be worth carrying.3

Taking a page from corporate finance, Anderson also introduces the concept of enriching debt –strategic debt assumed with the certainty than it can be erased at any time. In the enriching debt model, an individual “captures the spread” – he or she borrows from an investment portfolio to pay off student loans, or pays little or nothing down on a home and invests the lump sum saved into equity investments whose rate of return may exceed the mortgage interest. This is not exactly a mainstream approach, but Anderson has argued that it is a wise one, telling the Washington Post that “the second you pay down your house, it’s a one-way liquidity trap, especially for retirees.”3,4 

Mortgage debt is the largest debt for most new retirees. According to the American College, the average new retiree carries $100,000 in home loan debt. That certainly amounts to good debt for most people.3 

Student loans usually amount to good debt, but not necessarily for the increasing numbers of retiring baby boomers who carry them. Education loans have become the second-largest debt for this demographic, and in some cases retirees are paying off loans taken out for their children or grandchildren.3

Credit card and auto loan debt also factor into the picture. Some contend that an auto loan is actually a good debt because borrower has purchased a durable good, but the interest rates and minimal odds of appreciation for cars and trucks suggest otherwise.

Some households lack budgets. In others, the budget is reliant on everything is going well. Either case opens a door for the accumulation of bad debts. 

The fifties are crucial years for debt management. The years from 50-59 may represent the peak earning years for an individual, yet they may also bring peak indebtedness with money going out for everything from mortgage payments to eldercare to child support. As many baby boomers will retire with debt, the reality is that their retirement income will need to be large enough to cover those obligations. 

How much debt are you carrying today? Whether you want to retire debt-free or live with some debt after you sell your business or end your career, you need to maintain the financial capacity to address it and/or eradicate it. Speak with a financial professional about your options.

Citations.

1 – foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2015/03/26/strategic-debt-can-help-in-retirement/ [3/26/15]

2 – gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/19-easy-ways-baby-boomers-can-build-credit/ [4/23/15]

3 – usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/brooks/2015/04/22/retirement-401k-debt-mortgage/25837369/ [4/22/15]

4 – washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2015/03/26/the-case-for-not-paying-off-your-mortgage-by-retirement/ [3/26/15]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Chevron, Hughes, Bank of America, access.att.com, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Avoiding the Common 1040 Mistakes

Don’t let these slip-ups creep into your federal tax return.

No one wants to delay their federal tax refund. As you certainly don’t, filling out your 1040 form correctly is essential. To that end, it is worth noting some of the common 1040 mistakes – the little slip-ups that aggravate both the IRS and the taxpayer.

Not signing your return. If you file online (and who doesn’t), you have to type your name on the “Your Signature” line in the “Sign Here” section, along with your spouse’s name if you file jointly. If you still file a hard-copy return, you’ve got to sign your name on the “Your Signature” line, and the same goes for your spouse on the “Spouse’s signature” line. No valid signature equals an invalid return.1

Not getting your name right. Believe or not, some people mistype their names as they e-file. More commonly, they enter an old name – a maiden name, for example – that doesn’t match the name linked to this taxpayer identification number. If you’ve changed your name, the Social Security Administration (and other federal agencies, as applicable) need to know that.1

Missing the filing deadline(s) applicable to you or your business. Is your company an S corp? That means you will probably need to file a Form 1120S by March 15. Is it a sole proprietorship? That means you have until April 15 to file a Form 1040C. If you are new to making estimated tax payments, you have hopefully pored over Form 1040-ES with a tax professional to figure out how much tax is due by each quarterly payment period.2

Turning in Form 4868 (the “extension”) gives you until October 15 to file, although any federal taxes owed must still be paid by April 15. If you are a servicemember on duty outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico, you have until June 15 to file your return and pay taxes, and you can also use Form 4868 to file as late as October 15.3

If you file late (that is, you submit your return after April 15 without using Form 4868 to request an extension), you face a penalty – a 5% penalty per month following the return’s due date, capping out at a 25% maximum penalty after five months. The penalty for unpaid taxes is .5% per month after the April 15 deadline, and 6% interest a year. If you have taxes a year overdue, you will be assessed both the monthly and yearly penalties.2

Making numerical errors. Even with some of the great tax prep software now available, math errors still happen. In fact, they happen largely because people don’t use the software: the taxpayers who insist on filing paper returns are 20 times more likely to commit math mistakes than those who e-file, the IRS reports.1

If an electronically filed return contains a math mistake, it gets sent back to the taxpayer or tax professional for correction and resubmission. If a paper return has a math mistake, the IRS has to refigure it on the taxpayer’s behalf. That takes time.1        

Additionally, some taxpayers get Social Security numbers wrong – not necessarily their own, but those of their spouses. Also, a smooth direct deposit of a federal tax refund won’t happen if a taxpayer types in an inaccurate bank account number.1

Selecting the wrong filing status. This happens a lot with divorced moms and dads. To determine if they should check the “head of household” box or the “single” box, they should take the online interview at irs.gov/uac/What-is-My-Filing-Status%3F.4

Claiming a credit or deduction you shouldn’t. Again, tax prep software tends to ward off this mistake. Credits often inappropriately claimed (or ignored): the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and even the standard deduction.1

Many business owners overlook deductions or claim them in error. Sometimes this can be traced back to slipshod recordkeeping; other times, it stems from faulty assumptions. According to a survey from small business accounting software maker Xero, the most common merited deductions that aren’t claimed by SBOs are those for depreciation (30%), out-of-pocket capital expenses (29%) and car and truck expenses (16%).2

Claiming employees as independent contractors. Some small business owners try to save money by doing this, but the IRS may disagree with such claims. If so, the business can end up on the hook for employment taxes related to that employee.2

So what steps can you take to try and reduce the risk of errors on your 1040 form? You can file electronically, you can use some of the terrific tax prep software available, and you can turn to a skilled tax professional to help you prepare and file your return. No one is perfect, but those are all good moves to make this tax season.

Citations.

1 – money.cnn.com/gallery/pf/taxes/2014/04/08/tax-mistakes/index.html [4/8/15]

2 – nerdwallet.com/blog/small-business/5-frequent-small-business-tax-mistakes-avoid/ [10/15/14]

3 – irs.gov/taxtopics/tc304.html [1/16/15]

4 – irs.gov/uac/What-is-My-Filing-Status%3F [1/12/15]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent, Merck, Pfizer, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Verizon or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Holding Equities for the Long Term: Time Versus Timing

Legendary investor Warren Buffett is famous for his long-term perspective. He has said that he likes to make investments he would be comfortable holding even if the market shut down for 10 years. Investing with an eye to the long term is particularly important with stocks. Historically, equities have typically outperformed bonds, cash, and inflation, though past performance is no guarantee of future results and those returns also have involved higher volatility. It can be challenging to have Buffett-like patience during periods such as 2000-2002, when the stock market fell for 3 years in a row, or 2008, which was the worst year for the Standard & Poor’s 500* since the Depression era. Times like those can frazzle the nerves of any investor, even the pros. With stocks, having an investing strategy is only half the battle; the other half is being able to stick to it.

Just what is long term?

Your own definition of “long term” is most important, and will depend in part on your individual financial goals and when you want to achieve them. A 70-year-old retiree may have a shorter “long term” than a 30 year old who’s saving for retirement.

Your strategy should take into account that the market will not go in one direction forever–either up or down. However, it’s instructive to look at various holding periods for equities over the years. Historically, the shorter your holding period, the greater the chance of experiencing a loss. It’s true that the S&P 500 showed negative returns for the two 10-year periods ending in 2008 and 2009, which encompassed both the tech crash and the credit crisis. However, the last negative-return 10-year period before then ended in 1939, and each of the trailing 10-year periods since 2010 have also been positive.*

The benefits of patience

Trying to second-guess the market can be challenging at best; even professionals often have trouble. According to “Behavioral Patterns and Pitfalls of U.S. Investors,” a 2010 Library of Congress report prepared for the Securities and Exchange Commission, excessive trading often causes investors to underperform the market.

 

Keeping yourself on track

It’s useful to have strategies in place that can help improve your financial and psychological readiness to take a long-term approach to investing in equities. Even if you’re not a buy-and-hold investor, a trading discipline can help you stick to a long-term plan.

Have a game plan against panic

Having predetermined guidelines that anticipate turbulent times can help prevent emotion from dictating your decisions. For example, you might determine in advance that you will take profits when the market rises by a certain percentage, and buy when the market has fallen by a set percentage. Or you might take a core-and-satellite approach, using buy-and-hold principles for most of your portfolio and tactical investing based on a shorter-term outlook for the rest.

Remember that everything’s relative

Most of the variance in the returns of different portfolios is based on their respective asset allocations. If you’ve got a well-diversified portfolio, it might be useful to compare its overall performance to the S&P 500. If you discover you’ve done better than, say, the stock market as a whole, you might feel better about your long-term prospects.

Current performance may not reflect past results

Don’t forget to look at how far you’ve come since you started investing. When you’re focused on day-to-day market movements, it’s easy to forget the progress you’ve already made. Keeping track of where you stand relative to not only last year but to 3, 5, and 10 years ago may help you remember that the current situation is unlikely to last forever.

Consider playing defense

Some investors try to prepare for volatile periods by reexamining their allocation to such defensive sectors as consumer staples or utilities (though like all stocks, those sectors involve their own risks). Dividends also can help cushion the impact of price swings. If you’re retired and worried about a market downturn’s impact on your income, think before reacting. If you sell stock during a period of falling prices simply because that was your original game plan, you might not get the best price. Moreover, that sale might also reduce your ability to generate income in later years. What might it cost you in future returns by selling stocks at a low point if you don’t need to? Perhaps you could adjust your lifestyle temporarily.

Use cash to help manage your mindset

Having some cash holdings can be the financial equivalent of taking deep breaths to relax. It can enhance your ability to act thoughtfully instead of impulsively. An appropriate asset allocation can help you have enough resources on hand to prevent having to sell stocks at an inopportune time to meet ordinary expenses or, if you’ve used leverage, a margin call.

A cash cushion coupled with a disciplined investing strategy can change your perspective on market downturns. Knowing that you’re positioned to take advantage of a market swoon by picking up bargains may increase your ability to be patient.

Know what you own and why you own it

When the market goes off the tracks, knowing why you made a specific investment can help you evaluate whether those reasons still hold. If you don’t understand why a security is in your portfolio, find out. A stock may still be a good long-term opportunity even when its price has dropped.

Tell yourself that tomorrow is another day

The market is nothing if not cyclical. Even if you wish you had sold at what turned out to be a market peak, or regret having sat out a buying opportunity, you may get another chance. If you’re considering changes, a volatile market is probably the worst time to turn your portfolio inside out. Solid asset allocation is still the basis of good investment planning.

Be willing to learn from your mistakes

Anyone can look good during bull markets; smart investors are produced by the inevitable rough patches. Even the best aren’t right all the time. If an earlier choice now seems rash, sometimes the best strategy is to take a tax loss, learn from the experience, and apply the lesson to future decisions.

*Data source: Calculations by Broadridge based on total returns on the S&P 500 Index over rolling 1-, 5-, and 10-year periods between 1926 and 2014.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Bank of America, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Pfizer, Verizon, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.