Coping With College Loans

Paying them down, managing their financial impact.

 

 

Are student loans holding our economy back? Certainly America has recovered from the last recession, but this is an interesting question nonetheless.

 

In a November 2013 address before the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Assistant Director Rohit Chopra expressed that college loan debt “may prove to be one of the more painful aftershocks of the Great Recession.” In fact, outstanding education debt in America doubled from 2007 to 2013, topping $1 trillion.1

 

More than 60% of this debt is held by people over the age of 30 and about 15% is carried by people older than 50. The housing sector feels the strain: in a November National Association of Realtors survey, 54% of the first-time homebuyers who had difficulty saving up a down payment cited their college loan expenses as the main obstacle. The ProgressNow think tank believes that education debt siphons $6 billion of new car purchasing power out of the economy per year.2,3

 

As the Detroit Free Press notes, the average 2012 college graduate is burdened with $29,400 in education loans. If you carry five-figure (or greater) education debt, what do you do to pay it down faster?4

How can you overcome student loans to move forward financially? If you are young (or not so young), budgeting is key. Even if you get a second job, a promotion, or an inheritance, you won’t be able to erase any debt if your expenses consistently exceed your income. Smartphone apps and other online budget tools can help you live within your budget day to day, or even at the point of purchase for goods and services.

After that first step, you can use a few different strategies to whittle away at college loans.

 

*The local economy permitting, a couple can live on one salary and use the wages of the other earner to pay off the loan balance(s).

*You could use your tax refund to attack the debt.

*You can hold off on a major purchase or two. (Yes, this is a sad effect of college debt, but backhandedly it could also help you reduce it by freeing up more cash to apply to the loan.)

*You can sell something of significant value – a car or truck, a motorbike, jewelry, collectibles – and turn the cash on the debt.

 

Now in the big picture of your budget, you could try the “snowball method” where you focus on paying off your smallest debt first, then the next smallest, etc. on to the largest. Or, you could try the “debt ladder” tactic, where you attack the debt(s) with the highest interest rate(s) to start. That will permit you to gradually devote more and more money toward the goal of wiping out that existing student loan balance.

 

Even just paying more than the minimum each month on your loan will help. Making payments every two weeks rather than every month can also have a big impact.

 

If the lender presents you with a choice of repayment plans, weigh the one you currently use against the others; the others might be better. Signing up for automatic payments can help, too. You avoid the risk of penalty for late payment, and student loan issuers commonly reward the move: many will lower the interest rate on a loan by a quarter-point or so in thanks.5

 

What if you have multiple outstanding college loans? Should one of those loans have a variable interest rate (about 15% of education loans do), try addressing that debt first. Why? Think about what could happen with interest rates as this decade progresses. They are already rising.5

 

Also, how about combining multiple federal student loan balances into one? If you graduated college before July 1, 2006, the interest rate you’ll lock in on the single balance will be lower than that paid on each separate federal education loan.5

Maybe your boss could pay down the loan. Don’t laugh: there are college grads who manage to negotiate just such agreements. In fact, there are small and mid-sized businesses that offer them simply to be competitive today. They can’t offer a young hire what the Fortune 500 can when it comes to salary, so they pitch another perk: a lump sum that the new employee can use to reduce a college loan.5

To reduce your student debt, live within your means and use your financial creativity. It may disappear faster than you think.

 

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

1 – consumerfinance.gov/newsroom/student-loan-ombudsman-rohit-chopra-before-the-federal-reserve-bank-of-st-louis/ [11/18/13]

2 – forbes.com/sites/halahtouryalai/2013/06/26/backlash-student-loans-keep-borrowers-from-buying-homes-cars/ [6/26/13]

3 – realtor.org/news-releases/2013/11/home-buyers-and-sellers-survey-shows-lingering-impact-of-tight-credit [11/13]

4 – tinyurl.com/nouty3k [4/19/14]

5 – tinyurl.com/k29m48y [5/1/14]

 

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. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. This information should not be construed as investment 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, AT&T, Chevron, Qwest, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Pfizer, Verizon, Merck, Bank of America, 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.

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Use Your Annuity to Pay for Long-Term Care Insurance

The cost of long-term care can quickly deplete your savings and affect the quality of life for you and your family. Long-term care insurance allows you to share that cost with an insurance company. But premiums for long-term care insurance can be expensive, and cash or income to cover those premiums may not be readily available. One option is to exchange your annuity contract for a long-term care insurance policy.

Section 1035 exchange

Generally, withdrawals from a nonqualified deferred annuity (premiums paid with after-tax dollars) are considered to come first from earnings, then from your investment (premiums paid) in the contract. The earnings portion of the withdrawal is treated as income to the annuity owner, subject to ordinary income taxes. IRC Section 1035 allows you to exchange one annuity for another without any immediate tax consequences, as long as certain requirements are met. However, prior to 2010, an annuity couldn’t be exchanged for a long-term care insurance policy on a tax-free basis. But the Pension Protection Act (PPA) changed that and, as of January 1, 2010, both life insurance and annuities may be exchanged, tax free, for qualified long-term care insurance.

Conditions for tax-free exchange

In order for the transfer of the annuity to the long-term care insurance policy to be treated as a tax-free exchange, certain conditions must be met:

  • The annuity must be nonqualified, meaning it cannot be part of an employer-sponsored retirement plan. For example, a tax-sheltered annuity or an annuity used to fund an IRA would not qualify for tax-free exchange treatment.
  • The long-term care insurance policy must meet the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and IRS criteria. Generally, the long-term care insurance policy must provide coverage only for qualified long-term care services; it must be guaranteed renewable; it cannot have a cash surrender value; refunds or dividends can only be used to reduce future premiums; and policy benefits cannot pay for expenses covered by Medicare (except where Medicare is a secondary payee).
  • The exchange must be made directly from the annuity issuer to the long-term care insurance company. You will not receive tax-free treatment if you withdraw funds from the annuity directly, then use them to pay the long-term care insurance premium.

Presuming these criteria are met, exchanging an annuity for a long-term care policy can be done in one of two ways: a full transfer of the entire cash surrender value of the annuity in exchange for the long-term care insurance policy; or partial exchanges of the annuity’s cash value for the long-term care policy. Not all insurance companies allow long-term care policies to be funded with a single, lump-sum payment, so the more common approach may be to pay long-term care insurance premiums through several partial exchanges from the annuity.

Potential tax advantages

Exchanging your nonqualified deferred annuity for a long-term care insurance policy may have several tax-related advantages. You can use annuity earnings to pay for long-term care insurance without paying income tax on those earnings. This allows you to use otherwise taxable annuity earnings in a more tax-efficient manner.

According to the IRS, Section 1035 exchanges from a nonqualified annuity to pay for tax-qualified long-term care insurance are pro-rated based on the comparative percentages of principal and earnings in the annuity. For example, say you have a nonqualified annuity worth $100,000, which includes your premium of $50,000, plus earnings worth $50,000, and you haven’t taken any previous withdrawals. You direct the annuity issuer to send $2,500 to the long-term care insurance carrier as a partial exchange to pay for insurance premiums. Your annuity cash value is reduced by $2,500, but half of that amount ($1,250) comes from earnings. As a result, not only have you withdrawn annuity earnings ($1,250) without paying taxes on them, but you have further reduced the taxable portion of your annuity by $1,250. By withdrawing earnings from your annuity to pay for long-term care insurance, you could reduce the taxable portion of your annuity, which can be important if you surrender the annuity later.

Another advantage relates to the long-term care insurance policy. Generally, a qualified long-term care insurance policy is treated as an accident and health insurance contract, and the benefits are typically treated as tax free, subject to certain limits. In this way, you may be able to use tax-free annuity earnings to pay for tax-free long-term care benefits.

Other possible benefits

Aside from the favorable tax treatment, there may be other benefits as well.

  • Using an annuity to pay for long-term care insurance may lessen the need to tap other savings or income to pay for premiums.
  • You may still use any remaining cash surrender value of the annuity for other income needs or expenses.
  • Exchanging the annuity for long-term care insurance may better meet your current needs, financial situation, and preferences.

Some potential disadvantages

There are also some potential disadvantages to exchanging an annuity for long-term care insurance.

  • Annuity surrender charges might be incurred on the exchange of the annuity, thus reducing the annuity’s value.
  • Reducing the annuity’s value to pay for long-term care insurance premiums may reduce your ability to use the annuity to provide income needed in the future.
  • Some nonqualified deferred annuities might not be eligible for a partial Section 1035 exchange because the annuity contracts may not allow annuity payments to be made to other than the annuity owner (e.g., annuity payments cannot be assigned to another payee).
  • If you exchange the annuity for a long-term care insurance policy, your survivors won’t have the annuity’s cash value for income or savings that otherwise would have been available at your death.
  • Generally, premiums for qualified long-term care insurance are deductible as qualified medical expenses subject to certain restrictions. The tax savings of using a tax-free Section 1035 exchange needs to be compared to available federal or state income tax deductions for long-term care insurance premiums. Depending on your situation, it might be more beneficial to deduct premiums and include annuity earnings as taxable income.

Frequently asked questions

If I am the sole owner of the annuity, can I exchange it for a long-term care insurance policy jointly owned by my spouse and me?

Generally, no, because the owners of both the annuity and the long-term care insurance policy must be the same. However, you may be able to change the ownership of your annuity to include your spouse. While changing ownership of an annuity is generally treated as a taxable event to the extent of gain (earnings) in the annuity, ownership changes between spouses are typically tax free, but be sure to consult your tax or financial professional before making ownership changes to your annuity.

I’m receiving payments from a nonqualified immediate annuity. Can I exchange these payments for long-term care insurance?

You may be able to assign the payments directly to the long-term care insurance company as a 1035 exchange, but the annuity payee must be the long-term care insurance company–if you’re listed as the payee, payments will not receive tax-free treatment. Also, be aware that if long-term care insurance premiums increase, the annuity payments may not be sufficient to cover the cost of the long-term care insurance premiums. Also, if the annuity payment exceeds the insurance premium, you may be able to split the annuity payment, where an amount equal to the insurance premium is sent to the long-term care insurance company and the balance of the annuity payment is sent to you, but this would be at the discretion of the annuity issuer.

Can I use more than one annuity to pay for long-term care insurance?

Generally, yes, because funds from one or more nonqualified annuities can be exchanged for a long-term care insurance policy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, Hughes, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Merck, Pfizer, Glaxosmithkline, Verizon, Bank of America, 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.

How Grandparents Can Help With College Costs

As the cost of a college education continues to climb, many grandparents are stepping in to help. This trend is expected to accelerate as baby boomers, many of whom went to college, become grandparents and start gifting what’s predicted to be trillions of dollars over the coming decades.

Helping to pay for a grandchild’s college education can bring great personal satisfaction and is a smart way for grandparents to pass on wealth without having to pay gift and estate taxes. So what are some ways to accomplish this goal?

Outright cash gifts

A common way for grandparents to help grandchildren with college costs is to make an outright gift of cash or securities. But this method has a couple of drawbacks. A gift of more than the annual federal gift tax exclusion amount–$14,000 for individual gifts and $28,000 for gifts made by a married couple–might have gift tax and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax consequences (GST tax is an additional gift tax imposed on gifts made to someone who is more than one generation below you). Another drawback is that a cash gift to a student will be considered untaxed income by the federal government’s aid application, the FAFSA, and student income is assessed at a rate of 50%, which can impact financial aid eligibility.

One workaround is for the grandparent to give the cash gift to the parent instead of the grandchild, because gifts to parents do not need to be reported as income on the FAFSA. Another solution is to wait until your grandchild graduates college and then give a cash gift that can be used to pay off school loans. Yet another option is to pay the college directly.

Pay tuition directly to the college

Under federal law, tuition payments made directly to a college aren’t considered taxable gifts, no matter how large the payment. So grandparents don’t have to worry about the $14,000 annual federal gift tax exclusion. But payments can only be made for tuition–room and board, books, fees, equipment, and other similar expenses don’t qualify. Aside from the obvious tax advantage, paying tuition directly to the college ensures that your money will be used for the education purpose you intended, plus it removes the money from your estate. And you are still free to give your grandchild a separate tax-free gift each year up to the $14,000 limit ($28,000 for joint gifts).

However, colleges will often reduce a student’s institutional financial aid by the amount of the grandparent’s payment. So before sending a check, ask the college how it will affect your grandchild’s eligibility for college-based aid. If your contribution will adversely affect your grandchild’s aid package, particularly the scholarship or grant portion, consider gifting the money to your grandchild after graduation to help him or her pay off student loans.

529 plans

A 529 plan can be an excellent way for grandparents to contribute to a grandchild’s college education, while simultaneously paring down their own estate. Contributions to a 529 plan grow tax deferred, and withdrawals used for the beneficiary’s qualified education expenses are completely tax free at the federal level (and generally at the state level too).

There are two types of 529 plans: college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans. College savings plans are individual investment-type accounts offered by nearly all states and managed by financial institutions. Funds can be used at any accredited college in the United States or abroad. Prepaid tuition plans allow prepayment of tuition at today’s prices for the limited group of colleges–typically in-state public colleges–that participate in the plan.

Grandparents can open a 529 account and name a grandchild as beneficiary (only one person can be listed as account owner, though) or they can contribute to an already existing 529 account. Grandparents can contribute a lump sum to a grandchild’s 529 account, or they can contribute smaller, regular amounts.

Regarding lump-sum gifts, a big advantage of 529 plans is that under special rules unique to 529 plans, individuals can make a single lump-sum gift to a 529 plan of up to $70,000 ($140,000 for joint gifts by married couples) and avoid federal gift tax. To do so, a special election must be made to treat the gift as if it were made in equal installments over a five-year period, and no additional gifts can be made to the beneficiary during this time.

Example: Mr. and Mrs. Brady make a lump-sum contribution of $140,000 to their grandchild’s 529 plan in Year 1, electing to treat the gift as if it were made over 5 years. The result is they are considered to have made annual gifts of $28,000 ($14,000 each) in Years 1 through 5 ($140,000 / 5 years). Because the amount gifted by each grandparent is within the annual gift tax exclusion, the Bradys won’t owe any gift tax (assuming they don’t make any other gifts to this grandchild during the 5-year period). In Year 6, they can make another lump-sum contribution and repeat the process. In Year 11, they can do so again.

Significantly, this money is considered removed from the grandparents’ estate, even though in the case of a grandparent-owned 529 account the grandparent would still retain control over the funds. There is a caveat, however. If a grandparent were to die during the five-year period, then a prorated portion of the contribution would be “recaptured” into the estate for estate tax purposes.

Example: In the previous example, if Mr. Brady were to die in Year 2, his total Year 1 and 2 contributions ($28,000) would be excluded from his estate. But the remaining portion attributed to him in Years 3, 4, and 5 ($42,000) would be included in his estate. The contributions attributed to Mrs. Brady ($14,000 per year) would not be recaptured into the estate.

If grandparents want to open a 529 account for their grandchild, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you need to withdraw the money in the 529 account for something other than your grandchild’s college expenses–for example, for medical expenses or emergency purposes–there is a double consequence: the earnings portion of the withdrawal is subject to a 10% penalty and will be taxed at your ordinary income tax rate. Also, funds in a grandparent-owned 529 account may still be factored in when determining Medicaid eligibility, unless these funds are specifically exempted by state law.

Regarding financial aid, grandparent-owned 529 accounts do not need to be listed as an asset on the federal government’s financial aid application, the FAFSA. However, distributions (withdrawals) from a grandparent-owned 529 plan are reported as untaxed income to the beneficiary (grandchild), and this income is assessed at 50% by the FAFSA. By contrast, parent-owned 529 accounts are reported as a parent asset on the FAFSA (and assessed at 5.6%) and distributions from parent-owned plans aren’t counted as student income. To avoid having the distribution from a grandparent-owned 529 account count as student income, one option is for the grandparent to delay taking a distribution from the 529 plan until any time after January 1 of the grandchild’s junior year of college (because there will be no more FAFSAs to fill out). Another option is for the grandparent to change the owner of the 529 account to the parent.

Colleges treat 529 plans differently for purposes of distributing their own financial aid. Generally, parent-owned and grandparent-owned 529 accounts are treated equally because colleges simply require a student to list all 529 plans for which he or she is the named beneficiary.

Note: Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with 529 plans before investing. More information about specific 529 plans is available in each issuer’s official statement, which should be read carefully before investing. Also, before investing, consider whether your state offers a 529 plan that provides residents with favorable state tax benefits. As with other investments, there are generally fees and expenses associated with participation in a 529 savings plan. There is also the risk that the investments may lose money or not perform well enough to cover college costs as anticipated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, 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.

Retirement Plans for Small Businesses

If you’re self-employed or own a small business and you haven’t established a retirement savings plan, what are you waiting for? A retirement plan can help you and your employees save for the future.

Tax advantages

A retirement plan can have significant tax advantages:

  • Your contributions are deductible when made
  • Your contributions aren’t taxed to an employee until distributed from the plan
  • Money in the retirement program grows tax deferred (or, in the case of Roth accounts, potentially tax free)

Types of plans

Retirement plans are usually either IRA-based (like SEPs and SIMPLE IRAs) or “qualified” (like 401(k)s, profit-sharing plans, and defined benefit plans). Qualified plans are generally more complicated and expensive to maintain than IRA-based plans because they have to comply with specific Internal Revenue Code and ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) requirements in order to qualify for their tax benefits. Also, qualified plan assets must be held either in trust or by an insurance company. With IRA-based plans, your employees own (i.e., “vest” in) your contributions immediately. With qualified plans, you can generally require that your employees work a certain numbers of years before they vest.

Which plan is right for you?

With a dizzying array of retirement plans to choose from, each with unique advantages and disadvantages, you’ll need to clearly define your goals before attempting to choose a plan. For example, do you want:

  • To maximize the amount you can save for your own retirement?
  • A plan funded by employer contributions? By employee contributions? Both?
  • A plan that allows you and your employees to make pretax and/or Roth contributions?
  • The flexibility to skip employer contributions in some years?
  • A plan with lowest costs? Easiest administration?

The answers to these questions can help guide you and your retirement professional to the plan (or combination of plans) most appropriate for you.

SEPs

A SEP allows you to set up an IRA (a “SEP-IRA”) for yourself and each of your eligible employees. You contribute a uniform percentage of pay for each employee, although you don’t have to make contributions every year, offering you some flexibility when business conditions vary. For 2015, your contributions for each employee are limited to the lesser of 25% of pay or $53,000. Most employers, including those who are self-employed, can establish a SEP.

SEPs have low start-up and operating costs and can be established using an easy two-page form. The plan must cover any employee aged 21 or older who has worked for you for three of the last five years and who earns $600 or more.

SIMPLE IRA plan

The SIMPLE IRA plan is available if you have 100 or fewer employees. Employees can elect to make pretax contributions in 2015 of up to $12,500 ($15,500 if age 50 or older). You must either match your employees’ contributions dollar for dollar–up to 3% of each employee’s compensation–or make a fixed contribution of 2% of compensation for each eligible employee. (The 3% match can be reduced to 1% in any two of five years.) Each employee who earned $5,000 or more in any two prior years, and who is expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year, must be allowed to participate in the plan. SIMPLE IRA plans are easy to set up. You fill out a short form to establish a plan and ensure that SIMPLE IRAs are set up for each employee. A financial institution can do much of the paperwork. Additionally, administrative costs are low.

Profit-sharing plan

Typically, only you, not your employees, contribute to a qualified profit-sharing plan. Your contributions are discretionary–there’s usually no set amount you need to contribute each year, and you have the flexibility to contribute nothing at all in a given year if you so choose (although your contributions must be nondiscriminatory, and “substantial and recurring,” for your plan to remain qualified). The plan must contain a formula for determining how your contributions are allocated among plan participants. A separate account is established for each participant that holds your contributions and any investment gains or losses. Generally, each employee with a year of service is eligible to participate (although you can require two years of service if your contributions are immediately vested). Contributions for any employee in 2015 can’t exceed the lesser of $53,000 or 100% of the employee’s compensation.

401(k) plan

The 401(k) plan (technically, a qualified profit-sharing plan with a cash or deferred feature) has become a hugely popular retirement savings vehicle for small businesses. According to the Investment Company Institute, 401(k) plans held $4.3 trillion of assets as of March 2014, and covered 52 million active participants. (Source: http://www.ici.org/401(k), accessed February 5, 2015.) With a 401(k) plan, employees can make pretax and/or Roth contributions in 2015 of up to $18,000 of pay ($24,000 if age 50 or older). These deferrals go into a separate account for each employee and aren’t taxed until distributed. Generally, each employee with a year of service must be allowed to contribute to the plan.

You can also make employer contributions to your 401(k) plan–either matching contributions or discretionary profit-sharing contributions. Combined employer and employee contributions for any employee in 2015 can’t exceed the lesser of $53,000 (plus catch-up contributions of up to $6,000 if your employee is age 50 or older) or 100% of the employee’s compensation. In general, each employee with a year of service is eligible to receive employer contributions, but you can require two years of service if your contributions are immediately vested.

401(k) plans are required to perform somewhat complicated testing each year to make sure benefits aren’t disproportionately weighted toward higher paid employees. However, you don’t have to perform discrimination testing if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan. With a safe harbor 401(k) plan, you generally have to either match your employees’ contributions (100% of employee deferrals up to 3% of compensation, and 50% of deferrals between 3 and 5% of compensation), or make a fixed contribution of 3% of compensation for all eligible employees, regardless of whether they contribute to the plan. Your contributions must be fully vested.

Another way to avoid discrimination testing is by adopting a SIMPLE 401(k) plan. These plans are similar to SIMPLE IRAs, but can also allow loans and Roth contributions. Because they’re still qualified plans (and therefore more complicated than SIMPLE IRAs), and allow less deferrals than traditional 401(k)s, SIMPLE 401(k)s haven’t become popular.

Defined benefit plan

A defined benefit plan is a qualified retirement plan that guarantees your employees a specified level of benefits at retirement (for example, an annual benefit equal to 30% of final average pay). As the name suggests, it’s the retirement benefit that’s defined, not the level of contributions to the plan. In 2015, a defined benefit plan can provide an annual benefit of up to $210,000 (or 100% of pay if less). The services of an actuary are generally needed to determine the annual contributions that you must make to the plan to fund the promised benefit. Your contributions may vary from year to year, depending on the performance of plan investments and other factors.

In general, defined benefit plans are too costly and too complex for most small businesses. However, because they can provide the largest benefit of any retirement plan, and therefore allow the largest deductible employer contribution, defined benefit plans can be attractive to businesses that have a small group of highly compensated owners who are seeking to contribute as much money as possible on a tax-deferred basis.

As an employer, you have an important role to play in helping America’s workers save. Now is the time to look into retirement plan programs for you and your employees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ING Retirement, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, AT&T, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Northrop Grumman, 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.

Don’t Let Your Retirement Savings Goal Get You Down

As a retirement savings plan participant, you know that setting an accumulation goal is an important part of your overall strategy. In fact, each year in its annual Retirement Confidence Survey, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reiterates that goal setting is a key factor influencing overall retirement confidence. But for many, a retirement savings goal that could reach as high as $1 million or more may seem like a daunting, even impossible mountain to climb. What if you’re contributing as much as you can to your retirement savings plan, and investing as aggressively as possible within your risk comfort zone, but still feel that you’ll never reach the summit? As with many of life’s toughest challenges, it may help to focus a little less on the end result and more on the details that help refine your plan.*

Retirement goals are based on assumptions

Whether you use a simple online calculator or run a detailed analysis, remember that your retirement savings goal is based on certain assumptions that will, in all likelihood, change over time. Assumptions may include:

Inflation: Many goal-setting calculators and worksheets use an assumed inflation rate to account for the rising cost of living both during your saving years and after you retire. Although inflation has averaged about 2.5% over the last 20 years, there have been years (e.g., 1979 and 1980) when inflation has spiked into double digits. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics) No one can say for sure where prices are headed in the future.

Rates of return: Perhaps even more unpredictable is the rate of return you will earn on your investments over time. Although most calculators use estimated rates of return for pre- and post-retirement years, returns will fluctuate, and there can be no guarantee that you will consistently earn the rate that is used to calculate your savings goal.

Life expectancy: Retirement savings estimates also

usually use an assumed life expectancy, or other time frame that you designate, to determine how long you will need your money to last. Without a crystal ball or time travel machine, however, no one can make exact predictions in this arena.

Salary adjustments: Calculators and worksheets may also include assumptions for pay increases you might receive through the years, which could impact both the lifestyle you desire in retirement and the amount you save in your employer-sponsored plan. As in other areas, salary adjustments are just estimates.

Retirement expenses: Can you say for certain how much you will need each month to live comfortably in retirement? If you’re five years away, the answer to this question may be much easier than if you’re 10, 20, or 30 years away. In order to give you a targeted savings goal, retirement calculators must make assumptions for how much you will need in income during retirement.

Social Security, pension, and other benefits: To be as accurate as possible, a retirement savings goal should also account for additional benefits you may receive. However, these types of benefits typically depend on your earning history, which cannot be accurately assessed until you approach retirement.

All of these assumptions point to why it’s so important to review your retirement savings goal regularly–at least once per year and when major life events (e.g., marriage, divorce, having children) occur. This will help ensure that your goal continues to reflect your life circumstances as well as changing market and economic conditions.

Break it down

Instead of viewing your goal as ONE BIG NUMBER, try to break it down into a monthly amount–i.e., try to figure out how much income you may need on a monthly basis in retirement. That way you can view this monthly need alongside your estimated monthly Social Security benefit, anticipated income from your current level of retirement savings, and any pension or other income you expect. This can help the planning process seem less daunting, more realistic, and most important, more manageable. It can be far less overwhelming to brainstorm ways to close a gap of, say, a few hundred dollars a month than a few hundred thousand dollars over the duration of your retirement.

Make your future self a priority, whenever possible

While every stage of life brings financial challenges, each stage also brings opportunities. Whenever possible, put a little extra toward your retirement.

For example, when you pay off a credit card or school loan, receive a tax refund, get a raise or promotion, celebrate your child’s college graduation (and the end of tuition payments), or receive an unexpected windfall, consider putting some of that extra money toward retirement. Even small amounts can potentially add up over time through the power of compounding.

Another habit to try to get into is increasing your retirement savings plan contribution by 1% a year until you hit the maximum allowable contribution. Increasing your contribution by this small amount may barely be noticeable in the short run–particularly if you do it when you receive a raise–but it can go a long way toward helping you achieve your goal in the long run.

Retirement may be different than you imagine

When people dream about retirement, they often picture images of exotic travel, endless rounds of golf, and fancy restaurants. Yet a recent study found that the older people get, the more they derive happiness from ordinary, everyday experiences such as socializing with friends, reading a good book, taking a scenic drive, or playing board games with grandchildren. (Source: “Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences,” Journal of Consumer Research, June 2014) While your dream may include days filled with extravagant leisure activities, your retirement reality may turn out much different–and that actually may be a matter of choice.

In addition, some retirees are deciding that they don’t want to give up work entirely, choosing instead to cut back their hours or pursue other work-related interests.

You may want to turn a hobby into an income-producing endeavor, or perhaps try out a new occupation–something you’ve always dreamed of doing but never had the time. Such part-time work or additional income can help you meet your retirement income needs for as long as you remain healthy enough and interested.

Plan ahead and think creatively

Chances are, there have been times in your life when you’ve had to put on your thinking cap and find ways to cut costs and adjust your budget. Those skills may come in handy during retirement. But you don’t have to wait to begin thinking about ideas. Consider ways you might trim your expenses or enhance your retirement income now, before the need arises.

Might you downsize to a smaller home or relocate to an area with lower taxes or a lower overall cost of living? Will you and your spouse actually need two vehicles, or might you simply own one and rent another on the occasional days when you need two? Could you put that extra bedroom to use by taking in a boarder, who might also help out with household chores, such as mowing the lawn or shoveling the sidewalks? Or maybe you can cancel that expensive gym membership and turn the spare bedroom into a home workout room.

Jot down any ideas that come to mind and file them away with your retirement financial information. Then when the time comes, you can refer to your list to help refine your retirement budgeting strategy.

The bottom line

As EBRI finds in its research every year, setting a goal is indeed a very important first step in putting together your strategy for retirement. However, you shouldn’t let that number scare you.

As long as you have an estimate in mind, understand all the various assumptions that go into it, break down that goal into a monthly income need, review your goal once a year and as major life events occur, increase your retirement savings whenever possible, and remember to think creatively both now and in retirement–you can take heart knowing that you’re doing your best to prepare for whatever the future may bring.

*All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there can be no assurance that any investment strategy will be successful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, 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.

Setting and Targeting Investment Goals

Go out into your yard and dig a big hole. Every month, throw $50 into it, but don’t take any money out until you’re ready to buy a house, send your child to college, or retire. It sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s what investing without setting clear-cut goals is like. If you’re lucky, you may end up with enough money to meet your needs, but you have no way to know for sure.

How do you set investment goals?

Setting investment goals means defining your dreams for the future. When you’re setting goals, it’s best to be as specific as possible. For instance, you know you want to retire, but when? You know you want to send your child to college, but to an Ivy League school or to the community college down the street? Writing down and prioritizing your investment goals is an important first step toward developing an investment plan.

What is your time horizon?

Your investment time horizon is the number of years you have to invest toward a specific goal. Each investment goal you set will have a different time horizon. For example, some of your investment goals will be long term (e.g., you have more than 15 years to plan), some will be short term (e.g., you have 5 years or less to plan), and some will be intermediate (e.g., you have between 5 and 15 years to plan). Establishing time horizons will help you determine how aggressively you will need to invest to accumulate the amount needed to meet your goals.

How much will you need to invest?

Although you can invest a lump sum of cash, many people find that regular, systematic investing is also a great way to build wealth over time. Start by determining how much you’ll need to set aside monthly or annually to meet each goal. Although you’ll want to invest as much as possible, choose a realistic amount that takes into account your other financial obligations, so that you can easily stick with your plan. But always be on the lookout for opportunities to increase the amount you’re investing, such as participating in an automatic investment program that boosts your contribution by a certain percentage each year, or by dedicating a portion of every raise, bonus, cash gift, or tax refund you receive to your investment objectives.

Which investments should you choose?

Regardless of your financial goals, you’ll need to decide how to best allocate your investment dollars. One important consideration is your tolerance for risk. All investments involve some risk, but some involve more than others. How well can you handle market ups and downs? Are you willing to accept a higher degree of risk in exchange for the opportunity to earn a higher rate of return?

Whether you’re investing for retirement, college, or another financial goal, your overall objective is to maximize returns without taking on more risk than you can bear. But no matter what level of risk you’re comfortable with, make sure to choose investments that are consistent with your goals and time horizon. A financial professional can help you construct a diversified investment portfolio that takes these factors into account.

Investing for retirement

After a hard day at the office, do you ask yourself, “Is it time to retire yet?” Retirement may seem a long way off, but it’s never too early to start planning, especially if you want retirement to be the good life you imagine.

For example, let’s say that your goal is to retire at age 65. At age 20 you begin contributing $3,000 per year to your tax-deferred 401(k) account. If your investment earns 6% per year, compounded annually, you’ll have approximately $679,000 in your investment account when you retire.

But what would happen if you left things to chance instead? Let’s say that you’re not really worried about retirement, so you wait until you’re 35 to begin investing. Assuming you contributed the same amount to your 401(k) and the rate of return on your investment dollars was the same, you would end up with approximately $254,400. And, as this chart illustrates, if you were to wait until age 45 to begin investing for retirement, you would end up with only about $120,000 by the time you retire.

Investing for college

Perhaps you faced the truth the day your child was born. Or maybe it hit you when your child started first grade: You have only so much time to save for college. In fact, for many people, saving for college is an intermediate-term goal–if you start saving when your child is in elementary school, you’ll have 10 to 15 years to build your college fund.

Of course, the earlier you start, the better. The more time you have before you need the money, the greater chance you have to build a substantial college fund due to compounding. With a longer investment time frame and a tolerance for some risk, you might also be willing to put some of your money into investments that offer the potential for growth.

Investing for a major purchase

At some point, you’ll probably want to buy a home, a car, or even that vacation home you’ve always wanted. Although they’re hardly impulse items, large purchases are usually not something for which you plan far in advance; one to five years is a common time frame. Because you don’t have much time to invest, you’ll have to budget your investment dollars wisely. Rather than choosing growth investments, you may want to put your money into less volatile, highly liquid investments that have some potential for growth, but that offer you quick and easy access to your money should you need it.

Review and revise

Over time, you may need to update your investment strategy. Get in the habit of checking your portfolio at least once a year–more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back in line with your investment goals and risk tolerance. If you need help, a financial professional can help.

Investing for Your Goals

Investment goal and time horizon At 4%, you’ll need to invest At 8%, you’ll need to invest At 12%, you’ll need to invest
Have $10,000 for down payment on home: 5 years $151 per month $136 per month $123 per month
Have $50,000 in college fund: 10 years $340 per month $276 per month $223 per month
Have $250,000 in retirement fund: 20 years $685 per month $437 per month $272 per month
Table assumes 3% annual inflation, and that the return is compounded annually; taxes are not considered. Also, rates of return will vary over time, particularly for long-term investments, which could affect the amounts you would need to invest. This hypothetical example is not intended to reflect the actual performance of any investment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, 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.

Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation (NQDC) Plans

A nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan is an arrangement between an employer and one or more employees to defer the receipt of currently earned compensation. You might want to establish a NQDC plan to provide your employees with benefits in addition to those provided under your qualified retirement plan, or to provide benefits to particular employees without the expense of a qualified plan.

 

NQDC plans vs. qualified plans

 

A qualified plan, such as a profit-sharing plan or a 401(k) plan, can be a valuable employee benefit. A qualified plan provides you with an immediate income tax deduction for the amount of money you contribute to the plan for a particular year. Your employees aren’t required to pay income tax on your contributions until those amounts are actually distributed from the plan. However, in order to receive this beneficial tax treatment, a qualified plan must comply with strict and complex ERISA and IRS rules, and the plan must generally cover a large percentage of your employees. In addition, qualified plans are subject to a number of limitations on contributions and benefits. These limitations have a particularly harsh effect on your highly paid executives.

 

In contrast, NQDC plans can be structured to provide the benefit of tax deferral while avoiding almost all of ERISA’s burdensome requirements. There are no dollar limits that apply to NQDC plan benefits (although compensation must generally be reasonable in order to be deductible). And you can provide benefits to your highly compensated employees without having to provide similar benefits to your rank and file employees.

 

Funded vs. unfunded NQDC plans

 

NQDC plans fall into two broad categories—funded and unfunded. A NQDC plan is considered funded if you have irrevocably and unconditionally set aside assets with a third party (e.g., in a trust or escrow account) for the payment of NQDC plan benefits, and those assets are beyond the reach of both you and your creditors. In other words, if participants are guaranteed to receive their benefits under the NQDC plan, the plan is considered funded.

 

You might consider establishing a funded plan if your employees are concerned that their plan benefits might not be paid in the future due to a change in your financial condition, a change in control, or your change of heart. Because the assets in a funded plan are beyond your reach, and the reach of your creditors, these plans provide employees with maximum security that their benefits will eventually be paid. Funded plans are rare, though, because they provide only limited opportunity for tax deferral and may be subject to all of ERISA’s requirements.

 

Unfunded plans are by far more common because they can provide the benefit of tax deferral while avoiding almost all of ERISA’s requirements. With an unfunded plan, you don’t formally set aside assets to pay plan benefits. Instead, you either pay plan benefits out of current cash flow (“pay-as-you-go”) or you earmark property to pay plan benefits (“informal funding”), with the property remaining part of your general assets and subject to the claims of your general creditors. You can set up a trust (“rabbi trust”) to hold plan assets, but those assets must remain subject to any claims of your bankruptcy and insolvency creditors. A rabbi trust can protect your employees against your change of heart or change in control, but not against a change in your financial condition leading to bankruptcy.

 

In order to achieve the dual goals of tax deferral and avoidance of ERISA, your NQDC plan must be both unfunded and maintained solely for a select group of management or highly compensated employees. These unfunded NQDC plans are commonly referred to as “top-hat” plans.

 

While there is no formal legal definition of a “select group of management or highly compensated employees,” it generally means a small percentage of the employee population who are key management employees or who earn a salary substantially higher than that of other employees.

 

Income tax considerations

 

Generally you can’t take a tax deduction for amounts you contribute to a NQDC plan until your participating employees are taxed on those contributions (which can be years after your contributions have been made to the plan).

 

Employees generally don’t include your contributions to an unfunded NQDC plan, or plan earnings, in income until benefits payments are actually received from the NQDC plan. The taxation of funded NQDC plans is more complex. In general, your employees must include your contributions in taxable income as soon as they become nonforfeitable (i.e., as soon as they vest). The taxation of plan earnings depends on the structure of the plan; in some cases employees must include earnings in taxable income currently, and in some cases they aren’t taxed until they’re actually paid from the plan.

 

Who can adopt a NQDC plan?

 

NQDC plans are suitable only for regular (C) corporations. In S corporations or unincorporated entities (partnerships or proprietorships), business owners generally can’t defer taxes on their shares of business income. However, S corporations and unincorporated businesses can adopt NQDC plans for regular employees who have no ownership in the business. NQDC plans are most suitable for employers that are financially sound and have a reasonable expectation of continuing profitable business operations in the future. In addition, since NQDC plans are more affordable to implement than qualified plans, they can be an attractive form of employee compensation for a growing business that has limited cash resources.

 

Types of plans

 

Because a NQDC plan is essentially a contract between you and your employee there are almost unlimited variations. Most common are deferral plans and supplemental executive retirement plans (also known as SERPs). In a deferral plan your employee defers the payment of current compensation (e.g., salary or bonus) to a future date. A SERP is typically designed to supplement your employee’s qualified plan benefits (for example, by providing additional pension benefits).

 

How to implement a NQDC plan

 

An ERISA lawyer can guide you through the maze of legal and tax requirements, and draft the plan document. Often the board of directors or compensation committee must approve the plan. Your accountant or consulting actuary can help you decide how to finance the plan. If you choose an unfunded plan, almost all that ERISA requires is that you send a simple statement to the Department of Labor informing them of the existence of the plan, and the number of participants.

 

Advantages of NQDC plans

 

  • Easier and less expensive to implement and maintain than a qualified benefit plan

 

  • Can be offered on a discriminatory basis

 

  • Can provide unlimited benefits

 

  • Allows you to control timing and receipt of Benefits

 

  • Enables you to attract and retain key Employees

 

Disadvantages of NQDC plans

 

  • Employee taxation controls timing of your tax Deduction

 

  • Lack of security for employees in an unfunded Plan

 

  • Generally, not appropriate for partnerships, sole proprietorships, and S corporations

 

  • Generally, more costly to employer than paying compensation currently

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, 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.