To avoid another government shutdown, Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill in December. Tacked to it was a bill called the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act that Barron’s describes as “the biggest retirement legislation in a decade.”
Many financial experts were surprised that the SECURE Act, which was backed by the insurance industry and lobbyists, was included in the bill. Earlier in 2019, the House passed it with a 417-3 vote, but several Republican senators put a hold on the bill and discussion on it reached a stalemate. While some lawmakers have raised questions about the SECURE Act and offered amendments, it generally has enjoyed bipartisan support.
With President Trump’s signature on the bill on Friday, December 20, the SECURE Act was signed into law. The legislation will reform the way that Americans save for retirement. Here are five key changes you need to know about.
Minimum age raised for RMD
Currently, people who own IRAs must begin taking required minimum distributions, or RMDs, when they become age 70 ½. The SECURE Act raises that age to 72. That means people who turn age 70 ½ in 2019 will have to take out their first RMD by April 1, 2020. Those who turn 70 ½ in 2020 or after can wait two years to withdraw their RMD.
Some analysts believe this change will significantly benefit retirees. Postponing RMD allows an IRA balance more time to grow through compounded interest and through additional contributions.
Age cap removed for IRA contributions
The SECURE Act will change a rule that restricted people from contributing to an IRA after they turned age 70 ½ (this restriction did not apply to Roth IRAs). Under the SECURE Act, there are no age limitations for contributing.
This change could help people who work into their 70s or beyond, allowing them to continue to make contributions to their IRA as long as they work. Under the SECURE Act, people will have more time to increase or catch up on their retirement savings. Coupled with the new rule increasing the age for RMD, people could significantly increase their retirement savings in those additional work years. According to research from experts at Stanford University, Cornerstone Research, George Mason University, and Financial Engine, putting off retirement for one year will benefit you 3.5 times more financially than saving 1% of your income over 30 years.
Benefits expanded to include part-time workers and more
With this change, the SECURE Act will respond to a changing economy with an increasing number of people working “gig” and freelance jobs. The act will allow many more employees who work part-time to save for retirement through their employer.
The SECURE Act also will allow people to withdraw as much as $10,000 from their 529 plan to pay back student loans. This move helps graduates because they will pay less interest as they repay their debt quickly and make them more financially secure as they enter the working world and begin families. As the nation’s student debt burden has surpassed $1.5 trillion, employers are looking for ways to help their workers manage this debt.
Parents of newborns, either through birth or adoption, will also get help through the SECURE Act. The act makes new parents eligible to withdraw $5,000 from their IRA, without penalty, to help pay the cost of delivery or adoption.
The end of “stretch” IRAs
Stretch IRA rules have allowed families to pass IRAs through generations tax-free. Under these rules, inherited IRAs kept their tax-deferred status when passed to non-spouse beneficiaries (typically children and grandchildren), allowing the IRA to grow without paying taxes. Stretch IRA rules, which applied to any type of IRA, meant that when a young beneficiary inherited an IRA, taxes and required distributions could be put off for decades.
The SECURE Act gets rid of these rules, and now non-spouse beneficiaries of an IRA must disperse its balance within 10 years. There are exceptions for surviving spouses, minor beneficiaries, beneficiaries who are disabled, beneficiaries who are chronically ill, and beneficiaries who are within 10 years in age of the account owner.
The primary beneficiary of this rule change? The U.S. government. Called a “tax acceleration,” eliminating stretch IRAs is estimated to generate about $15 billion in tax revenue in the next 10 years. It also can significantly change estate planning, as it eliminates a shelter for inherited income.
More annuities in 401(k) plans
While investors have always had the option of including annuities in their 401(k) plans, right now employers are responsible for making sure they are a good choice for their employees’ plans. Under the SECURE Act, insurance companies will become the decision-makers on annuities. Critics say this is a boon for the insurance industry, which sells annuities and lobbied for the passage of the SECURE Act.
Supporters of this rule change argue that annuities can be a sound investment choice because they provide a guaranteed income over the life of the retiree. However, because annuities are complicated investment products, investing in the wrong ones could mean large financial penalties and fees.
The calendar year is almost over, and if you’re saving for retirement with an IRA, there are several smart moves you can make before the end of 2019.
Contribute the maximum amount
For the first time since 2013, the cap on the annual contribution to a traditional IRA has been increased $500 to a maximum of $6,000 for contributors younger than 50. Those age 50 and older are allowed to contribute an additional $1,000 as a “catch up,” bringing their total allowable IRA contribution to $7,000.
To contribute to an IRA, you must have earned income from work, and you cannot contribute more to an IRA than you earned. IRA contributions in 2019 are tax-deductible, and if you or your spouse do not have a 401(k) or other work retirement account, you can deduct your entire 2019 IRA contribution on your tax return. Make your 2019 contribution before the next tax filing deadline passes on April 15, 2020.
If required, take your minimum distribution
If you are age 70 ½ or older, you typically are required to take a minimum distribution, or RMD, from your IRA. Figuring out the amount of your RMD, however, can be difficult, and it’s best to go over your retirement account with a financial expert before taking any distributions (errors can be expensive). The amount of your distribution depends on your life expectancy and how much your IRA is worth – the IRS calculates it by dividing your IRA balance on the last day of 2018 by your life expectancy or the applicable distribution period.
You’ll be penalized 50 percent if you miss your RMD, a significant penalty for a retirement account. If you don’t need the money from an RMD but have to take it, you can donate the disbursement to a charitable cause through a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). In this case, the donation will go straight from your IRA to a qualified charity of your choice, and it will not be counted as personal income. QCDs are limited to $100,000 each year.
Review your assets
December is a great time for a year-end review of your investment policy statement (IPS). This document lays out how much of your money should be in cash, bonds, and stock, and when each category will rebalance. At the end of the year, you can evaluate whether your investments match the allocations on your IPS. If they don’t, which is likely, you may want to rebalance your account.
Financial experts recommend creating an IPS before the end of the year if you don’t have one. While it’s ideal to create your IPS in a calm market, if that’s not possible, make one right away, no matter the market conditions.
Avoid taxes on distributions
One significant downside of a traditional IRA is that distributions can be taxed and converting to a Roth account can eliminate some of these potential losses. Also, investors who donate their RMD to a qualifying charity or use the disbursement to buy a qualifying longevity annuity contract also can avoid disbursement taxes.
Converting to a Roth IRA may be an especially wise choice in years when your taxable income is low. The taxes you pay in a slow year will set a baseline for you to make good choices when your taxes could be higher. Investors between ages 59 ½ and 70 ½ likely won’t benefit from a Roth IRA conversion, however, as they aren’t required to take RMDs.
If you inherited a traditional IRA in 2019, you must take the RMD by the end of 2019 and pay the taxes on it – even if you are younger than 70 ½.
Don’t overdo it
While saving for retirement is generally encouraged, can you contribute too much to an IRA? Yes, and there are consequences. For example, if your income is better than usual for one year, and you make a large contribution to your IRA, you may have to pay a 6 percent penalty on your extra contributions until you fix the error. If you have over-contributed, there are remedies:
- Withdraw the excess contributions before April 15, 2020.
- If your tax return already is on its way to the IRS, you can remove the extra contribution and send in an amended tax return by the deadline in October.
- If you apply the extra contribution amount to 2020, you will still have to pay the 6 percent penalty on it for 2019, but you’ll get a “head start” on next year’s contribution.
While these are fixes, the best approach is to not make excess contributions at all.
Looking forward, IRA contribution rules will not change in 2020 – the maximums will remain at $6,000 and $7,000, depending on your age, for combined contributions to Roth and traditional IRAs. The window for 2020 contributions begins Jan. 1 and ends April 15, 2021.
Financial decisions in our youth can be simple. How much can I afford to pay in rent? Should I budget for two meals out a week or four? What amount of car payment can I afford?
As we get older, however, our finances—and our financial decisions—can become more complex. As we accumulate wealth and begin thinking about the financial side of issues such as retirement, second homes, and leaving an inheritance, most of us could use some guidance. That’s where wealth management comes in.
What is wealth management?
Wealth management is an individualized financial planning service for highly affluent clients. These individuals work with either a single wealth manager or a financial advising team that provides comprehensive services and has expertise in a wide range of financial services and products.
What is a wealth manager?
Serving as personal consultants, wealth managers focus on issues that affect extremely wealthy clients, such as managing estate tax rules. They spend time getting to know their clients, including their financial and life priorities.
Along with answering questions and meeting with their clients, wealth managers often coordinate legal and accounting services for them as well. Wealth managers help clients with all financial planning needs, whether it’s setting up a trust for your grandchildren or working through how tax rules impact your business’s income.
Wealth managers provide across-the-board financial services, working with clients on all aspects of their financial holdings and decisions. Clients looking for a single service, such as help with retirement planning, may find it is more efficient to work with a financial planner who offers a la carte services. Similarly, individuals who are interested in guidance creating an investment strategy may want to consider a portfolio manager, who will offer advice on maximizing returns and minimizing risk but won’t provide additional financial services.
Wealth managers provide many services. These include estate and tax planning; accounting; retirement planning; providing legal guidance on finance-related matters; offering investment management and advice; setting up trusts and foundations; creating a plan for charitable giving; engaging in risk management; and planning for Social Security benefits.
Your initial meetings with a wealth manager may be more conversational as you talk through your personal and financial goals. A wealth manager will need to be familiar with the entirety of your finances as well as your financial history, hopes and plans for your future, and the legacy you want to leave. Using all this information, a wealth manager will craft a financial strategy that will meet all of your goals.
How do I find a wealth manager?
Generally, there are two types of wealth managers. Large firms such as Merrill and Morgan Stanley offer wealth management experts along with banking and other types of financial services. Smaller independent firms, on the other hand, may provide a more personalized experience.
Either way, you’ll want to make sure that the wealth manager you choose is certified. Only one certification specific to wealth management, the certified private wealth advisor (CPWA) is available.
Financial advisors with this certificate are qualified to work with clients whose net worth is at least $5 million. The certified financial planner (CFP) and chartered financial analyst (CFP) certify a professional in general financial planning practices and are valuable certifications for wealth managers.
You can start looking for a local wealth manager through online search. This should provide information about large financial institutions and small private firms in your area. You also could ask around. Word of mouth can be a valuable tool in finding a qualified professional that others— especially peers who have similar levels of wealth and financial situations—recommend.
The cost of wealth management services typically is based on a percentage of the client’s assets that are being managed. That means the more financial assets you have, the higher your fees will be. Firms may also add other charges—Morgan Stanley, for example, charges fixed fees for specific accounts and services. It’s important to talk to your wealth management advisor about their rates and fees before agreeing to work together.
What if I prefer online services?
If you’re more comfortable behind a computer screen, many financial institutions offer wealth management service online—although you’ll lose the personal touch of face-to-face meetings. Meetings can be moved to the phone or a video conference while much of the financial information is provided online.
Some online services offer unlimited access to a human financial provider or team of providers for a flat annual fee that’s determined by the services you need and how complicated your financial needs are. Other services calculate fees based on a percentage of your assets. The downsides for some of these services, especially when they offer a team approach, is that you may not consistently work with the same financial adviser.
Regardless of the criteria you use to select a wealth management service, it’s vital to think through your needs and research your options thoroughly. You have spent a lifetime building up your wealth. Your financial decisions often will impact your family for decades or more to come. This means it is important to work with a qualified wealth manager who takes the time to understand your financial situation and long-term goals.
The two basic types of retirement accounts are the 401(k) and the individual retirement account (IRA). While it is easy to confuse the two, they are actually quite different. While a 401(k) is an employee-sponsored account, anyone can open an IRA. This makes it an important product for people who do not have access to a 401(k) or who have already maxed out contributions to that account.
Unfortunately, the contribution limits for an IRA are significantly less than for a 401(k). However, they remain extremely important vehicles for retirement savings because of their tax advantages. An IRA is a way for the government to incentivize retirement savings outside of the employee-sponsored account.
The Various IRA Options Available Today
To open an IRA, individuals only need income from a job that is claimed for tax purposes, which rules out income from Social Security or an investment. When opening an IRA, individuals need to choose between a traditional and a Roth account. Like a 401(k), an IRA comes with certain tax benefits.
With a traditional account, individuals can contribute to the IRA and avoid paying any taxes on those contributions. However, when money is withdrawn from the account, it is taxed at that time. A Roth account involves investment of taxed income. Later, withdrawals can be made without paying any taxes, provided that individuals do not touch the account until they are at least 59.5 years old.
Some forms of specialty IRAs exist. For example, a simplified employee pension (SEP) IRA is geared for small-business owners and self-employed individuals. These accounts operate much like other IRAs except that they have much higher contribution limits.
Small-business owners are required to contribute the same rate to eligible employee accounts and their own. In other words, if the owner saves 10 percent of compensation, 10 percent of an employee’s compensation must also be saved. Employees cannot contribute directly to their own SEP IRA.
Another product is the Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA. This product is designed for companies with 100 or fewer employees. A SIMPLE IRA is easy to set up and allows employees to contribute to their own accounts.
Questions to Think about When Opening an IRA
Individuals can open IRAs through most financial service providers, from banks and credit unions to brokerage firms. Different service providers offer various advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to do some homework before opening an account.
Ideally, the financial institution provides individuals with a wide range of resources, from online education materials to in-person meetings, to help guide choices. These resources can help individuals plan for the future. Also, different providers will charge different types of fees. While some companies charge monthly fees, others have customers pay per trade.
Sometimes, companies will charge both monthly and trading fees, so it is important to understand the full payment scheme. Otherwise, individuals may end up paying a lot more for the service than they originally intend. It is also important to figure out what types of investments can be held in the account.
The point of opening an IRA is to invest money for retirement and have it grow over time. As a result, the exact investment options tend to matter quite a bit—especially for people who like to play an active role in investing decisions. People who prefer a more passive approach to investing should consider the possibility that they may want to get more actively involved in the future.
The Basics of Investing in an IRA
When it comes to investing money through an IRA, people need to consider the tradeoff between risk and return. An IRA should be viewed as a long-term investment. Generally, individuals will use an IRA to invest in stocks, especially if they are more than a decade away from retirement.
The stock market involves more risk, but it also usually yields higher returns than products like a certificate of deposit or a Treasury bond. While it is highly unlikely to lose money with these safe investments, individuals will also not earn much money. Different service providers may have some guidance to offer about how to navigate the creation of an effective portfolio. However, it is important that customers not feel pressured.
Alternately, individuals may want to take a fairly hands-off approach to investing in an IRA. In these cases, they may choose something like a total market index fund, which provides access to the kind of diversity needed to mitigate much of the risk involved in the stock market. These funds choose investments from a range of different geographic locations and across a number of different industries.
Individuals would struggle to obtain such diversification alone, even if investing very large sums of money. This option is for people who are willing to leave their money in accounts for long-term gains without the need to micromanage it. Another option for people who prefer a hands-off approach is a robo-advisor. This service will select investments based on the investor’s preferred cost and risk profile.
For many people, the prospect of saving for the future and planning for retirement is daunting. You may feel like you have no options to increase your savings, or worry that you’ll have to make major sacrifices in retirement. You’re not alone—millions of Americans over the age of 40 lack substantial nest eggs for retirement.
However, don’t despair. There are many strategies to substantially boost your savings, even if you feel behind. People under the age of 40 have even more options to get a jumpstart on retirement savings, considering the power of compounded interest.
Some of the strategies you can use to quickly increase your retirement savings include:
Invest in permanent life insurance.
Most people have heard that they should buy term life insurance and invest the rest of their money, rather than going for the more expensive option of permanent life insurance. This option can work for some people, but many others end up spending the money they would otherwise invest, despite their best intentions. For many retirees, permanent life insurance is a better option.
With permanent life insurance, you’ll pay ongoing premiums, which is a sort of automated savings. Each premium increases the cash value of the policy tax-free, and you can borrow funds against the policy or sometimes withdraw cash from it. In addition, the policy will pay out death benefits, which aren’t subject to income taxes. In other words, permanent life insurance can serve as a way of supplementing your retirement income with non-taxable money. Think of permanent life insurance as a sort of bond or certificate of deposit (CD) that increases in value steadily over time.
Save the raise.
As you advance in you career, you’ll likely receive raises that provide a little extra room in your budget. While a raise can sometimes relieve the pressure on a tight budget, many people can make ends meet without the extra income. Frequently, a raise just leads to a corresponding increase in spending. But what would happen if you saved your raise instead? If you put that extra income into a retirement account rather than buying a nicer car or new home, for example, you’ll set yourself up for a more comfortable retirement where you won’t have to sacrifice much to maintain your standard of living. The best part about this strategy is that you won’t have to make cuts to your budget or feel pinched by the extra savings, since you’ll still enjoy the same monthly income.
Take advantage of Roth savings.
Research has shown that Roth accounts are one of the most underutilized retirement preparation strategies. Many people understand the importance of maxing out a 401(k) and taking advantage of employer matching, but aren’t aware that they can do even more. Roth accounts are funded with after-tax income, but withdrawals during retirement are not subject to taxes. This option is especially good for people who may be in a higher tax bracket in retirement than they currently are. The other value of a Roth account is its potential to diversify your retirement savings. With both tax-deferred and Roth accounts, you can minimize the potential impact of future tax changes.
Purchase a home.
There’s still debate about whether buying or renting makes better financial sense. In some areas, renting a home is certainly cheaper in the short term than a down payment, mortgage, and property taxes. At the same time, research by the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies shows that people who own homes tend to increase their wealth significantly more than renters, even after controlling for socio-economic differences and other factors. This may be because home ownership is a type of forced savings. Every mortgage payment builds equity in your home. You pay down your debt on the home while its value likely increases. Of course, it’s important to think strategically about home ownership and realize it is a long-term investment. If you buy and sell homes frequently, you’ll squander any gains on closing fees and other one-time expenses.
Fund a Health Savings Account.
Not everyone is eligible for a Health Savings Account (HSA), but those who are often fail to use them strategically as they prepare for retirement. Contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible and can be invested to fund qualified healthcare expenses you’ll encounter later in life, including during retirement. Very few people use an HSA for long-term savings, even though the accounts can be rolled over annually. With healthcare costs typically increasing during retirement, it’s important to have money set aside to deal with these expenses. An HSA can help you offset the costs of healthcare without needing to rely on your primary sources of income. Ideally, you would start investing in an HSA early and invest the money so that it grows over time and serves as a sort of insurance.
Ideally, retirement is a time when people relax and enjoy their lives, but following bad financial advice or not planning enough can keep you from fulfilling your retirement dreams. While it is imperative to understand the key financial steps to take in preparation for retirement, it is equally as important to know the errors that many people make. Knowing these common pitfalls can help you to ensure that you stay on the right track as you plan for retirement.
Read on for some of the most common financial mistakes that people make in relation to retirement:
Paying off a mortgage.
People often want to enter retirement with as little debt as possible. Many think that paying off their biggest monthly expenses, such as their mortgage, early is the quickest way to free up more money. However, home loans tend to have very low interest rates—paying off a mortgage now will not save you much in the long run. In fact, it may be best to refinance your home at a low rate and invest the money that you would have otherwise used to pay off the home loan early.
You should always think about interest rates in relation to debt and strive to get rid of high-interest debt, such as credit cards, first. When it comes to low-interest debt, paying it off is not always the best decision since your money can be invested with a return higher that the interest on the loan.
Investing in variable annuities.
An annuity is a great investment tool for retirees since it provides monthly payouts, sort of like a pension. The most common type of annuity is deferred, which means there is a set payout upon maturity.
However, many people select variable annuities, which invest in the market. While the return can prove higher with variable annuities, they are also vulnerable to market fluctuations and can fees as high as 3 percent. These fees quickly eat into retirement savings, especially when that loss is compounded over the years. For these reasons, variable annuities can actually detract from retirement savings.
Neglecting emergency funds.
Everyone needs an emergency fund, even retirees. In fact, emergency funds become even more important during retirement, a time when many people live on a fixed income.
Emergency funds also prevent you from dipping into retirement accounts, such as a 401(k), during a financial emergency. Borrowing from retirement comes with massive penalties and fees, and doing it even once can significantly lower your overall savings (as the money that would otherwise compound over the years has been taken out). The makeup of an emergency fund will vary according to household, but a good general rule of thumb is to have enough saved to cover living expenses for at least a few months.
Taking Social Security benefits too early.
Too many retirees fail to understand how the value of Social Security benefits changes depending on when they are taken. Though you can get 100 percent of your Social Security benefit at age 66 or 67 (depending on birth year), it pays to wait even longer if you do not have a great financial need. Benefits continue to increase beyond 100 percent after full retirement age until you turn 70 (at that point, it will not grow anymore). Waiting means a significantly higher monthly benefit, and that amount will remain the same for as long as you remain living. The increase in payout starts to outweigh the cost of delaying for anyone who lives past age 82.
Purchasing a timeshare.
Many retirees imagine themselves using a timeshare frequently enough to make the purchase worth it. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. In addition to the upfront cost of the timeshare, you will also need to pay annual fees to maintain the property. Even if you do use your timeshare frequently, the fees may not be any cheaper than simply renting a vacation home, an option that provides much more flexibility. Also, timeshares are not very liquid, so getting rid of them can be quite difficult.
In general, retirees should avoid timeshares altogether unless they get them at a significant discount from a third party and are sure they will use them regularly.
Retiring too early.
Too often, people retire before they are ready because they feel some sort of pressure to do so. Taking the time to work a few more years can keep you from getting bored, and it can also help you save more money for retirement. Then, when you do retire, you will have more spending money to engage in fun activities, like traveling. While you may have expectations about when you should retire, it’s important to be realistic about savings and work for a few more years, if you can.