When planning for retirement, it’s essential to consider multiple sources of income. Social Security may not be as beneficial as expected, particularly after taxes. Outside of pouring money into savings, pre-retirees should look into options for non-taxable income well before the time comes to call it quits.
Here are four ways to start building towards a tax-free future in retirement.
One of the best options for retirees looking for tax-free income is the Roth IRA. Unlike most other retirement plans, a Roth IRA grants a tax break on withdrawals rather than contributions. Direct contributions can be withdrawn at any time, without worry of tax or penalty. Earnings can be withdrawn tax-free as well, after a five-year period, and for individuals 59 and a half years of age or older.
The Roth IRA has advantages over alternative tax-free options such as municipal bonds. Though munis have no income limit, the interest they pay is generally less than taxable bonds, and they may be subject to state income taxes. Also, municipal bonds may be counted as a source of income for early recipients of Social Security, potentially hurting their pay if they make $15,000 or more.
Unfortunately, the Roth IRA has income limits that disqualify some people from making contributions. Many people hold off until after retirement when they enter a lower income bracket, though financial experts advise making contributions as early as possible for greater benefits down the line.
Roth 401(k), 403 (b):
Plans such as the 401(k) can accumulate huge savings as the employer will match whatever the employee contributes. The IRS also allows for Roth contributions to 401(k) and 403(b) accounts. While the Roth IRA has an annual contribution limit of $5,000 or $6,000 (depending on age), the limits on Roth 401(k) contributions are much higher and are not restricted by income eligibility.
Regardless, pre-retirees should look to max out their contributions to company-sponsored plans each year. It will pay off in the future.
Health savings account:
Some employers offer an HSA-qualified health plan, allowing employees to contribute tax-deductible funds that roll over and accumulate each year. These funds can be withdrawn at a later date to pay for various medical procedures, some of which may not be covered by health insurance.
A health savings account can eventually become a useful source of tax-free retirement income as the funds can be used as reimbursements for past medical expenses, or to pay for current Medicare premiums and health costs. Withdrawals are not subject to income taxation if made for qualified medical expenses.
Though most people look at life insurance as something that will only be of benefit after they pass on, it can also become a potential source of retirement income.
A life insurance retirement plan (LIRP) allows owners to contribute funds beyond that required by the plan’s premiums and later withdraw the excess cash tax-free.
According to expert Kevin Kimbrough of Saybrus Partners, these funds accumulate similar to an annuity but come with an added benefit.
“Unlike the annuity, you’re able to take your basis out first and that comes out tax free,” said Kimbrough to ThinkAdvisor. “When you get into the gains, you’re able to switch over and start taking policy loans against the income-tax-free death benefit.”
This method is usually better suited for higher earners, due to the fees associated with such an investment. It’s highly advisable that pre-retirees examine their portfolio, research and adopt a plan best suited for their particular circumstances.
“There are only two options in retirement: You can be working for your money or your money can be working for you. You have to be realistic and ask yourself if you really can retire when you’d like,” said finance advisor Christopher Kimball to Turbotax. “During retirement, it is critical to monitor your investments and current tax law. You should be positioned to take money from whatever ‘bucket’ is most beneficial at the time.”
Did you know that you will probably live longer than you think? Average life expectancy has grown by three months every year from 1840 to 2007 and shows no signs of slowing down. Family history is also not necessarily indicative of how long someone may live. Lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise can have a dramatic impact on the length of life.
Longer lifespans mean we have more time to enjoy the things and people we love most. But they also pose a unique challenge. What is the best method to save enough money to retire and live comfortably and worry-free?
In order to help you choose the best options for you, we have put together information on the pros and cons of some of the most popular, “tried and true” retirement investment strategies and highlighted their effectiveness in today’s life changing times.
Fixed and Hybrid Annuities
Annuities are a great way to save for retirement because they can potentially generate interest over a fixed time on a principal amount that is guaranteed. Because you are not required to annuitize—to receive payments at a regular interval from the annuity—certain kinds of annuities also offer the flexibility to leave money for your heirs.
- Straight Life
This is the simplest, least expensive annuity. It pays benefits until the death of the annuitant—the person receiving the funds—without an option to appoint a beneficiary.
- Life with a Guaranteed Term
This somewhat more expensive option allows the annuitant to designate a beneficiary. If the annuitant dies within the guaranteed term, the beneficiary will receive the remainder of the annuity in one lump sum.
- Substandard Health
This type of annuity is advantageous for someone with a serious health condition. Although the annuity will cost more the less the annuitant is expected to live, the payouts are larger than in an annuity in which the annuitant is expected to live a long time.
- Joint Life with Last Survivor
This annuity allows the annuitant to select a beneficiary who will receive payments regardless of whether the annuitant dies within a certain term. However, because of the added insurance component of this product, this is the most expensive fixed annuity.
- Hybrid (a.k.a. Fixed Indexed)
Fixed indexed annuities are known as hybrids because they invest your principal in the market, allowing for higher rates of return, but still guarantee the principal amount. Therefore, even if the annuity does not generate any additional interest because the market tumbles, your initial investment remains safe.
Traditional and/or Roth IRAs
Investment retirement accounts are an excellent, tax-efficient tool for setting funds aside.
People who contribute to a traditional IRA are able to deduct the contribution from their annual federal and state income taxes. However, once they withdraw funds in retirement, the withdrawal will be taxed as income. Conversely, contributions to Roth IRAs are not tax deductible but future withdrawals won’t be taxed.
Choosing the right IRA depends on several factors. Roth IRAs have strict and specific income requirements. Additionally, depending on the difference between the current and potential future tax rate, one type of IRA may be more advantageous than the other. Finally, traditional IRAs require you to take mandatory taxable distributions beginning at age 70½ whereas Roth IRAs do not require you to take any money.
A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement fund that invests your money in order to generate more. This savings strategy may yield excellent benefits but may also be the riskiest option.
The amount of your annual contribution to your 401(k) is tax deductible. Additionally, many employers will match your contribution up to a certain amount—usually 3% of your annual income—essentially giving you “free” money.
First, the IRS sets caps on the annual amount you can put into your 401(k).
After you retire, withdrawals are taxed as income and may be taxed at a higher rate than your present tax rate. You may also not be able to withdraw your employer’s contributions until after the vesting period concludes.
Additionally, should you find yourself in need of money before the age of 59½, you will be subject to a 10% withdrawal fee.
Finally, 401(k)s grow your money by investing it in mutual funds. Whenever money is invested in such fashion, there is a risk that stocks can crash and that your 401(k) will lose significant value. Fortunately, you have full control over how your money is invested, so this risk can be minimized with some education about the market and less risky investment strategies.
According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 37 percent of workers are confident that they have enough money saved up for retirement. The EBRI’s 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey reveals confidence about having enough money for retirement has increased steadily after reaching record lows between 2009 and 2013, but today’s numbers reveal that less than half of working America is still unsettled or even anxious about their financial future.
Fortunately, there are several attractive options available for soon-to-be retirees. Those who are within a decade or two of retirement may be especially interested in purchasing annuities, which can be a valuable addition to retirement planning.
What Are Annuities?
Annuities are a unique type of financial product because unlike savings and investments you would set up with a bank, annuities are sold by insurance companies and financial institutions. When you buy an annuity, you are socking away money for a few years that you don’t expect to touch until the surrender period — the length of the annuity — is over. Although, most annuities allow up to 10% to be withdrawn annually during the surrender period.
One of the reasons why people buy Fixed Indexed Annuities is because they are looking for a no-risk or low-risk investment opportunity and want to protect their hard-earned money from income taxes. If you have already made your full contributions to 401(k) plans and IRAs and have some extra money available for retirement, you may consider purchasing an annuity. You can buy an annuity for several thousand dollars and earn tax-free interest as long as you don’t make any withdrawals during the surrender period. Of course, you will need to consider the fee structure and overall cost of your annuity before signing the dotted line. In many cases, annuities earn higher interest than bank CDs and savings accounts.
Generating Income with Annuities
You get to play investor when purchasing annuities and can choose from several different types — including multi-year fixed income annuities (MYGA) where you receive a guaranteed payout or a variable annuity where you receive a payout based on performance. Variable annuities, naturally, are riskier investments but offer more attractive returns.
If you want to receive payments as soon as you make your investment because you are very close to retirement or are already retired, an immediate annuity will be your best option. If you are comfortable leaving your account alone to earn interest that you can enjoy later, you can purchase a deferred annuity to defer your payment to a certain time.
When exploring different types of annuities, it’s important to consider what type of insurance company is guaranteeing the plan, what types of costs are involved, and what stipulations there are for termination of your annuity contract.
As many Americans struggle with the idea of not having enough saved up for retirement or wonder if they will be able to get by on Social Security and pension funds during retirement, it’s never too late to start planning for the future. If you are looking for financial products for our retirement strategy, don’t overlook the benefits of annuities. Tax-free earnings and flexible buying and earning options make annuities an attractive option for soon-to-be retirees and those who are already in their retirement years.
An HSBC survey found that only 40 percent of Americans are regularly saving money for their retirement. Additionally, two other surveys from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Employee Benefit and Research Institute (EBRI), reveal that only about 50 percent of those Americans have focused retirement goals and around 40 percent are saving for a realistic, sustainable standard of living.
To many, the biggest obstacle is obtaining accurate advice about the options, risks, and benefits of retirement savings, but that is just one of the problems facing retirees today. There are 5 other major struggles:
No Employer 401(k)
An EBRI analysis of a recent Census Bureau data reported that under 50 percent of employed Americans have access to a retirement plan at work. Of those that do have access to a 401(k), only about 40 percent participate. According to President & CEO of EBRI Dallas Salisbury, this 40 percent are really missing out. “Those who have workplace programs and are participating, they are doing significantly better than those who are not.”
If you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, we can’t stress enough what a valuable asset that is to your future. For those who don’t have this option, IRAs are a good place to put aside money.
Unforeseen Life Events
Even retirees who are careful about for their futures face unexpected life events such as deaths, life-threatening illnesses, and accidents. When this happens, what we often see is retirees ceasing to contribute to their accounts, or borrowing against their retirement due to costs associated with these unforeseen events. According to the HSBC, 27 percent who face these struggles say they would borrow against their savings, 13 percent were prevented from working due to accident or illness, and 6 percent ceased working to care for a spouse, therefore unable to afford monthly contributions.
Executive VP of retail banking and wealth management at HSBC Bank USA Andy Ireland reportedly stated that though retirement funds are a great nest egg for the future, they can also be a liability when life emergencies happen.
“Retirement savings are vulnerable to being raided to deal with serious financial hardship resulting from unforeseen life events.”
According to data from NerdWallet, the average American household has over $15K of credit card debt and over $130K in total debt. If broken down per year, each household is paying out nearly $7K in interest alone. To compound the debt problem further, the median household income has shown negligible gains while household debt continues to rise.
When retirees are trapped in this cycle of debt, they are often too busy keeping up with credit card, mortgage, and other varying payments to contribute to retirement funds. For those who are buried in debt, there are ways to effectively dig out as detailed in our previous blog post 6 Ways To Improve Your Relationship To Your Money. Though getting out of debt is no small feat, taking little steps right away can lead to a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Underemployment” and Employment Instability
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment has fallen to a 5 percent, but the statistics don’t tell the whole story. “Underemployed” individuals (those who can’t find full-time employment) are actually at 10 percent. Since the financial recession in 2008, many Americans are struggling to reach financial stability, often living hand-to-mouth and unable to save.
According to an article on MarketWatch:
“Those who once enjoyed a modicum of financial stability have settled into a new normal of ongoing financial vulnerability, while the struggles of those who were financially insecure before the recession have only deepened.The number of households below the poverty line has barely budged and millions of low- and moderate-income people live paycheck to paycheck.”
GoBankingRates research revealed that 1 in 3 Americans have a startling zero dollars saved up for retirement. In other words, one of the biggest obstacles to a robust retirement fund is the retiree.
Many retirees consider thinking about setting up retirement funds as an obstacle. This thinking is most likely lack of education according the GoBankingRates’ Kristen Bonner. Finding and obtaining that education can be a difficult challenge, especially for Americans who are already facing all the other obstacles we’ve just detailed. The daunting task of navigating the options of retirement can seem impossible; but employing a trustworthy retirement advisor greatly decreases the stress.
When attempting to get better at ensuring you will have a better quality of life in retirement age, obstacles can come in many forms, but the most detrimental is the belief that getting information about your options is impossible. If a retiree can first ask for help from a reliable source, preparation to combat the other obstacles can begin.
Many people spend most of their working years setting aside money in a retirement account. Whether this happens in the form of independent 401(k) contributions, employer benefits, IRAs, pension plans, or a combination of savings strategies, Americans have plenty of options available to build up their retirement fund during their working years. However, a recent GoBankingRates survey reveals that 23% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement and one-third of Americans report that they have no retirement savings at all. This means more than half of Americans have barely saved anything for retirement. So how confident are today’s retirees about their financial future? Here’s a closer look:
Making the Decision to Retire
One of the first things Americans need to consider as they approach retirement age is when they want to officially retire, or stop working and earning a paycheck. This is where the retiree would live off Social Security benefits, a pension plan, and any personal savings they have accumulated over the years. The full retirement age is 67 for those who were born in 1960 or later but it’s important to note that those who delay retirement until age 70 can qualify for more Social Security benefits. Deciding when to retire to claim Social Security benefits and when to stop earning money is important for financial planning since these decisions will influence how much money the retiree can save and enjoy during retirement.
Building Retirement Savings
Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and 401(k) accounts are some of the most popular types of retirement plans among working Americans but there are several other options available for those looking to generate a steady stream of income through their retirement years. Getting the maximum 401(k) match from an employer through all working years is a smart way to build up retirement savings. Working for employers that contribute to Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plans and Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension (SARSEP) Plans is another way to increase retirement savings.
Contributing to a Traditional or Roth IRA consistently over several years and decades will provide an attractive return on investment as long as the account holder doesn’t make any early withdrawals. Buying fixed-rate annuities before reaching retirement age or even during retirement can help to secure a guaranteed revenue stream for years to come. While these annuities provide a fixed income stream, it’s important to keep in mind that they will not adjust for inflation over the years. Those who want to take advantage of any signs of growth in the market may fare better with variable annuities. Working with an experienced financial planner can help to determine investment priorities and create an attractive retirement portfolio.
Low Confidence in Retirement
AARP recommends calculating living costs at 70 to 80 percent of preretirement income but many financial planners suggest planning for 100 percent of preretirement income for at least the first 10 years after leaving the workforce. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 24% of workers were not at all confident that they had saved enough money for retirement while 36% were somewhat confident, as of 2014. Whether they’ve lived a long life of struggling financially and never made room for savings or simply had other financial priorities, it’s clear that many retirees cannot expect to live comfortably without a paycheck or other sources of income. Some may end up depending on family members for financial support while others will continue working during retirement to pay for basic expenses.
Individuals approaching retirement age who plan to work and earn through their retirement years may be able to recover any missed savings opportunities from their youth. Prioritizing finances and making an effort to cut costs can also help to reduce living expenses and maximize a retiree’s savings potential. With so many retirees dissatisfied with their retirement nest egg — and many without any retirement savings at all — it’s important for all Americans to make retirement planning a priority at an early age.