There was a lot of fuss around the most recent COVID-19 stimulus bill, which President Trump signed into law shortly after Christmas. While most of what is in the bill is clear at this point–it has been about three weeks since it was signed–one area that seemed to produce at least a little confusion was whether the bill extends tax breaks from Coronavirus-related distributions (CRDs) from retirement accounts. I have written about CRDs in past blogposts over the past year. As you may recall, CRDs allowed you to take a aggregate distribution of up to $100,000 from your retirement accounts in you were directly impacted by COVID-19 (i.e. you were diagnosed and had to quarantine or you were laid off due to Coronavirus restrictions) and that the distribution was not subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty and you have three years to pay back the distribution. CRDs were designed to help those in financial distress as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and was most likely a lifeline for many struggling Americans in 2020. Back to the latest Stimulus package. It was reported by at least one news source that the new stimulus package extended CRDs into 2021. I want to be clear here that such information is incorrect and that the new legislation did not carry CRDs into 2021. This is important because if you planned on taking a CRD in 2021, you can’t and also as a reminder to do some research and read up on any Coronavirus-related relief legislation to see how it might impact you. Now, I don’t know what the future holds and depending on how this pandemic continues to play out, the next administration might put CRDs back on the table, but I have heard no definite inklings about that, I’m just saying anything is a possibility at this point. If you took a CRD in 2020 and want to figure out how to pay it back or find yourself in further Coronavirus-related financial hardships in 2021, you will want to speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to figure out what the best moves might be best for you.
If you’ve been staying on top of stimulus bill talk over the past 10 months or so, then maybe you’ve heard the phrase Coronavirus Related Distribution (CRD) and are aware that they are penalty free distributions from your retirement accounts. I think I’ve mentioned them a few times in past blogposts as well. If you have been considering taking advantage of a CRD due to hard times, then you should do so as soon as possible. The deadline to take a CRD is December 30, 2020, which is a little less than two weeks away at this time. Now, I am not encouraging you to take a CRD as I am against taking money out of a retirement account early unless it is the absolute last resort. However, if you find yourself in certain situations that meet CRD requirements–such as being diagnosed with Coronavirus or having lost a job because of it–then you may want to consider a CRD to tide you over for just a short time. And remember, there’s only a couple weeks to do so, so you need to make that decision soon! If you do consider taking a CRD, I encourage you to read up about them or speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager about it to make sure it’s really the best decision for you.
There are probably very, very, (very) few people out there excited for the announcement of new life expectancy tables used to determine required minimum distribution (RMD). I mean, let’s be honest, nobody is every really gets excited for IRS announcements. While I can’t say this announcement made my day, I did think it was some really good information worth sharing with you as it could have a substantial impact on your retirement savings and financial plans. Furthermore, the IRS does not normally revise their RMD tables, so this was notable (In fact, it’s been almost 20 years since the last revision). As you probably well know, RMDs are waived for 2020 and 2021 RMDs will follow the existing RMD tables. Again, these RMD changes won’t go into effect until 2022 so, of course, I encourage you to start thinking about it now when it comes to what you want to do with your RMDs and whether your current retirement plans might be impact by an RMD change. If you aren’t familiar with life expectancy tables, there are three that the IRS uses when determining RMDs for those old enough to take them and their beneficiaries: The Uniform Lifetime Table (used to calculate YOUR lifetime RMDs), the Joint and Last Survivor Table (used for when your spouse is your sole beneficiary and is more than 10 years younger than you), and the Single Life Table (when used by an “eligible designated beneficiary” such as a minor child or a surviving spouse). The new changes will most likely lower RMDs for most Americans, which also means lower taxes on your RMDs. Lower taxes means you can spend more of your nest egg on retirement and you. Maybe some IRS announcements aren’t so bad after all.
If you are an educated retirement saver, then you are probably well aware of the 10% penalty you can get hit with if you take a withdrawal from your IRA or employer retirement plan before age 59 1/2. For many Americans–particularly those hit hard financially over the past 8 months–it can be tempting to take that early withdrawal to stay afloat. However, you’re a smart saver and you’ve most likely put yourself in a situation where you don’t need to hit your nest egg. That said, though, you should be aware of the exceptions to the 10% penalty. Now, I’ve mentioned these exceptions in the past, but I feel the need to mention them again as it’s been a while. There are a few exceptions, though, when you can take that early withdrawal and not have to worry about the 10% penalty. Buying your first home? Take that early withdrawal with no penalty. Want to help out a child with college tuition? Take that penalty free withdrawal. Lose your job and need help affording health insurance? Again, take the withdrawal and not worry about the penalty. These tend to be commonly used exceptions to the 10% early withdrawal penalty. Now, before you go taking huge early withdrawals from your retirement savings accounts, make sure it’s the right decision above all else. If you can get the funds you need from other places (ideally, an emergency savings account) that may be the wiser route to go. Remember, your retirement savings accounts should be an absolute last resort when it comes to taking early withdrawals. You should also meet with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to make sure you are making the best decision for you and your future and to ensure you take the proper steps when taking that early withdrawal.
What happens when the person who inherits an IRA dies after inheriting the IRA, but before they reach any potential 10 year payout limit or decide what to do with the money? That sounds confusing, but it’s not as tough as you think. First off, before answering the question, I do think I need to clarify some terms since we are dealing with multiple levels of beneficiaries. The person who succeeds the person who originally inherited the IRA is known as a “successor beneficiary.” Just wanted to clear that up so you can follow along. We will also be focusing on the rules under the SECURE Act passed last year as it is the rule-of-thumb moving forward. Okay. What happens with that inherited IRA after the inheritor dies will be determined by the status of the successor beneficiary. If the successor beneficiary is the spouse of the inheritor, then there are a few different options. They can roll it over to their own IRA, they can set up a separate inherited IRA, they can also do nothing and continue receiving required minimum distributions (RMDs) based on either the dead spouse’s life expectancy or their own. Now, things aren’t so simple for non-spousal successor beneficiaries (i.e. friends, children, etc.). Non-spousal successor beneficiaries must drain the inherited IRA within 10 years of inheriting it. They can do that however they see fit, just as long as they don’t leave anything in there at the 10 year mark. Now, what happens if the inheritor dies and then the successor beneficiary dies before either hitting the 10 year payout limit or deciding what to do with the money? Well, the person who inherits the inherited inherited IRA (yea, that’s confusing) then would work with the remaining time on the successor beneficiary’s watch. I don’t even want to think about what happens if the person inheriting from the inheritor of successor beneficiary. That’s just too many hoops to jump through. Alright, that’s a lot. My advice would be to have a plan and act on it as soon as you inherit such an IRA. It will save a lot of time and hassle.
Life can be unpredictable. What might seems like a good idea today can become a bad idea tomorrow. Thus, it can be hard to truly plan for the future when you don’t know what it holds. It’s also what makes life so unpredictable. Luckily (or should that be surprisingly), the IRS realizes this and has allowed some flexibility with what you can do with your IRA(s). For example, they know that there may be times when you need more money than your annual required minimum distribution (RMD). Therefore, they allow for you to take about more than your RMD amount. Another example is that they allow you to take a withdrawal–obviously, so long as you meet requirements–even if you already took your RMD. Even if you rolled that RMD back into your IRA, you can still take a distribution. Keep in mind with rollovers, there is still a once-per-year rule, but that is suspended for 2020 RMDs until August 31, 2020 (you have until that date to roll your 2020 RMD back into your IRA). While the IRS often gets painted as cruel, they do realize–occasionally–that life can be have some unexpected turns and that you should be able to have to flexibility financially to meet those twists and turns. If you want to roll your 2020 RMD back into your IRA or just want to figure out whether you can take our more than your RMD, I strongly encourage you to talk with a certified financial planner or wealth managers. They can help to make sure you take the right steps.
You may recall that the ability to recharacterize a Roth IRA conversion went away as part of the tax cut that passed in 2017. It wasn’t a major sticking point of the legislation, but it did create some concern about how it could affect those saving for retirement. However, I want to remind you that only recharacterization of Roth IRA conversions went away and that the ability to recharacterize other types of transactions still remains a possibility. For example, if you made a Roth IRA contribution but did not realize that you were above the income threshold to do so, you could potentially recharacterize that contribution to that of a traditional IRA. Obviously, you will want to avoid situations like the aforementioned example, but they do happen often enough to be discussed. Recharacterizations can be tricky and involve and in-depth understanding of how they work. If you think you may have mistakenly made an IRA contribution, then you will want to speak with your IRA custodian. Be sure to provide them with information regarding the transaction you want to recharacterize (i.e. amount of contribution, when it was conducted, etc.). Once they have that information they can find the amount and properly process it as a recharacterization. If you are considering a recharacterization or are unsure of whether a contribution you made should be recharacterized, you will first want to speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to make sure you actually can do a recharacterization. From there you can then move forward with the transaction.
If you’ve been staying on top of retirement news over the past 12 months, then you’ve probably read about the passage of the SECURE Act and it’s termination of the stretch IRA as an estate planning tool. Just a quick refresher, but a stretch IRA was an IRA inherited by a beneficiary in which the beneficiary then took required minimum distributions (RMDs) according to his/her life expectancy and not that of the original IRA owner. If the IRA was inherited by a young beneficiary, that meant the funds could grow, possibly over decades, before the inheriting beneficiary reaches 72 and has to start taking RMDs. The SECURE Act got rid of that and replaced the Stretch IRA with a 10 year rule, which means that the money in the inherited IRA must be emptied by the 10th year after inheriting. Of course, if there is money left over, it will be penalized by the IRS (what else is new, right?). This might seem like a hassle, but it can actually allow a lot of freedom, particularly in regards to when you take the money. Over that 10 year period, you are not required to take money every year. Now, you could do that if you wanted, but you could also take distributions 8 out of the 10 years or 5 out of 10 years. This can open up a lot of opportunities to adjust your financial and retirement plans and use the money at your discretion. All that matters is the account is empty by year 10. Of course, if it’s a Roth IRA, the money is already taxed, which is an added bonus. If you have questions about the 10 year rule or it appears that you may inherit one on the future and want to start planning what to do with the money, you should speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager.
I want to start out by stating that this post is not meant to knock employer retirement plans. Such plans can be a great way to get started in saving for retirement or as another source of retirement savings. However, if you do reach a point where rolling a 401(k) or other employer plan into an IRA is a real opportunity/thought, then you should strongly consider doing so. First off, if you are still working and your 401(k) isn’t a huge amount, you could save yourself some serious tax money down the road if you convert to an IRA, especially a Roth IRA. That can be a huge boost when you do retire and don’t have to pay taxes when you take a withdrawal. One of the biggest advantages to an IRA, though, over an employer plan or other retirement accounts is the freedom you have to choose what to invest in. With an IRA you can invest in just about any stocks and markets you wish and can also invest in other things such as certain types of real estate (this can be complicated and not many IRA custodians can do this) and, in some instances, bitcoins/cryptocurrency. You also have more say in your investment strategies with an IRA over an employer plan. Since an IRA is yours–and not an employer benefit–you are the sole person who can decide things such as what you invest in, how much you invest in certain stocks, and when to buy and sell. This freedom can be very enticing for some people and can allow for better customization of goals and benchmarks when it comes to saving for retirement. If it’s too much you can also still start an IRA and have a financial advisor or wealth manager look after it too. You can also have an IRA and a employer-sponsored retirement plan. Many people do this as there are strategic advantages to having both. If you have questions about setting up an IRA or whether it’s even a good idea for your situation, you should speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law on March 27. It’s a massive relief package designed to help Americans get through these difficult economic and financial times. Yes, this is the legislation that also includes the one-time payments from the government for those below a certain annual salary. While most of the reporting on the CARES Act tends to focus on helping those of working age who find themselves without a job, it does have some advantages for retirees. First off, many retirees will be eligible to receive the highlight of the legislation–those one-time government checks that everyone keeps talking about. The CARES Act does allow for those collecting Social Security and other benefits–such as Supplemental Security Income–are eligible to receive a check. Now, obviously, this won’t apply to everyone and some seniors will not qualify due to their individual situations. You will need to submit a tax return for the government to determine if you are eligible, even if you know you won’t owe any taxes. Another interesting aspect of the act is that it is waiving required minimum distributions (RMDs) for 2020. That goes for both employer plans and IRAs. That means you do not have to take an RMD for 2020, if you are eligible to do so. This unprecedented waiver means that money stays in your retirement account. The CARES Act also waives the 10% early distribution hit you may take if you take an early distribution of up to $100,000 from an IRA or other retirement plans to cover costs related to Coronavirus. I don’t know the specifics of this yet and you will want to do some research of what qualifies before trying to take advantage of this. Of course, I also discourage you from taking money out of your retirement savings any sooner than you have to. However, I understand that situations, such as a costly illness, may change those plans. You may want to talk with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to learn more about your options and whether you can hypothetically do an early distribution. There’s a lot in the CARES Act legislation and I encourage you to read more about it and learn as much as you can, regardless of whether you are retired, near retirement, or decades away as it has the potential to impact a wide array of Americans.