Life is Unexpected. The IRS Has Got Your Back?

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.

The Stretch IRA is Dead. Does That Mean More Freedom?

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.

The SECURE Act Passed. What Does That Mean?

I’ve written about the SECURE (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) Act a number of times over the past year or so. I’m writing now following it’s passing Congress last week as part of the year-end spending bill. Now that President Trump has signed it into law, it goes into effect on January 1, 2020. The legislation is a relatively large overhaul to retirement savings accounts. The two biggest changes are to contributions and required minimum distributions (RMDs). First off, the new law eliminates the age limit for traditional IRA contributions. This means that if you are still working, you can continue to contribute to a traditional IRA no matter how old you are. This can be really helpful for people who plan on working well past 70. As for RMDs, the legislation raises the age for beginning RMDs from 70 1/2 to 72. Again, this is beneficial for people who plan to work past 70 as it prevents them from having to tap into retirement accounts too early. Another big change is the ending of the Stretch IRA, which will be replaced with a ten year rule. The rule will be in place for most beneficiaries and requires accounts to be emptied by the end of the tenth year after the year of death. The change only goes into effect for deaths that occur on or after January 1, 2020. As with any legislation, the SECURE Act includes more than just the above mentioned and I suggest you read up on what the legislation offers and how it could impact your retirement plans and accounts.

Got a Side Gig? Get Yourself a SEP IRA!

Life–let alone, retirement–can be expensive. Thus, it’s not uncommon for many Americans to hold down a side hustle to earn a few extra dollars. For some, that may mean getting a legitimate second job, while others may look to turn a hobby into a source of extra income. If you decide to go the way of turning a hobby or interest into a business, be sure that you take advantage of the retirement savings benefits. Yes, you can use a small business, side gig to help bolster your nest egg, thanks for SEP IRAs. A SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRA can be easy to setup and relatively inexpensive. If you own your own business, you can easily make contributions and once the money enters the IRA, it gets treated just like any other IRA money and follows the same rules as other IRAs. Like a traditional IRA, the funds in a SEP IRA are taxed upon distribution and can be subject to early distribution penalties if taken before age 59 1/2. However, one big advantage that SEP IRAs have is a higher contribution limit (up to $56,000 annually). While chances are very slim that your side gig will allow you to contribute $56,000 to an IRA, you can still make smaller contributions. Putting away even just an extra few thousand dollars a year can have a big impact on your retirement savings over time. Furthermore, a self-employing side job can be carried into retirement and used as a source of extra income and a way to stay active. That extra income may even allow you to limit the distributions you take from your retirement accounts to just required minimum distributions (RMDs). As with any retirement account, you will want to make sure that you set it up properly and follow the rules. Therefore, you will want to speak with a certified financial planner before setting up a SEP IRA to make sure it’s the right move for you.

Trusting in a Trust

There’s a good chance that you have a will, especially if you have assets that you want to share once you have passed on. If you don’t have many assets or few family and friends to share them with, then you can get by with a simple will (i.e. maybe a page or two long saying who gets what). However, if you have young children–or grandchildren–a simple, boilerplate will probably won’t cut it. Furthermore, if you find that your will may end up leaving a large inheritance to a child or young adult, you will want to consider guidelines and limitations on how the money can be used and when it can be used. This is where a trust comes into play. Since there is a whole section of law devoted to trusts (usually combined with wills and estates), I am not going to get into the legal mumbo-jumbo of the different types of trusts and how they all work. In a nutshell, though, a trust is a legal vehicle that allows for the distribution of money or assets, as overseen by a trustee, to a beneficiary. The trustee may have certain guidelines and rules that he or she must follow when distributing the assets within the trust, which are defined by the settlor–the person who is looking to have his or her assets or money distributed. There are multiple types of trusts out there and each have different ways that they are created and can be used. Why am I talking about trusts? Well, if you have children (or grandchildren), particularly ones that are young, a trust can be an effective way to make sure that they don’t blow through any inheritance they receive. For example, you can instruct the trustee to not distribute the assets or money in the fund before the beneficiary reaches a certain age or that is can only be used for certain purposes. This can protect both the assets you place in the trust as well as the beneficiary and prevent the beneficiary from becoming to reliant on an inheritance. Despite the simplistic approach of this blog post, trusts can be complex. Thus, you will need to speak with an attorney, particularly one specializing in estates or trusts, if you decide you want to set one up as they can legally do so and will ensure that it is done properly.

How to Prepare for Retirement as a Sole Proprietor

Owning your own small business or sole proprietorship can be a lot of work. Depending on what industry you operate in and what your overhead costs are, it can be tough to eek out a profit or pay yourself what you really think you’re worth. Thus, planning for retirement as a small business owner can seem like a fruitless endeavor, especially if you are struggling to keep your business afloat. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t save for retirement. You can open an IRA and will have options regarding what type of IRA you open regardless of how much you make. You could do a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA, or Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA. You may be asking yourself what a SEP IRA is. It’s a relatively simple and inexpensive retirement account that is popular among small business owners and sole proprietors. They are easy to administer and come with relatively straightforward rules. There are some nice perks to SEP IRAs. First off, if you make a contribution to a SEP IRA, you can also still make a contribution to a Roth or traditional IRA in the same year as long as you are eligible to do so. Another advantage is that a SEP contribution may be made to the same IRA to which you make your traditional IRA contribution, so long as it as your custodian allows it and you are eligible to make a contribution. Finally, there is no age limits on making contributions. You can make contributions as long as you are still working and eligible to make one. The one drawback to a SEP IRA is that you cannot do a salary deferral. Therefore, you have to make the contribution yourself. If you are a small business owner and considering a SEP IRA, you should talk with a certified financial planner to make sure you do so correctly and to set a plan for making contributions.

You Know RMDs, But Do You Know RBDs?

You’re probably familiar with what a required minimum distribution (RMD) is, but do you know what a required beginning date (RBD) is? If you guessed that it’s the date that you begin taking your RMDs, then you are spot on. Knowing your RBD–and any associated options–can be almost as important as knowing how much you need to take out for your RMD. If you have an IRA, your RBD is April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70 1/2. There are no exceptions to that rule, unfortunately. However, if you have an employer plan (i.e. a 401(k)), you may be able to push back your RBD if you continue working or if you have a 403(b), you may be able to push back the RMD start date under the “old money” exception. If you have both an IRA and a retirement plan through an employer, then you may have more than one RBD, depending on whether you intend to take advantage of a “still working” exception or not. If you have questions about your RBD or are interested in discussing whether you may be able to delay it, you should speak with a certified financial planner or with your plan custodian.

Retirement Account Mistakes Happen. Just Make Sure You Correct them.

The rules surrounding retirement savings accounts can be complicated. As such, it’s not uncommon for people to make mistakes when it comes to saving for retirement. Luckily, the rulemakers realize this also and allow for corrections of many retirement savings account errors and mistakes. It should be noted however, that many mistakes are not penalty free, regardless of whether you correct the error in a timely fashion or not. However, taking the steps to correct an error can keep those penalties to a minimum and potentially save you thousands of dollars in both taxes and penalty fees. Furthermore, the corrective measures themselves can be complex and confusing, especially if you are not good with taxes. Again, though, putting the time and resources into correcting the error is most likely much more cost efficient than taking the penalty. If you have made an error with your retirement savings (i.e. made an excess IRA contribution) you will want to take steps to correct the error as soon as possible and as efficiently as possible. Your best bet to do so is by speaking with a certified financial planner or–if you already know that the correction will involve a tax hit–a tax professional who can help you properly calculate what the tax will be. This is also another good reason why you want to track your retirement account transactions and check to make sure they were processed within a reasonable time because once an error occurs there is only so much time to correct it before it becomes a costly mistake. If you have questions about your retirement account or think you may have made an error and want to correct it, again, you should speak with a certified financial planner and retirement expert.

Make Sure You Understand Early Distribution Exceptions

Thinking about taking an early distribution from your retirement plan and believe you can do so without getting hit with a penalty? You should be very, very careful in doing so. Yes, there are times when taking an early distribution is appropriate and you can avoid an early distribution penalty, but such situations are often few and far between. Aside from avoiding early distributions at all costs, you should really speak with a certified financial planner or retirement expert as part of the consideration process if you are fairly serious about doing so. While there are a number of ways you can take an early distribution without getting hit with a dreaded 10% penalty, it is also pretty easy to end up afoul of those exceptions and end up paying a hefty sum. The rules can be complex and if you don’t have a deep knowledge of how they work then you could be setting yourself up for trouble. This is why you need to speak with a financial professional who knows the rules and can provide honest and straight-forward feedback as well as make sure that you follow the proper rules should you find yourself in a situation in which you can take a distribution without the penalty hit. Those penalties can be somewhat hefty, especially if your distribution is a large chunk of money. Obviously you want to avoid the early distribution if possible, but if you do need to make one, be sure that you do so with all the knowledge and understanding possible.