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.

Advertisements

Inflation-Fighting TIPS

It’s easy to see how inflation affects your daily life. Gas prices are higher. Electric bills are steeper. Wallets are thinner. But what inflation does to your investments isn’t always as obvious. Let’s say your money is earning 4% and inflation is running between 3% and 4% (its historical average). That means your so-called “real return”–the stated return minus inflation–is only 1% at best. After you subtract any account fees, taxes, and other expenses, you could actually end up with a negative number. What can you do to keep from losing the race against inflation? One way is to buy investments that are designed to keep pace automatically.

Take stock of TIPS

Since the U.S. Treasury introduced them in 1997, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) have become the most widely known example of what are generally referred to as “inflation-protected securities.” TIPS may be attractive to long-term investors who want to preserve the purchasing power of their money over time. Investors also may like the security of knowing their investment is backed by the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest.

Like other Treasury bonds or notes, TIPS are basically loans to the U.S. government. You receive interest payments every six months based on a fixed interest rate specified in advance. With most bonds, it’s easy to know the exact amount of money you’ll receive each year. You simply multiply the principal–the amount of your initial investment–by the interest rate.

TIPS work a little differently. Instead of guaranteeing how much you’ll be paid in interest, an inflation-protected security guarantees that your real return will keep up with inflation. The interest rate stays fixed; what you won’t know is the exact dollar amount of the payments you’ll receive. If inflation goes up, your return will increase to match it. With TIPS, you’re trading off the certainty of knowing exactly how much you’ll receive for the knowledge that, as long as you hold the bond until it matures, your investment will maintain its buying power.

How do TIPS work?

TIPS pay slightly lower interest rates than equivalent Treasury securities that don’t adjust for inflation. The reason for that reduced rate? Your TIPS principal is automatically adjusted twice a year to match any increases or decreases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a widely used measure of inflation. If the CPI increases, the Treasury recalculates your principal to reflect the increase.

For example, let’s say you buy $20,000 worth of TIPS that pay a fixed interest rate of 2.5%. Over the next six months, the CPI rises at an annual rate of 3%. Your $20,000 principal would go up by 1.5% (half of the 3% annual inflation rate) to $20,300.

This adjustment will affect the amount of your semiannual interest payments. Even though the interest rate stays the same, it’s applied to the recalculated amount of your principal. In this example, the 2.5% interest rate would be applied to the new $20,300 figure. The actual dollar amount paid in interest goes up because it’s based on a higher principal; instead of $250, your next semiannual payment would be $253.75. If inflation goes up again, your next payment will be higher still. (The return on a specific bond may be different, of course, since this is only a hypothetical illustration designed to show how the return on a TIPS is calculated.)

If the CPI figure is lower in six months, your principal will be adjusted accordingly when it’s recalculated; that in turn will affect the amount of your next interest payment. If there’s a period of deflation and the CPI is actually a negative number, your principal and interest payment would both drop.

The inflation adjustment feature means that if you hold a TIPS until it matures, your repaid principal will likely be higher than when you bought the bond. Even if the CPI turns negative and the economy experiences deflation, the amount you’ll receive when the bond matures will be the greater of the inflation-adjusted figure or the amount of your original investment.

Calculating the TIPS Advantage

How do you know whether owning a TIPS makes sense? Subtract the TIPS interest rate from the rate for an equivalent bond without the inflation protection feature. If the inflation rate is higher than the difference between the two rates, the TIPS may have an advantage.
If a TIPS pays… And equivalent non-TIPS yield is… Inflation rate needed for a TIPS advantage is…
2.5% 4.5% More than 2%
3% 6% More than 3%

 

Things to think about

You can still lose money with a TIPS if you don’t hold it until it matures. Inflation rates rise and fall, and as with any bond, the returns offered by other investments can affect the market value of your TIPS. Also, if inflation turns out to be less over time than you had anticipated when you invested, the total return on a TIPS could actually be less than that of a comparable Treasury security without the inflation-adjustment feature.

If the inflation rate over time isn’t high enough to make up for the difference between the lower interest rate of a TIPS and that of an investment without inflation protection, the TIPS has no advantage. That’s why TIPS may only be appropriate for part of your bond holdings.

There’s another catch. You’ll also need to think about the federal taxes that will be due each year on the interest and any increases in your principal. Even though the Treasury records the changes in your principal every six months, you don’t actually receive that money until the TIPS matures. However, the government still taxes that increase each year as if you’ve received the cash. Many investors prefer to postpone that tax bill by holding TIPS in a tax-deferred account such as an IRA.

How can I buy TIPS?

You can buy TIPS individually, with maturities of 5, 10, or 30 years, and in $100 increments (although individual brokers may have higher minimum purchase requirements). You could choose a selection of TIPS that mature at different times. When the shorter-term bonds mature, you could reinvest that principal into either another TIPS or some other type of bond. Known as “laddering,” this strategy gives you flexibility as interest rates change. If interest rates are higher than the bond that’s maturing, you can invest at a higher rate; if rates are lower, you might prefer an investment that offers a higher return. Also, if you will need some of your principal for a specific goal, such as college tuition, you can select maturity dates that return your principal at the right time.

Another possibility is a mutual fund, which may invest in TIPS only or mix them with inflation-protected securities from other entities, such as foreign governments. Typically, a fund invests in a variety of debt instruments to balance the higher interest rates usually offered by longer-term bonds with the flexibility of shorter maturities. A TIPS mutual fund pays out not only the interest but also any annual inflation adjustments, which are taxed as short-term capital gains. Some exchange traded funds (ETFs) also invest in an index composed of TIPS with various maturities.

Note: Before investing in a mutual fund, carefully consider its investment objective, risks, fees, and expenses, which are contained in the prospectus available from the fund. Review it carefully before investing.

Your financial professional can help you decide which choices may be appropriate as you race to keep up with rising costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Five Keys to Investing for Retirement

Making decisions about your retirement account can seem overwhelming, especially if you feel unsure about your knowledge of investments. However, the following basic rules can help you make smarter choices regardless of whether you have some investing experience or are just getting started.

Don’t lose ground to inflation

It’s easy to see how inflation affects gas prices, electric bills, and the cost of food; over time, your money buys less and less. But what inflation does to your investments isn’t always as obvious. Let’s say your money is earning 4% and inflation is running between 3% and 4% (its historical average). That means your investments are earning only 1% at best. And that’s not counting any other costs; even in a tax-deferred retirement account such as a 401(k), you’ll eventually owe taxes on that money. Unless your retirement portfolio at least keeps pace with inflation, you could actually be losing money without even realizing it.

What does that mean for your retirement strategy? First, you’ll probably need to contribute more to your retirement plan than you think. What seems like a healthy sum now will seem smaller and smaller over time; at a 3% annual inflation rate, something that costs $100 today would cost $181 in 20 years. That means you’ll probably need a bigger retirement nest egg than you anticipated. And don’t forget that people are living much longer now than they used to. You might need your retirement savings to last a lot longer than you expect, and inflation is likely to continue increasing prices over that time. Consider increasing your 401(k) contribution each year by at least enough to overcome the effects of inflation, at least until you hit your plan’s contribution limits.

Second, you need to consider investing at least a portion of your retirement plan in investments that can help keep inflation from silently eating away at the purchasing power of your savings. Cash alternatives such as money market accounts may be relatively safe, but they are the most likely to lose purchasing power to inflation over time. Even if you consider yourself a conservative investor, remember that stocks historically have provided higher long-term total returns than cash alternatives or bonds, even though they also involve greater risk of volatility and potential loss.

Note: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Note: Money market funds are neither insured nor guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Although money market funds seek to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 per share, it is possible to lose money by investing in such a fund.

Invest based on your time horizon

Your time horizon is investment-speak for the amount of time you have left until you plan to use the money you’re investing. Why is your time horizon important? Because it can affect how well your portfolio can handle the ups and downs of the financial markets. Someone who was planning to retire in 2008 and was heavily invested in the stock market faced different challenges from the financial crisis than someone who was investing for a retirement that was many years away, because the person nearing retirement had fewer years left to let their portfolio recover from the downturn.

If you have a long time horizon, you may be able to invest a greater percentage of your money in something that could experience more dramatic price changes but that might also have greater potential for long-term growth. Though past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, the long-term direction of the stock market has historically been up despite its frequent and sometimes massive fluctuations.

Think long-term for goals that are many years away and invest accordingly. The longer you stay with a diversified portfolio of investments, the more likely you are to be able to ride out market downturns and improve your opportunities for gain.

Consider your risk tolerance

Another key factor in your retirement investing decisions is your risk tolerance–basically, how well you can handle a possible investment loss. There are two aspects to risk tolerance. The first is your financial ability to survive a loss. If you expect to need your money soon–for example, if you plan to begin using your retirement savings in the next year or so–those needs reduce your ability to withstand even a small loss. However, if you’re investing for the long term, don’t expect to need the money immediately, or have other assets to rely on in an emergency, your risk tolerance may be higher.

The second aspect of risk tolerance is your emotional ability to withstand the possibility of loss. If you’re invested in a way that doesn’t let you sleep at night, you may need to consider reducing the amount of risk in your portfolio. Many people think they’re comfortable with risk, only to find out when the market takes a turn for the worse that they’re actually a lot less risk-tolerant than they thought. Often that means they wind up selling in a panic when prices are lowest. Try to be honest about how you might react to a market downturn, and plan accordingly.

Remember that there are many ways to manage risk. For example, understanding the potential risks and rewards of each of your investments and its role in your portfolio may help you gauge your emotional risk tolerance more accurately. Also, having money deducted from your paycheck and put into your retirement plan helps spread your risk over time. By investing regularly, you reduce the chance of investing a large sum just before the market takes a downturn.

Integrate retirement with your other financial goals

Make sure you have an emergency fund; it can help you avoid needing to tap your retirement savings before you had planned to. Generally, if you withdraw money from a traditional retirement plan before you turn 59½, you’ll owe not only the amount of federal and state income tax on that money, but also a 10% federal penalty (and possibly a state penalty as well). There are exceptions to the penalty for premature distributions from a 401(k) (for example, having a qualifying disability or withdrawing money after leaving your employer after you turn 55). However, having a separate emergency fund can help you avoid an early distribution and allow your retirement money to stay invested.

If you have outstanding debt, you’ll need to weigh the benefits of saving for retirement versus paying off that debt as soon as possible. If the interest rate you’re paying is high, you might benefit from paying off at least part of your debt first. If you’re contemplating borrowing from or making a withdrawal from your workplace savings account, make sure you investigate using other financing options first, such as loans from banks, credit unions, friends, or family. If your employer matches your contributions, don’t forget to factor into your calculations the loss of that matching money if you choose to focus on paying off debt. You’ll be giving up what is essentially free money if you don’t at least contribute enough to get the employer match.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Diversifying your retirement savings across many different types of investments can help you manage the ups and downs of your portfolio. Different types of investments may face different types of risk. For example, when most people think of risk, they think of market risk–the possibility that an investment will lose value because of a general decline in financial markets. However, there are many other types of risk. Bonds face default or credit risk (the risk that a bond issuer will not be able to pay the interest owed on its bonds, or repay the principal borrowed). Bonds also face interest rate risk, because bond prices generally fall when interest rates rise. International investors may face currency risk if exchange rates between U.S. and foreign currencies affect the value of a foreign investment. Political risk is created by legislative actions (or the lack of them).

These are only a few of the various types of risk. However, one investment may respond to the same set of circumstances very differently than another, and thus involve different risks. Putting your money into many different securities, as a mutual fund does, is one way to spread your risk. Another is to invest in several different types of investments–for example, stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives. Spreading your portfolio over several different types of investments can help you manage the types and level of risk you face.

Participating in your retirement plan is probably more important than any individual investing decision you’ll make. Keep it simple, stick with it, and time can be a strong ally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, ING Retirement, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Raytheon, 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.

Balancing Your Investment Choices with Asset Allocation

A chocolate cake. Pasta. A pancake. They’re all very different, but they generally involve flour, eggs, and perhaps a liquid. Depending on how much of each ingredient you use, you can get very different outcomes. The same is true of your investments. Balancing a portfolio means combining various types of investments using a recipe that’s appropriate for you.

Getting an appropriate mix

The combination of investments you choose can be as important as your specific investments. The mix of various asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives, accounts for most of the ups and downs of a portfolio’s returns.

There’s another reason to think about the mix of investments in your portfolio. Each type of investment has specific strengths and weaknesses that enable it to play a specific role in your overall investing strategy. Some investments may be chosen for their growth potential. Others may provide regular income. Still others may offer safety or simply serve as a temporary place to park your money. And some investments even try to fill more than one role. Because you probably have multiple needs and desires, you need some combination of investment types.

Balancing how much of each you should include is one of your most important tasks as an investor. That balance between growth, income, and safety is called your asset allocation, and it can help you manage the level and type of risks you face.

Balancing risk and return

Ideally, you should strive for an overall combination of investments that minimizes the risk you take in trying to achieve a targeted rate of return. This often means balancing more conservative investments against others that are designed to provide a higher return but that also involve more risk. For example, let’s say you want to get a 7.5% return on your money. Your financial professional tells you that in the past, stock market returns have averaged about 10% annually, and bonds roughly 5%. One way to try to achieve your 7.5% return would be by choosing a 50-50 mix of stocks and bonds. It might not work out that way, of course. This is only a hypothetical illustration, not a real portfolio, and there’s no guarantee that either stocks or bonds will perform as they have in the past. But asset allocation gives you a place to start.

Someone living on a fixed income, whose priority is having a regular stream of money coming in, will probably need a very different asset allocation than a young, well-to-do working professional whose priority is saving for a retirement that’s 30 years away. Many publications feature model investment portfolios that recommend generic asset allocations based on an investor’s age. These can help jump-start your thinking about how to divide up your investments. However, because they’re based on averages and hypothetical situations, they shouldn’t be seen as definitive. Your asset allocation is–or should be—as unique as you are. Even if two people are the same age and have similar incomes, they may have very different needs and goals. You should make sure your asset allocation is tailored to your individual circumstances.

Many ways to diversify

When financial professionals refer to asset allocation, they’re usually talking about overall classes: stocks, bonds, and cash or cash alternatives. However, there are others that also can be used to complement the major asset classes once you’ve got those basics covered. They include real estate and alternative investments such as hedge funds, private equity, metals, or collectibles. Because their returns don’t necessarily correlate closely with returns from major asset classes, they can provide additional diversification and balance in a portfolio.

Even within an asset class, consider how your assets are allocated. For example, if you’re investing in stocks, you could allocate a certain amount to large-cap stocks and a different percentage to stocks of smaller companies. Or you might allocate based on geography, putting some money in U.S. stocks and some in foreign companies. Bond investments might be allocated by various maturities, with some money in bonds that mature quickly and some in longer-term bonds. Or you might favor tax-free bonds over taxable ones, depending on your tax status and the type of account in which the bonds are held.

Asset allocation strategies

There are various approaches to calculating an asset allocation that makes sense for you.

The most popular approach is to look at what you’re investing for and how long you have to reach each goal. Those goals get balanced against your need for money to live on. The more secure your immediate income and the longer you have to pursue your investing goals, the more aggressively you might be able to invest for them. Your asset allocation might have a greater percentage of stocks than either bonds or cash, for example. Or you might be in the opposite situation. If you’re stretched financially and would have to tap your investments in an emergency, you’ll need to balance that fact against your longer-term goals. In addition to establishing an emergency fund, you may need to invest more conservatively than you might otherwise want to.

Some investors believe in shifting their assets among asset classes based on which types of investments they expect will do well or poorly in the near term. However, this approach, called “market timing,” is extremely difficult even for experienced investors. If you’re determined to try this, you should probably get some expert advice–and recognize that no one really knows where markets are headed.

Some people try to match market returns with an overall “core” strategy for most of their portfolio. They then put a smaller portion in very targeted investments that may behave very differently from those in the core and provide greater overall diversification. These often are asset classes that an investor thinks could benefit from more active management.

Just as you allocate your assets in an overall portfolio, you can also allocate assets for a specific goal. For example, you might have one asset allocation for retirement savings and another for college tuition bills. A retired professional with a conservative overall portfolio might still be comfortable investing more aggressively with money intended to be a grandchild’s inheritance. Someone who has taken the risk of starting a business might decide to be more conservative with his or her personal portfolio.

Things to think about

  • Don’t forget about the impact of inflation on your savings. As time goes by, your money will probably buy less and less unless your portfolio at least keeps pace with the inflation rate. Even if you think of yourself as a conservative investor, your asset allocation should take long-term inflation into account.
  • Your asset allocation should balance your financial goals with your emotional needs. If the way your money is invested keeps you awake worrying at night, you may need to rethink your investing goals and whether the strategy you’re pursuing is worth the lost sleep.
  • Your tax status might affect your asset allocation, though your decisions shouldn’t be based solely on tax concerns.

Even if your asset allocation was right for you when you chose it, it may not be appropriate for you now. It should change as your circumstances do and as new ways to invest are introduced. A piece of clothing you wore 10 years ago may not fit now; you just might need to update your asset allocation, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ExxonMobil, Raytheon, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Glaxosmithkline, Northrop Grumman, 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.

Changing Jobs? Take Your 401(k) and Roll It

If you’ve lost your job, or are changing jobs, you may be wondering what to do with your 401(k) plan account. It’s important to understand your options.

What will I be entitled to?

If you leave your job (voluntarily or involuntarily), you’ll be entitled to a distribution of your vested balance. Your vested balance always includes your own contributions (pretax, after-tax, and Roth) and typically any investment earnings on those amounts. It also includes employer contributions (and earnings) that have satisfied your plan’s vesting schedule.

In general, you must be 100% vested in your employer’s contributions after 3 years of service (“cliff vesting”), or you must vest gradually, 20% per year until you’re fully vested after 6 years (“graded vesting”). Plans can have faster vesting schedules, and some even have 100% immediate vesting. You’ll also be 100% vested once you’ve reached your plan’s normal retirement age.

It’s important for you to understand how your particular plan’s vesting schedule works, because you’ll forfeit any employer contributions that haven’t vested by the time you leave your job. Your summary plan description (SPD) will spell out how the vesting schedule for your particular plan works. If you don’t have one, ask your plan administrator for it. If you’re on the cusp of vesting, it may make sense to wait a bit before leaving, if you have that luxury.

Don’t spend it, roll it!

While this pool of dollars may look attractive, don’t spend it unless you absolutely need to. If you take a distribution you’ll be taxed, at ordinary income tax rates, on the entire value of your account except for any after-tax or Roth 401(k) contributions you’ve made. And, if you’re not yet age 55, an additional 10% penalty may apply to the taxable portion of your payout. (Special rules may apply if you receive a lump-sum distribution and you were born before 1936, or if the lump-sum includes employer stock.)

If your vested balance is more than $5,000, you can leave your money in your employer’s plan until you reach normal retirement age. But your employer must also allow you to make a direct rollover to an IRA or to another employer’s 401(k) plan. As the name suggests, in a direct rollover the money passes directly from your 401(k) plan account to the IRA or other plan. This is preferable to a “60-day rollover,” where you get the check and then roll the money over yourself, because your employer has to withhold 20% of the taxable portion of a 60-day rollover. You can still roll over the entire amount of your distribution, but you’ll need to come up with the 20% that’s been withheld until you recapture that amount when you file your income tax return.

Should I roll over to my new employer’s 401(k) plan or to an IRA?

Assuming both options are available to you, there’s no right or wrong answer to this question. There are strong arguments to be made on both sides. You need to weigh all of the factors, and make a decision based on your own needs and priorities. It’s best to have a professional assist you with this, since the decision you make may have significant consequences–both now and in the future.

Reasons to roll over to an IRA:

  • You generally have more investment choices with an IRA than with an employer’s 401(k) plan. You typically may freely move your money around to the various investments offered by your IRA trustee, and you may divide up your balance among as many of those investments as you want. By contrast, employer-sponsored plans typically give you a limited menu of investments (usually mutual funds) from which to choose.
  • You can freely allocate your IRA dollars among different IRA trustees/custodians. There’s no limit on how many direct, trustee-to-trustee IRA transfers you can do in a year. This gives you flexibility to change trustees often if you are dissatisfied with investment performance or customer service. It can also allow you to have IRA accounts with more than one institution for added diversification. With an employer’s plan, you can’t move the funds to a different trustee unless you leave your job and roll over the funds.
  • An IRA may give you more flexibility with distributions. Your distribution options in a 401(k) plan depend on the terms of that particular plan, and your options may be limited. However, with an IRA, the timing and amount of distributions is generally at your discretion (until you reach age 70½ and must start taking required minimum distributions in the case of a traditional IRA).
  • You can roll over (essentially “convert”) your 401(k) plan distribution to a Roth IRA. You’ll generally have to pay taxes on the amount you roll over (minus any after-tax contributions you’ve made), but any qualified distributions from the Roth IRA in the future will be tax free.

Reasons to roll over to your new employer’s 401(k) plan:

  • Many employer-sponsored plans have loan provisions. If you roll over your retirement funds to a new employer’s plan that permits loans, you may be able to borrow up to 50% of the amount you roll over if you need the money. You can’t borrow from an IRA–you can only access the money in an IRA by taking a distribution, which may be subject to income tax and penalties. (You can, however, give yourself a short-term loan from an IRA by taking a distribution, and then rolling the dollars back to an IRA within 60 days.)
  • A rollover to your new employer’s 401(k) plan may provide greater creditor protection than a rollover to an IRA. Most 401(k) plans receive unlimited protection from your creditors under federal law. Your creditors (with certain exceptions) cannot attach your plan funds to satisfy any of your debts and obligations, regardless of whether you’ve declared bankruptcy. In contrast, any amounts you roll over to a traditional or Roth IRA are generally protected under federal law only if you declare bankruptcy. Any creditor protection your IRA may receive in cases outside of bankruptcy will generally depend on the laws of your particular state. If you are concerned about asset protection, be sure to seek the assistance of a qualified professional.
  • You may be able to postpone required minimum distributions. For traditional IRAs, these distributions must begin by April 1 following the year you reach age 70½. However, if you work past that age and are still participating in your employer’s 401(k) plan, you can delay your first distribution from that plan until April 1 following the year of your retirement. (You also must own no more than 5% of the company.)
  • If your distribution includes Roth 401(k) contributions and earnings, you can roll those amounts over to either a Roth IRA or your new employer’s Roth 401(k) plan (if it accepts rollovers). If you roll the funds over to a Roth IRA, the Roth IRA holding period will determine when you can begin receiving tax-free qualified distributions from the IRA. So if you’re establishing a Roth IRA for the first time, your Roth 401(k) dollars will be subject to a brand new 5-year holding period. On the other hand, if you roll the dollars over to your new employer’s Roth 401 (k) plan, your existing 5-year holding period will carry over to the new plan. This may enable you to receive tax-free qualified distributions sooner.

When evaluating whether to initiate a rollover always be sure to (1) ask about possible surrender charges that may be imposed by your employer plan, or new surrender charges that your IRA may impose, (2) compare investment fees and expenses charged by your IRA (and investment funds) with those charged by your employer plan (if any), and (3) understand any accumulated rights or guarantees that you may be giving up by transferring funds out of your employer plan.

What about outstanding plan loans?

In general, if you have an outstanding plan loan, you’ll need to pay it back, or the outstanding balance will be taxed as if it had been distributed to you in cash. If you can’t pay the loan back before you leave, you’ll still have 60 days to roll over the amount that’s been treated as a distribution to your IRA. Of course, you’ll need to come up with the dollars from other sources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ExxonMobil, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Northrop Grumman, Hughes, Raytheon, 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.

Socially Responsible Investing

Investing with an eye toward promoting social, political, or environmental concerns (or at least not supporting activities you feel are harmful) doesn’t mean you have to forgo pursuing a return on your money. Socially responsible investing may allow you to further both your own economic interests and a greater good, in whatever way you define that term.

The concept of putting your money where your mouth is first gained widespread attention during the 1970s, when such highly charged political issues as the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa led some investors to try to prevent their money from supporting policies that were counter to their beliefs.

Since then, a wide variety of investment products, such as socially conscious mutual funds, have been developed to help people invest in ways consistent with a personal philosophy. However, individuals aren’t the only ones to apply the principles behind socially responsible investing. Many colleges and universities, government pension and retirement funds, and religious groups do so to some extent.

There are many approaches to what may also be known as mission investing, double- or triple-bottom-line investing, ethical investing, socially conscious investing, green investing, sustainable investing, or impact investing.

Screening potential investments

This is perhaps the best-known aspect of socially responsible investing: evaluating investments based not only on their finances but on their social, environmental, and even corporate governance practices. Screens based on specific guidelines may eliminate from consideration companies whose products or actions are deemed contrary to the public good. Examples of companies that are frequently excluded from socially responsible funds are those involved with alcohol, tobacco, gambling, or defense, and those that contribute to environmental pollution or that have significant interests in countries considered to have repressive or racist governments.

However, as interest in socially responsible investing has evolved, the screening process has become increasingly positive, using screens to identify companies whose practices actively further a particular social good, such as protecting the environment or following a particular set of religious beliefs.

Shareholder activism

Both individual and institutional shareholders have become increasingly willing to pressure corporations to adopt socially responsible practices. In some cases, having a good social record may make a company more attractive to investors who might not have previously considered it.

Shareholder advocacy can involve filing shareholder resolutions on such topics as corporate governance, climate change, political contributions, environmental impact, and labor practices. Such activism got a boost when the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted the so-called “say on pay” rule as a result of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. Companies over a certain size must allow shareholders a vote on executive pay at least once every three years. Though the vote is nonbinding, it could give institutional investors a stronger hand in advocating for other interests.

Community investing

Still another approach involves directing investment capital to communities and projects that may have difficulty getting traditional financing, including nonprofit organizations. Investors provide money that is then used to support organizations that help traditionally underserved populations with challenges such as gaining access to affordable housing, finding jobs, and receiving health care. Community investing often helps not only individuals but small businesses that may operate in geographic areas that mainstream financial institutions deem too risky.

Impact investing

A recent development focuses on measuring and managing performance in terms of social benefit as well as investment returns. So-called “impact investing” aims not only to further a social good, but to do so in a way that maximizes efficient use of the resources involved, using business-world methods such as benchmarking to compare returns and gauge how effectively an investment fulfills its goals. In fact, some have made a case for considering impact investing an emerging alternative asset class. Impact investments are often made directly in an individual company or organization, and may involve direct mentoring of its leaders. As a result, such unique investments may be more similar to venture capital and private equity (where the concept of impact investing originated) and may not be highly correlated with traditional assets such as stocks or bonds.

Cast a wide net or target your investments?

One of the key questions for anyone interested in socially responsible investing is whether to invest broadly or concentrate on a specific issue or area. A narrow focus could leave you overly exposed to the risks of a single industry or company, while greater diversification could weaken the impact that you might like your money to have. Even if you choose to focus on a single social issue, you may still need to decide whether to invest in a specific company or companies, or invest more broadly through a mutual fund whose objective meets your chosen criteria.

For example, as concern about the environment has grown in recent years, investing in green technology has become a prominent element in many socially responsible investing efforts. Generally, the concept (also known as “clean technology” or “cleantech”) includes renewable energy (or technologies that can improve the environmental footprint of existing energy sources), clean water, and clean air, as well as technologies that can help reduce overall consumption, particularly of nonbiodegradable substances. Such a broad scope can make it difficult to choose among the myriad investment opportunities, especially if you don’t have expertise about a particular field or the time or energy to acquire it. Unless you’re familiar with the science behind a specific company’s product or service, you might benefit from casting a wider net. Though diversification and asset allocation can’t guarantee a profit or eliminate the possibility of loss, they can help you manage the amount of risk you may face from a single source.

Even if you have special knowledge of a particular field, don’t let that blind you to the business fundamentals of a particular company; you still need to keep an eye on how it stacks up as a stock. Also, if you’re considering a small company stock that is closely aligned with or furthers your chosen issue, don’t forget that smaller companies can be extremely volatile. You also could consider investing in larger companies that have made a significant commitment to initiatives in your chosen area of interest and that might have other business advantages. Though they might not have the rapid growth potential of a small company, they often have the resources to acquire other companies, or manufacture and market globally more efficiently than a smaller company might. That might enable them to have a greater global impact while potentially offering investors a way to help mitigate the impact of smaller stocks’ generally higher volatility.
If you don’t have the time to do detailed research or don’t trust your own judgment, you could work with an advisor who may have access to more information about your area of interest.

Know your goals

“Social good” may be defined differently by every investor, and even a socially responsible fund may include multiple definitions of the types of companies that meet its investment objectives.

Also, make sure your expectations are clear and realistic. Many socially responsible investments produce solid financial returns; others may not. Though past performance is no guarantee of future results, you should have a sense of what kind of return you might expect. You shouldn’t feel you have to accept mediocrity in order to support your beliefs. Monitor your investment’s performance, and be prepared to look elsewhere if your investment doesn’t continue to meet your needs, either financially or philosophically.

The clearer you are about the goals you have for your money, the better your chances of selecting appropriate investments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, Hughes, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ING Retirement, 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.

Net Unrealized Appreciation: The Untold Story

If you participate in a 401(k), ESOP, or other qualified retirement plan that lets you invest in your employer’s stock, you need to know about net unrealized appreciation–a simple tax deferral opportunity with an unfortunately complicated name.

When you receive a distribution from your employer’s retirement plan, the distribution is generally taxable to you at ordinary income tax rates. A common way of avoiding immediate taxation is to make a tax-free rollover to a traditional IRA. However, when you ultimately receive distributions from the IRA, they’ll also be taxed at ordinary income tax rates. (Special rules apply to Roth and other after-tax contributions that are generally tax free when distributed.)

But if your distribution includes employer stock (or other employer securities), you may have another option–you may be able to defer paying tax on the portion of your distribution that represents net unrealized appreciation (NUA). You won’t be taxed on the NUA until you sell the stock. What’s more, the NUA will be taxed at long-term capital gains rates–typically much lower than ordinary income tax rates. This strategy can often result in significant tax savings.

What is net unrealized appreciation?

A distribution of employer stock consists of two parts: (1) the cost basis (that is, the value of the stock when it was contributed to, or purchased by, your plan), and (2) any increase in value over the cost basis until the date the stock is distributed to you. This increase in value over basis, fixed at the time the stock is distributed in-kind to you, is the NUA. For example, assume you retire and receive a distribution of employer stock worth $500,000 from your 401(k) plan, and that the cost basis in the stock is $50,000. The $450,000 gain is NUA.

How does it work?

At the time you receive a lump-sum distribution that includes employer stock, you’ll pay ordinary income tax only on the cost basis in the employer securities.

You won’t pay any tax on the NUA until you sell the securities. At that time the NUA is taxed at long-term capital gain rates, no matter how long you’ve held the securities outside of the plan (even if only for a single day). Any appreciation at the time of sale in excess of your NUA is taxed as either short-term or long-term capital gain, depending on how long you’ve held the stock outside the plan.

Using the example above, you would pay ordinary income tax on $50,000, the cost basis, when you receive your distribution. (You may also be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty if you’re not age 55 or totally disabled.) Let’s say you sell the stock after ten years, when it’s worth $750,000. At that time, you’ll pay long-term capital gains tax on your NUA ($450,000). You’ll also pay long-term capital gains tax on the additional appreciation ($250,000), since you held the stock for more than one year. Note that since you’ve already paid tax on the $50,000 cost basis, you won’t pay tax on that amount again when you sell the stock.

If your distribution includes cash in addition to the stock, you can either roll the cash over to an IRA or take it as a taxable distribution. And you don’t have to use the NUA strategy for all of your employer stock–you can roll a portion over to an IRA and apply NUA tax treatment to the rest.

What is a lump-sum distribution?

In general, you’re allowed to use these favorable NUA tax rules only if you receive the employer securities as part of a lump-sum distribution. To qualify as a lump-sum distribution, both of the following conditions must be satisfied:

  • It must be a distribution of your entire balance, within a single tax year, from all of your employer’s qualified plans of the same type (that is, all pension plans, all profit-sharing plans, or all stock bonus plans)
  • The distribution must be paid after you reach age 59½, or as a result of your separation from service, or after your death

There is one exception: even if your distribution doesn’t qualify as a lump-sum distribution, any securities distributed from the plan that were purchased with your after-tax (non-Roth) contributions will be eligible for NUA tax treatment.

NUA at a glance
You receive a lump-sum distribution from your 401(k) plan consisting of $500,000 of employer stock. The cost basis is $50,000. You sell the stock 10 years later for $750,000.*
Tax payable at distribution–stock valued at $500,000
Cost basis–$50,000 Taxed at ordinary income rates; 10% early payment penalty tax if you’re not 55 or disabled
NUA–$450,000 Tax deferred until sale of stock
Tax payable at sale–stock valued at $750,000
Cost basis– $50,000 Already taxed at distribution; not taxed again at sale
NUA– $450,000 Taxed at long-term capital gains rates regardless of holding period
Additional appreciation-$250,000 Taxed as long- or short-term capital gain, depending on holding period outside plan (long-term in this example)
*Assumes stock is attributable to your pretax and employer contributions and not after-tax contributions

 

NUA is for beneficiaries, too

If you die while you still hold employer securities in your retirement plan, your plan beneficiary can also use the NUA tax strategy if he or she receives a lump-sum distribution from the plan. The taxation is generally the same as if you had received the distribution. (The stock doesn’t receive a step-up in basis, even though your beneficiary receives it as a result of your death.)

If you’ve already received a distribution of employer stock, elected NUA tax treatment, and die before you sell the stock, your heir will have to pay long-term capital gains tax on the NUA when he or she sells the stock. However, any appreciation as of the date of your death in excess of NUA will forever escape taxation because, in this case, the stock will receive a step-up in basis. Using our example, if you die when your employer stock is worth $750,000, your heir will receive a step-up in basis for the $250,000 appreciation in excess of NUA at the time of your death. If your heir later sells the stock for $900,000, he or she will pay long-term capital gains tax on the $450,000 of NUA, as well as capital gains tax on any appreciation since your death ($150,000). The $250,000 of appreciation in excess of NUA as of your date of death will be tax free.

Some additional considerations

  • If you want to take advantage of NUA treatment, make sure you don’t roll the stock over to an IRA. That will be irrevocable, and you’ll forever lose the NUA tax opportunity.
  • You can elect not to use the NUA option. In this case, the NUA will be subject to ordinary income tax (and a potential 10% early distribution penalty) at the time you receive the distribution.
  • Stock held in an IRA or employer plan is entitled to significant protection from your creditors. You’ll lose that protection if you hold the stock in a taxable brokerage account.
  • Holding a significant amount of employer stock may not be appropriate for everyone. In some cases, it may make sense to diversify your investments.*
  • Be sure to consider the impact of any applicable state tax laws.

When is it the best choice?

In general, the NUA strategy makes the most sense for individuals who have a large amount of NUA and a relatively small cost basis. However, whether it’s right for you depends on many variables, including your age, your estate planning goals, and anticipated tax rates. In some cases, rolling your distribution over to an IRA may be the better choice. And if you were born before 1936, other special tax rules might apply, making a taxable distribution your best option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, access.att.com, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Merck, Glaxosmithkline, 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.