Should I Borrow from my 401(k) during the Pandemic? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The major advantage of saving in a 401(k), is that you can have tax-deferred growth on your investments. When you are saving money for the long term, you typically want to leave it alone. However, there are some situations, in which withdrawing money from your 401(k) is acceptable.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Hardship Withdrawal vs. 401(k) Loan: What’s the Difference?” says that prior to making a move, you need to understand the financial implications of using your retirement plan early. There are two basic ways to take money out before reaching retirement age.

One option is to take a hardship withdrawal. The IRS says that hardship withdrawals are okay, only when there is an immediate and great financial need. These withdrawals are usually limited to the amount required to satisfy that need. These withdrawals are subject to ordinary income tax and, if you are not yet 59½, there is a 10% early withdrawal penalty, except if you are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act lets you make a penalty-free COVID-19 related withdrawal or take out a loan from your 401(k) in 2020, with special repayment provisions and tax treatment.

The IRS has a safe harbor exception that lets you automatically meet the heavy-need standard in certain situations, such as for those who must take a hardship withdrawal to pay for medical expenses for themselves, a spouse, or dependents. A hardship withdrawal could also be helpful, if you are in a long period of unemployment and do not have an emergency fund. The IRS waives the penalty if you are unemployed and need to buy health insurance, but you would still owe taxes on the withdrawal. Other situations that are covered by the safe harbor exception include:

  • Tuition, education fees, and room-and-board expenses for the next 12 months of post-secondary school for the employee or the employee’s spouse, children, dependents, or beneficiary.
  • Payments that are required to prevent the eviction of the employee from his or her principal residence or foreclosure on the mortgage on that residence.
  • Funeral expenses for the employee, the employee’s spouse, children, dependents, or beneficiary.
  • Certain expenses to repair damage to the employee’s principal residence.

If you qualify for a Coronavirus-Related Distribution (CRD) from your 401(k) plan during 2020, that distribution will be treated as a safe-harbor distribution that is not subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under 59½ but subject to regular income taxes. Some other unique stipulations to this special distribution say that:

  • You can withdraw up to $100,000 or your account balance, whichever is less.
  • You can spread out any taxes over three years.
  • If you pay the funds back into your account within three years, it will be considered a rollover and not taxed.

The IRS has expanded the eligibility for a hardship withdrawal to include having a job start date delayed or a job offer rescinded because of COVID-19 and allow a spouse of an impacted person to make a hardship withdrawal—even if the spouse is still working.

If you are not in such a financial state but still want to take cash from your plan, a 401(k) loan is the other way to go. The IRS says that you can borrow 50% of your vested account balance or $50,000, whichever is less. However, a loan has both pros and cons. You are in effect paying back the money to yourself. That means you are returning it to your retirement account, and that is good. However, if you leave your job and do not repay the loan within a specified period (which was recently extended to the due date of your federal income tax return, instead of the previous 60-to-90 day window, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act), it is treated as a regular distribution. Therefore, income tax and the early withdrawal penalty would apply.

However, there may be situations in which you might consider a loan. New rules also let you withdraw a loan of up to $100,000 or the amount in your employer-sponsored retirement plan (whichever is less) anytime until September 23, 2020, and delay payments on the loan for up to a year (but the interest will accrue.) If you already have an outstanding loan, the payments can also be deferred for a year.

Consolidating debt. You could use the loan to consolidate high-interest debt, if your credit doesn’t qualify you for a low rate on a personal loan or a debt consolidation loan.

Purchasing a home. It could help when you are planning to buy a home. You could use the money to cover closing costs or hold it in your down-payment savings account for a few months before buying. A 401(k) loan typically must be repaid within five years with at least quarterly payments, but the IRS allows provisions for plan administrators to extend the repayment period longer for those buying a home.

Making an Investment. You could make an investment, like a home as an investment property when you plan to renovate the home and flip it for a profit but need capital to make the purchase.

When You Have A Comfortable Retirement Cushion. If you have been saving regularly for many years with solid investments, you may be ahead of schedule when it comes to hitting your retirement goal. If so, and your job is stable, taking a loan from your 401(k) may not be too bad for your retirement.

There is also an option for 2020 only for taking a 401(k) loan. If you qualify for a CRD, the CARES Act lets you to take a loan of up to $100,000 or the amount in your employer-sponsored retirement plan (whichever is less) until September 23, 2020. You can postpone the payments for up to a year, but interest will accrue. If you already have an outstanding loan, those payments can also be deferred for a year.

If you decide to take a loan or a hardship withdrawal, be certain that you understand the potential tax consequences of doing so.

Reference: Investopedia (June 23, 2020) “Hardship Withdrawal vs. 401(k) Loan: What’s the Difference?”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How Can We Do Estate Planning in the Pandemic? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

We can see the devastating impact the coronavirus has had on families and the country. However, if we let ourselves dwell on only a few areas of our lives that we can control, the pandemic has given us some estate and financial planning opportunities worth evaluating, says The New Hampshire Business Review’s recent article entitled “Estate planning in a crisis.”

Unified Credit. The unified credit against estate and gift tax is still a valuable estate-reduction tool that will probably be phased out. This credit is the amount that a person can pass to others during life or at death, without generating any estate or gift tax. It is currently $11,580,000 per person. Unless it is extended, on January 1, 2026, this credit will be reduced to about 50% of what it is today (with adjustments for inflation). It may be wise for a married couple to use at least one available unified credit for a current gift. By leveraging a unified credit with advanced planning discount techniques and potentially reduced asset values, it may provide a very valuable “once in a lifetime” opportunity to reduce future estate tax.

Reduced Valuations. For owners of closely-held companies who would like to pass their business to the next generation, there is an opportunity to gift all or part of your business now at a value much less than what it would have been before the pandemic. A lower valuation is a big plus when trying to transfer a business to the next generation with the minimum gift and estate taxes.

Taking Advantage of Low Interest Rates. Today’s low rates make several advanced estate planning “discount” techniques more attractive. This includes grantor retained annuity trusts, charitable lead annuity trusts, intra-family loans and intentionally defective grantor trusts. The discount element that many of these techniques use, is tied to the government’s § 7520 rate, which is linked to the one-month average of the market yields from marketable obligations, like T-bills with maturities of three to nine years. For many of these, the lower the Sect. 7520 rate, the better the discount the technique provides.

Bargain Price Transfers. The reduced value of stock portfolios and other assets, like real estate, may give you a chance to give at reduced value. Gifting at today’s lower values does present an opportunity to efficiently transfer assets from your estate, and also preserve estate tax credits and exclusions.

Reference: New Hampshire Business Review (May 21, 2020) “Estate planning in a crisis”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Do I Need to Retire? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s Retirement Confidence Survey shows a lack of preparation in retirement planning. According to the annual survey, 66% of those 55 years and older said they were confident they had sufficient savings to live comfortably throughout retirement. However, just 48% within the same age group have not figured out their retirement needs.

Kiplinger’s article entitled “Ready to Retire? Not Until You’ve Done These 3 Things” says knowing where you are now and knowing what you will need and want in retirement are important to protect your portfolio throughout your golden years. If you want to retire at 65, then age 55 is when you will want to start making some important decisions.

Let us look at three steps to take in your last decade of your working years to help create a safety net for a long retirement:

At 10 years or more before retirement, you should diversify your tax exposure. You may have a large portion of your portfolio in an employer sponsored 401(k) or in IRAs. These tax-deferred accounts give you plenty of benefits now, because you are not taxed on the contributions. At age 50 and older, you can make additional catch-up contributions that let you put away $26,000 in 2020 in your 401(k) each year. Because you are probably going to pay a lower tax rate in retirement when you begin taking taxable withdrawals, it gives you a nice tax advantage today.

In the years before your retirement, build assets in tax-free accounts for flexibility, so you can keep tax costs down in retirement. Assets in a Roth IRA or a Roth account within your 401(k) can give you a source of tax-free income in retirement. You paid taxes on the money you put into a Roth, so it grows tax-free and withdrawals after age 59½ are income tax free. If you are over 50, then you can add up to $7,000 into the account this year.

When you are five years from retirement, create a health care plan. A huge expense in retirement is health care. Plan for out-of-pocket health care costs as well as long-term care. Taking advantage of a health savings account, if you are in a high-deductible health insurance plan is a good way to save for the out-of-pocket health care expenses that will not be covered by Medicare or your private health insurance. You can fund an HSA up to $7,100 for families ($8,100 if you’re 55 or older). Contributions are made on a pre-tax basis, so your account grows tax free, and withdrawals are tax- and penalty-free, if used for qualified health care expenses. You should also look at long-term care insurance.

When you are just a year from retirement, start spending as if you are already retired. Be sure you can live comfortably, when spending at your retirement budget.

No one can see the future, but you may be able to limit the effects of shocks to your retirement savings.  Adding in these layers of protection at least 10 years prior to retirement, can help you secure your retirement goals.

Reference: Kiplinger (Jan. 24, 2020) “Ready to Retire? Not Until You’ve Done These 3 Things”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What are the Blind Spots in Social Security? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The SimplyWise survey also found that there are five areas that are especially confusing to people. Only one in 300 of those who took a five-question quiz answered all the questions correctly, reports Think Advisor in the article entitled “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security.”

Here are some Social Security questions that might be relevant and not knowing the answers could cost you thousands of dollars a year in income.

  1. What age do I claim to maximize my monthly earned Social Security benefit? The age is 70, although 62 years is when an individual can first make a claim. However, your benefits grow each year you wait—up to age 70. According to SimplyWise, only 42% of quiz takers got this answer right.
  2. What is the earliest age non-disabled people can get survivor benefits? A mere 9% answered this correctly. It is age 60. Many think it is age 62, the age people can begin claiming Social Security.That is correct for earned benefits and spousal benefits.
  3. Is a current spouse required to be getting Social Security benefits, for the other spouse to qualify for spousal benefits? Yes. Just 20% of respondents got this answer correct. It is important to understand that if both spouses are claiming Social Security, one can either receive their own benefit or 50% of their spouse’s amount, whichever is more.
  4. Is a divorced spouse able to get survivor benefits? Yes, and just 38% of people got this answer right. The criteria is somewhat different than for married people. The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, and there are certain rules that apply to remarrying. However, divorced spouses can collect survivor benefits under a deceased ex-spouse.
  5. Can divorced spouses get spousal benefits? Yes, and 67% got this answer correct. Divorced spouses who were married for at least 10 years and have not remarried can claim spousal benefits.

Reference: Think Advisor (Feb. 13, 2020) “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Medicare Mistakes can Ruin Retirement? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Healthcare expenses can loom large in retirement. Therefore, failing to totally understand Medicare could be a costly mistake. The Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “3 Medicare Mistakes That Could Wreck Your Retirement” warns that these three mistakes could throw a wrench in your retirement plan.

  1. Thinking that Medicare will cover all your healthcare costs. It is critical that you understand that Medicare will help cover some of your medical expenses in retirement—but it does not cover everything. You will still be liable to pay all your premiums, deductibles, co-insurance, and co-pays. Medicare Part A usually does not have a premium, but you will have a deductible of $1,408 per benefit period. Part B’s standard premium is $144.60 per month with a deductible of $198 per year. Note that Medicare Parts A and B do not cover prescription drugs or routine vision and dental care. For those things, you will have to purchase Medicare Part D or a Medicare Advantage plan at an additional cost.

It is also important that you understand that Medicare typically does not cover long-term care, a major expense. Prior to retirement, it is a good idea to add these costs into your plan.

  1. Failing to research your plan options each year during open enrollment. Medicare open enrollment is from October 15th until December 7th each year. In this period, retirees can make changes to their plans, such as switching from Original Medicare (Parts A and B) to a Medicare Advantage plan or vice versa. You can also change from one Advantage plan to another or add Part D coverage. After you have been on Medicare, you should look into options available to you and shop around to save money.
  2. Failing to enroll in Medicare when first eligible. When you become eligible for Medicare, you must enroll during your initial enrollment period (IEP). This begins three months prior to the month you turn 65 and ends three months after the month you turn 65. Failure to enroll could mean a penalty of 10% of your Part B premium. The longer you go without enrolling, the higher your penalty will be, and you usually must continue paying the penalty for as long as you have Part B coverage.

Note that if you are not ready to enroll in Medicare at 65, you may qualify for a special enrollment period. Say, for example, if you (or your spouse) are still working at age 65 and are covered by insurance through your employer, you can delay your Medicare enrollment until after you quit your job.

Medicare can be confusing. The better educated you are about the program, the wiser decisions you will be able to make sure your retirement fund lasts longer.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can save money and prepare for your senior years.

Reference:  The Motley Fool (March 20, 2020) “3 Medicare Mistakes That Could Wreck Your Retirement”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Big Mistakes in Planning for Retirement – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

You know it is not always a lack of savings that keeps people from enjoying a great retirement. Despite having a nice nest egg, people can make some common mistakes that mess up their retirement plans.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Avoid These 4 Mistakes That Often Derail Retirement Plans” advises you to avoid these four mistakes, so you do not wreck your golden years.

Early Withdrawal Penalties. It is critical that you know the rules of your retirement plans, if you want to keep the plan on track. If you want to tap into your IRA or 401(k) before age 59½, you will have an early withdrawal penalty. You will also have to add that money in your gross income for the year and pay an additional 10% tax penalty. There are a few exceptions to early withdrawal penalties.

Forgetting about your Employer Match. A recent survey found that roughly a third of workers do not contribute enough to their 401(k) or employer-sponsored retirement plan to get the full match from their employer. The value of this oversight is about $750 each year. That itself can add up to almost $100,000 in missed retirement savings over the course of your career. Retirement savers need to leverage this free money at work.

Paying High Investment Fees. Figure out how much you are paying for your investments. Investment costs that may sound tiny—perhaps 2%—can chip away at your savings over time. These fees compound along with your returns, so you are losing the growth that money could have had.

Missing Out on Compound Interest. Compounding is one of the best rationales for saving early. On a very basic level, compound interest is earning or charging interest on top of interest. When retirement savers are not aware of the value of compound interest, they are missing out on growing their money more quickly. Time is critical when allowing compound interest to work for you, and that is why you should think long-term, when saving for retirement.

Many people think they can plan for retirement alone. However, the closer you get to retirement, the more crucial it is that you have a sound plan that will keep you on track. However, only one in five people has a written plan for retirement.

A comprehensive plan will help get you to and through your later years. Your comprehensive plan should include strategies to pay for health care and a plan for claiming Social Security, as well as strategies to be tax efficient in retirement and leave a legacy for your family.

Reference: Kiplinger (Jan. 29, 2020) “Avoid These 4 Mistakes That Often Derail Retirement Plans”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys