Retirement Planning

What Changes Will Be Made to Social Security This Year?

Social Security now delivers benefit checks to more than 63 million people every month, so it’s important to know what changes will be made to social security this year.

The program is primarily designed to provide a financial foundation for our nation’s retired workers. Nearly 45 million retired workers (70% of all beneficiaries) receive a benefit check monthly, with more than 60% of these seniors expecting their payout to make up at least half of their income.

What changes will be made to social security this year
There will be five primary changes to Social Security this year.

Motley Fool’s recent article, “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income” explains that with the relative importance of Social Security, it should come as no shock that the second week of October holds considerable importance to these tens of millions of Americans. That’s because it’s when the Social Security Administration (SSA) announces changes to the program for the upcoming year. Any changes could directly affect what beneficiaries are paid on a monthly basis. These changes can also affect non-retirees who aren’t getting a Social Security benefit. Let’s look at some of the primary changes.

  1. COLA. The most important figure in the announcement from the SSA is the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The COLA is measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the current year (July through September) is compared to the average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the previous year. If the average figure has risen from the previous year, then beneficiaries receive a “raise” that’s in line with the percentage increase year over year, rounded to the nearest 0.1%.
  2. Withholding thresholds. Early claimants who haven’t hit their full retirement age but are currently (or expected to begin) taking benefits, will now be subject to the retirement earnings test. This test allows early filers to earn up to a certain amount of money each year, before the SSA is allowed to withhold a portion, or all, of their benefit. For those who won’t reach their full retirement age in 2019, $1 in benefits can be withheld for every $2 in earnings above $17,640 ($1,470 a month). For those who’ll reach their full retirement age this year but have yet to do so, are allowed to earn $46,920 before the SSA begins withholding $1 in benefits for every $3 in earnings above the limit. Note that these withheld benefits aren’t lost forever, because you get them back in the form of a higher monthly payout when you reach your full retirement age.
  3. Maximum monthly payout. If you’re currently claiming a retired worker benefit and have made a good deal of money on an annual basis over your working career, there’s a chance that you’ll be able to net more in monthly payouts in 2020. There’s a cap on the maximum monthly payout at full retirement age. In 2019, no individual at their full retirement age can take home more than $2,861 per month, even if they made millions of dollars each year throughout their working career.
  4. Disability income thresholds. Even though 70% program recipients are retired workers, about 10 million people each month also get a check from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Approximately 8½ million are disabled workers, and the rest are spouses or children of these disabled workers. If the average CPI-W reading does increase on a year-over-year basis from the previous year (which appears likely), these SSDI income thresholds for the disabled and legally blind should go up a little in 2020.
  5. A warning to the wealthy. Lastly, SSA changes for 2020 won’t just impact those receiving a benefit. Wealthy workers can also anticipate paying more into the program, provided that inflation rises on a year-over-year basis, as measured by the CPI-W.

Reference: Motley Fool (July 28, 2019) “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income”

Will the RMD Age Be Raised by New Legislation?

RMD Age
The new retirement bill may boost the RMD age to 75.

Senator Ben Cardin and Rob Portman’s Retirement Security and Savings Act of 2019 overlaps with some provisions in the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act (RESA) of 2019. That bill was introduced on April 1, but RESA only raised the RMD age to 72.

Think Advisor reports in the article “New Retirement Bill Would Boost RMD Age to 75” that the RESA bill, which was introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is similar to H.R. 1994, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019. The latter bill is expected to get a vote on the House floor very soon.

The Portman-Cardin bill phases in the RMD age increase over several years. The bill would also update mortality tables to reflect longer life expectancies.

The bill would also broaden the ability of employer-sponsored 403(b) plans to offer collective investment trusts (CITs). A CIT is a mutual fund-like vehicle used in some 401(k)s and pension plans that can help plan sponsors save on expenses.

The Insured Retirement Institute, a lobbying group for the annuity industry, added its support for the bill.

“Section 117 [of the bill] would level the playing field, by providing insurance products with the same exemptions as CITs,” the group said in a letter to senators, sparking “a robust and competitive marketplace which is vital to ensure Americans have access to the appropriate savings option for their financial situation.”

The bill would also let those with Roth accounts in 457(b), 401(k), 401(a), and 403(b) plans roll Roth IRA assets into these plans. It would also allow 457(b), 401(a), 401(k) and 403(b) plan participants to make qualifying charitable distributions. Right now they are only allowed from IRAs.

Reference: Think Advisor (May 14, 2019) “New Retirement Bill Would Boost RMD Age to 75”

Why Is Everyone Retiring to Florida?

A recent report by WalletHub ranks Florida as the best place to retire in terms of affordability, health-related factors and overall quality of life. According to the U.S. Census’ 2017 Population Estimates Program, roughly a half-million Miami-Dade County residents are over the age of 65, and by 2040, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65, according to the annual report produced by the Administration for Community Living.

It is no surprise to us that people would want to retire in Florida.

Advances in medicine are helping with longevity, but various improvements in diet and lifestyle have also helped, says The Miami Herald in the article “Plan now on ways to take care of yourself through a long retirement.”

It’s important to keep your lifestyle through retirement, and it’s an essential part of any financial plan. You’ll need to budget for plans or services that help you in your later years, such as everyday tasks, medical care, or even where you live.

Take some time to consider how you want your later years to look, like where you would want to live—whether that’s at home (possibly with live-in help) or in an assisted-living facility. With our longer life spans, we encounter more significant health risks, like cognitive issues. According to research, 37% of people over the age of 85 have some mild impairment and about one-third have dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association says that 540,000 people aged 65 and older reported living with Alzheimer’s in Florida in 2018. Roughly 15% of those in Florida hospice care had a diagnosis of dementia in 2015. Therefore, you can see why it is critical to think about this now and communicate your long-term needs to your family.

As we get older, the ability to maintain a lifestyle we like, can become a financial challenge. This is especially true, if we also face an unexpected health condition. Making wise decisions now, can have a dramatic impact on what those later years will look like. Saving for a lengthy retirement can help you prepare to face any potential issues that may arise.

Making provisions for your family and leaving a legacy, isn’t always an easy task. However, the financial security of your family may depend not only on how you manage your wealth today, but also on how you protect and preserve it for the future. Your estate plan can help you prepare now to provide for your loved ones in the future.

Talk to your family and your estate planning attorney about these issues and ensure that your legacy planning is up to date, by regularly updating your will, trust, or advanced medical directives.

Reference: Miami Herald (February 1, 2019) “Plan now on ways to take care of yourself through a long retirement”

A Four Decade Retirement Plan? Here’s How

Not everyone gets the good genes or good fortune that has Orville Rogers flying around the country to attend master’s level track meets, but he is an inspiring example to follow. Money describes Rogers in a title that says it all: “This 100-Year-Old Has Been Retired for 40 Years, Has a Healthy Savings Account and Is a Track Champion. Here’s His Impressive Path to a Rich Retirement”

Longevity in savings that aligns with his years is a powerful force. He started saving in 1952, 25 years before the creation of the retirement savings plan, we know today as a 401(k). Back in the day, companies provided their employees with pension plans and those without a pension plan lived on Social Security when they retired. Life expectancies were shorter, so you didn’t need quite so much money. Rogers was born in 1917, and his peer group’s life expectancy was about 48.4 years old.

By saving for retirement and using his downtime between flights to educate himself about money, he started investing and says that his account is now worth around $5 million. He says he wasn’t particularly frugal either and supported his church and other Christian causes throughout his life. However, he had time on his side, making periodic investments over an extended period of time.

Another practice that extends life: exercise. Rogers took up running at age 50 and hasn’t stopped yet. Studies have shown that anyone, at any age or stage, is helped by a regular schedule of physical activity, tailored to your personal needs. Even people who are wheelchair bound and living in a nursing home can benefit from a chair exercise program. Among older seniors, the ability to walk a quarter mile (one lap around a track), is linked to better health outcomes.

Until recently, Rogers ran five to six miles a week. He’s in rehab now and working his way back to his prior running and training schedule.

When you live as long as Rogers has, you outlive a lot of family members and friends. Rogers moved into a retirement community two years after his wife died, making new friends because, as he says, “… if I don’t, I’d have none left.”

Faith has also been a strong force in his life over these many years. At 98, he wrote a book, The Running Man: Flying High for the Glory of God. When he was starting out in his retirement years, he flew church missions in Africa.

“I’m enthusiastic about life,” Rogers says. That kind of inspiration is a lesson to us all.

Reference: Money (Nov. 2018) “This 100-Year-Old Has Been Retired for 40 Years, Has a Healthy Savings Account and Is a Track Champion. Here’s His Impressive Path to a Rich Retirement”

Can I Trade Options in My Roth IRA?

There are opportunities to trade options using Roth IRAs, but investors must follow many of the same rules that apply to traditional IRAs.

From the time they were introduced, Roth IRAs were quickly adopted by many Americans. The appealing features: you pay taxes on contributions, but generally not on withdrawals, and not on capital gains in the future. It’s a good option for those who expect taxes to be higher after retirement. However, there’s even more that you can do with a Roth IRA.

MP900422543In Investopedia’s article,“Trading Options in Roth IRAs,” the use of options in Roth IRAs and some important considerations for investors are examined. Unlike stocks themselves, options can lose their entire value if the underlying security price doesn’t reach the strike price. This makes them much more risky than the traditional stocks, bonds, or mutual funds that are typically in Roth IRA retirement accounts.

Although risky, there are situations when they might be good for a retirement account. Put options can be used to hedge a long stock position against short-term risks, by locking in the right to sell at a certain price. Covered call option strategies can be used to generate income, if an investor is okay selling her stock.

Many of the riskier strategies in options aren’t permitted in Roth IRAs, because retirement accounts are designed to help individuals save for retirement—not become a tax shelter for risky speculation. Investors should understand these restrictions to avoid issues that could have potentially costly consequences. IRS Publication 590 has several of these prohibited transactions for Roth IRAs. The most important is that funds or assets in a Roth IRA can’t be used as security for a loan. Since it uses account funds or assets as collateral by definition, margin trading usually isn’t allowed in Roth IRAs to comply with the IRS’ tax rules and avoid any penalties.

Roth IRAs also have contribution limits that may prevent the depositing of funds to make up for a margin call, placing more restrictions on the use of margin in these accounts. In addition, the IRS rules imply that many different strategies are off-limits, such as call front spreads, VIX calendar spreads and short combos. These all involve the use of margin.

It’s also important to note that different brokers have different regulations, when it comes to what options trades are permitted in a Roth IRA. The brokers permitting some of these strategies, have restricted margin accounts, where some trades that traditionally require margin are permitted on a limited basis.

A word of caution: these strategies depends on separate approvals for certain types of options trades, and some may not be permitted. Traders need to have substantial knowledge and experience to avoid taking on too much risk. Remember that Roth IRAs were not designed for active trading. An experienced investor may be able to use stock options to hedge their portfolios against losses, or generate income. However, if you are using your Roth IRA funds as a speculative tool, you may want professional input to ensure that you are not creating problems with the IRS, or putting your retirement at risk.

Reference: Investopedia “Trading Options in Roth IRAs”

Countdown to Retirement with Three Simple Questions

To help plan for retirement, it helps to move from asking global questions, like “Can I afford to retire?” to more specific questions, like “What’s my monthly cost of living right now?”

Sometimes retirement planning is so overwhelming that people just shrug their shoulders and hope that things work out. That’s a terrible way to plan for the last two or even three decades of your life. Plus, says Motley Fool in a recent article titled “Don't Even Think About Retiring Until You Can Answer These 3 Questions,” if you can’t answer three basic questions, maybe you’re not ready to start thinking about retirement.

MP900384841Can you believe that just 38% of Americans say they have a long-term financial plan, according to a recent survey? Let’s look at three important planning questions.

When to claim Social Security. Many people think that retirement and claiming Social Security benefits occur at the same time. However, they don't have to. You could elect to retire at age 60 but wait to claim your benefits until you reach 65. Remember that the amount of money you get in benefits is linked to the age at which you start claiming them. Age 62 is the earliest you can claim Social Security. However, if you do, your benefits will be reduced by up to 30% of what they could be. For every month you wait, you'll receive slightly more with each check up to age 70. Your full retirement age (FRA) is the age when you’ll get 100% of the benefits to which you’re entitled. Waiting can have its advantages, but there's no single right answer for when you should start claiming. It all depends on your personal circumstances.

Will your retirement savings last? Take a look at how far your savings will last during retirement. To determine how far your money will go, calculate the amount you'll need each year to get by during retirement. With a number in mind, you'll be able to better determine how long your current savings will last. You might realize that you need more than you anticipated, especially if you're going to be spending several decades in retirement.

Paying for healthcare costs. Healthcare costs are one of the largest expenses in retirement. Know that the average retiree spends about $4,300 per year on out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. A total of two-thirds of that is spent on premiums. It’s important to understand that Medicare will help cover many healthcare expenses you'll face, but it doesn't cover everything.

Circumstances often dictate when people retire; they lose a job in their mid to late 60s or illness prevents them from working. However, even when that is the case, understanding where you are from a financial perspective can help make your retirement work in your favor.

Reference: Motley Fool (October 9, 2018) “Don't Even Think About Retiring Until You Can Answer These 3 Questions”

Message to Americans Living in Canada: The IRS Hasn’t Forgotten You

If you are among the one million Americans living in Canada, you’ll need to remember that you are still subject to U.S. tax law. Your income, regardless of where you earn it, needs to be reported to both the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) as well as the Internal Revenue Service.

Americans living in other countries still need to pay taxes to the U.S., and the IRS is very good about making sure they do. A well-respected Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, recently explored the responsibilities of Americans living over the northern border in the article, “Americans living in Canada: Be aware that the IRS is watching you.”

Can-USflagPrincipal place of residence. When U.S. citizens sell their principal residence in Canada, they’re not taxed on the gain by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). However, the IRS will tax the portion of the gain that exceeds $250,000. The problem is that if there’s no capital gains tax paid in Canada, there are no foreign tax credits available to offset tax owed in the U.S.

Foreign accounts in the aggregate of $10,000. There’s an IRS requirement that U.S. citizens file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) for each year they have a financial interest in or signing authority over certain foreign financial accounts. This has a broad scope and includes accounts, such as corporate, trust and joint accounts. The penalties for not filing can be severe, so American citizens should be sure to report all applicable accounts each year.

U.S. gift and estate tax. Any U.S. citizen who makes gifts is subject to U.S. gift taxes.  However, not every gift is taxable. There is also a lifetime gift tax exemption amount of $11.18M (for 2018). Using the lifetime gift tax exemption may, however, create U.S. estate tax (or death tax) liability in the future.

Life insurance. If a U.S. citizen owns a term life insurance policy upon death, the policy’s proceeds are included when calculating the value of the policyholder’s gross estate for estate tax purposes in the U.S. If those proceeds increase their estate beyond the exemption amount in the year of death, an estate tax liability may result. Another option is having a term life insurance policy in an irrevocable life insurance trust. Income earned inside a Canadian whole life policy that’s tax-exempt by the CRA might not be tax-exempt by the IRS, which means the U.S. citizen may have to pay tax to the IRS on income earned inside a Canadian whole life policy. Therefore, U.S. citizens in Canada may want to think about owning whole life insurance policies.

Renunciation. The only way to effectively end all U.S. tax responsibilities, is to renounce an American citizenship. It’s not easy to do, and it is expensive. The renunciation fee alone is $2,350, but that’s not all you have to do. You must be able to prove that you have been tax-compliant for at least five years. If you can’t prove that, you are deemed a “covered expatriate,” which means that you are subject to U.S. exit tax. If your net worth is $2 million U.S. dollars or more on the day of your renunciation, you are also a “covered expatriate.”

Speak with a cross-border attorney about issues relating to avoiding or mitigating U.S. exit tax exposure, if you are considering renouncing your status as a U.S. citizen. There may be additional issues to consider, depending on your situation.

Reference: Globe and Mail (September 19, 2018) “Americans living in Canada: Be aware that the IRS is watching you”

Nothing Saved for Retirement? At Least You’re Not Alone

The big picture presented by the National Institute on Retirement Security is not a good one. Working Americans are completely unprepared for retirement.

The National Institute on Retirement Security is a non-profit research and educational organization that focuses on the development of public policies that help retirement security in America. A recent report using U.S. Census Bureau data looked at median retirement account balances for people ages 21 to 64.

MP900404926Think Advisor’s recent article, “Most Americans Have $0 Saved for Retirement: NIRS” says that the report revealed that nearly 60% of all working-age individuals don’t have assets in a retirement account. That’s based on the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation data from the year 2014.

With 59.3% of people not owning a retirement account, a worker in the middle of the overall workforce would have a goose egg in retirement savings. The National Institute on Retirement Security report found that nearly about three-quarters of workers in the 21-to-34 age bracket, over half of those ages 35 to 44, half ages 45 to 54 and also about half in the 55-to-64 age range don’t have a retirement account.

The report included in its definition of retirement accounts employer-sponsored plans like 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457(b)s, SEP IRAs and Simple IRAs, as well as private retirement accounts—such as traditional and Roth IRAs. In the report’s analysis, an individual was deemed to own a retirement account, if her total retirement account assets were more than zero. There’s a significant gap between older and younger folks in retirement account ownership, and the report found that that this gap is much wider across income groups.

“Individuals with retirement accounts have a higher median income of $51,024, compared to $17,004 among individuals without retirement accounts—three times as large,” the report states.

The research also showed that the median account balances were insufficient, even among individuals withretirement accounts. In fact, for those approaching retirement (age 55 to 64) with retirement accounts, the average balance was $88,000. The report suggested this amount would only provide a “few hundred dollars per month in income if the full account balance is annuitized, or if an individual follows the traditionally recommended strategy of withdrawing 4% of the account balance per year (this amounts to less than $300 per month).”

Digging into the details presents an even more worrisome scenario. A look at working individuals age 21 to 64 who had any retirement savings found that 22% of them had saved less than a year’s income. And among those closest to retirement—ages 55 to 64—only 17% of those who had retirement savings had a year’s worth of income.

Regardless of your age, anyone who is working should be saving something for retirement, even if it is a small amount from every paycheck. The younger you are, the more important it is to start early. For older Americans, the savings target is far more daunting, but saving something is still better than nothing.

Reference: Think Advisor (September 18, 2018) “Most Americans Have $0 Saved for Retirement: NIRS”

How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?

Everyone’s needs are different. For most people, one large policy is enough. However, what if your life is not like everyone else’s? How do you know how much coverage you need?

Most people never really think about adding more life insurance, once they buy a policy. They figure they have that policy and insurance through their job. However, what if you wanted to have more coverage? This recent article fromNerd Wallet, “Can You Have More Than One Life Insurance Policy?”explains some life insurance basics.

Money treeFirst, you can own several policies from different companies. However, when you apply, insurance companies will inquire about your existing coverage to make certain that the amount you want is reasonable.

It’s not uncommon to purchase a lot of coverage without any problems. An insurance agent will usually ask why you need a great amount of coverage, if the total coverage would exceed 20 to 30 times your income.

A frequent need to purchase life insurance coverage is to replace income in the event that the main income-earner passes away prematurely. The answer to this is term life insurance. This policy will cover you for a certain period, like 10, 20, or 30 years. Hopefully, when the term expires, you won’t require that life insurance, because your debts are paid, and you’ve finished raising your family.

Rather than purchasing one large policy, you could get multiple policies of different lengths and amounts to match your family’s needs over time. As an example, instead of getting a single 30-year $1 million policy, you could buy three policies: a 10-year for $500,000; a 20-year, $300,000 policy, and a 30-year, $200,000 policy. This type of “laddering” strategy can save money, and it can work, if coverage needs decrease. This way, you can predict them accurately. At least, that’s the theory.

Note: if you decide to buy just a single policy and discover later that you don’t need as much life insurance coverage, most carriers will let you lower the coverage and pay less.

There are also other reasons to buy coverage, besides replacing income. These can include small-business owner needs, long-term care and estate planning.

Before you invest a lot of money into life insurance, speak with your estate planning attorney. They’ll be able to explain the role that insurance plays in estate planning and outline your general insurance needs.

Reference: Nerd Wallet (September 17, 2018)“Can You Have More Than One Life Insurance Policy?”

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