Skip to content

Recent Articles

10
Nov

IRA and Retirement Plan Limits for 2018

IRA contribution limits

The maximum amount you can contribute to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA in 2018 is $5,500 (or 100% of your earned income, if less), unchanged from 2017. The maximum catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older remains at $1,000. You can contribute to both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA in 2018, but your total contributions can’t exceed these annual limits.

Traditional IRA income limits

The income limits for determining the deductibility of traditional IRA contributions in 2018 have increased. If your filing status is single or head of household, you can fully deduct your IRA contribution up to $5,500 in 2018 if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $63,000 or less (up from $62,000 in 2017). If you’re married and filing a joint return, you can fully deduct up to $5,500 in 2018 if your MAGI is $101,000 or less (up from $99,000 in 2017). Note that these figures assume you are covered by a retirement plan at work.

If your 2018 federal income tax filing status is: Your IRA deduction is limited if your MAGI is between: Your deduction is eliminated if your MAGI is:
Single or head of household $63,000 and $73,000 $73,000 or more
Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) $101,000 and $121,000 (combined) $121,000 or more (combined)
Married filing separately $0 and $10,000 $10,000 or more

If you’re not covered by an employer plan but your spouse is, and you file a joint return, your deduction is limited if your MAGI is $189,000 to $199,000 (up from $186,000 to $196,000 in 2017), and eliminated if your MAGI exceeds $199,000. Single filers, head-of-household filers, and married joint filers who are not covered by an employer plan can deduct the full amount of their contributions.

Roth IRA income limits

The income limits for determining how much you can contribute to a Roth IRA have also increased for 2018. If your filing status is single or head of household, you can contribute the full $5,500 to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is $120,000 or less (up from $118,000 in 2017). And if you’re married and filing a joint return, you can make a full contribution if your MAGI is $189,000 or less (up from $186,000 in 2017). (Again, contributions can’t exceed 100% of your earned income.)

If your 2018 federal income tax filing status is: Your Roth IRA contribution is limited if your MAGI is: You cannot contribute to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is:
Single or head of household More than $120,000 but under $135,000 $135,000 or more
Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) More than $189,000 but under $199,000 (combined) $199,000 or more (combined)
Married filing separately More than $0 but under $10,000 $10,000 or more

Employer retirement plans

Most of the significant employer retirement plan limits for 2018 have also increased. The maximum amount you can contribute (your “elective deferrals”) to a 401(k) plan is $18,500, up from $18,000 in 2017. This limit also applies to 403(b) and 457(b) plans, as well as the Federal Thrift Plan. If you’re age 50 or older, you can also make catch-up contributions of up to $6,000 to these plans in 2018. (Special catch-up limits apply to certain participants in 403(b) and 457(b) plans.)

If you participate in more than one retirement plan, your total elective deferrals can’t exceed the annual limit ($18,500 in 2018 plus any applicable catch-up contributions). Deferrals to 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and SIMPLE plans are included in this aggregate limit, but deferrals to Section 457(b) plans are not. For example, if you participate in both a 403(b) plan and a 457(b) plan, you can defer the full dollar limit to each plan — a total of $37,000 in 2018 (plus any catch-up contributions).

The amount you can contribute to a SIMPLE IRA or SIMPLE 401(k) plan remains unchanged at $12,500, and the catch-up limit for those age 50 or older remains at $3,000.

Plan type: Annual dollar limit: Catch-up limit:
401(k), 403(b), governmental 457(b), Federal Thrift Plan $18,500 $6,000
SIMPLE plans $12,500 $3,000

Note: Contributions can’t exceed 100% of your income.

The maximum amount that can be allocated to your account in a defined contribution plan (for example, a 401(k) plan or profit-sharing plan) in 2018 is $55,000, up from $54,000 in 2017, plus age 50 catch-up contributions. (This includes both your contributions and your employer’s contributions. Special rules apply if your employer sponsors more than one retirement plan.)

Finally, the maximum amount of compensation that can be taken into account in determining benefits for most plans in 2018 is $275,000 (up from $270,000 in 2017), and the dollar threshold for determining highly compensated employees (when 2018 is the look-back year) remains unchanged at $120,000.

25
Oct

November 1 Begins Open Enrollment for Health Insurance Marketplaces

Beginning on November 1, 2017, individuals (including their families) may apply for new health insurance or switch to a different health-care plan through a Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The open enrollment period for 2018 health coverage ends on December 15, 2017.

Individuals can use Health Insurance Marketplaces to compare health plans for benefits and price and to select a plan that fits their needs. Individuals have until December 15, 2017, to enroll in or change plans for new coverage to start January 1, 2018. For those who fail to meet the December 15 deadline, the only way to enroll in a Marketplace health plan is by qualifying for a special enrollment period, which is the 60-day period following certain life events that involve a change in  family status (for example, marriage or birth of a child) or loss of other health coverage. Job-based plans must provide a special enrollment period of 30 days. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended the open enrollment period to December 31, 2017 for victims of  Hurricanes Irma and Harvey who resided in one of the counties that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared eligible for individual or public assistance.

Changes to open enrollment

New HHS regulations included changes to the open enrollment period and requirements for individuals looking to purchase health insurance through Health Insurance Marketplaces. Here is a summary of the changes, effective for 2018:

  • The open enrollment period for 2018 is cut in half and runs from November 1 through December 15, 2017. Open enrollment during prior years extended from November 1 to January 31.
  • Individuals attempting to enroll during special enrollment periods must provide verification through documentation of a qualifying event. Previously, individuals merely had to attest to changing circumstances that made them eligible to apply during special enrollment periods.
  • Some states have elected to extend open enrollment in light of the regulation. In these states, which run their own insurance marketplaces, open enrollment begins on November 1 and extends beyond December 15 as follows: California (1/31/2018); Colorado (1/12/2018); District of Columbia (1/31/2018); Massachusetts (1/23/2018); Minnesota (1/14/2018); New York (1/31/2018); Rhode Island (12/31/2017); and Washington (1/15/2018).

Other changes to the ACA

Some of the significant changes made to the ACA by the Trump administration include the following:

  • Insurers are now permitted, but not required, to collect unpaid premiums for prior health insurance coverage before enrolling an applicant in a new health plan.
  • Under the ACA, health plans are identified as bronze, silver, gold, and platinum based on the amount of coverage offered and the plan cost. For example, a silver plan was designed to cover at least 70% of a typical person’s medical expenses, while a gold plan would cover 80%. Plans could vary by 2%. The new regulation expands the coverage variation, such that a silver plan can cover between 66% and 72% of an individual’s medical costs.
  • Employers are exempt from the mandate requiring birth control coverage in health insurance plans based on the employer’s sincerely held religious beliefs or on moral convictions. Employers that do not provide coverage only need to notify their employees of their decision.
  • The President has indicated that the federal government will cease making cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers to reimburse them for discounts they give policyholders with incomes under 250% of the federal poverty level. However, attempts to extend funding by congressional action are being considered.

More changes to come?

The situation regarding health care, particularly the ACA, is very fluid and changing. Attempts to repeal and replace the ACA have failed to date. The President, via executive order, has outlined plans to allow access to association health plans, where small businesses and individuals can group together to buy plans across state lines; expand short-term limited duration health insurance not subject to ACA benefit requirements; and expand the use of health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) by employers to provide workers with tax-free funds to pay for health-care costs, primarily deductibles and copays. Whether  and how these proposals come to fruition remains to be seen.

26
Sep

Medicare Open Enrollment Begins October 15

What is the Medicare open enrollment period?

The Medicare open enrollment period is the time during which people with Medicare can make new choices and pick plans that work best for them. Each year, Medicare plans typically change what the plans cost and cover. In addition, your health-care needs may have changed over the past year. The open enrollment period is your opportunity to switch Medicare health and prescription drug plans to better suit your needs.

When does the open enrollment period start?

The Medicare open enrollment period begins on October 15 and runs through December 7. Any changes made during open enrollment are effective as of January 1, 2018.

During the open enrollment period, you can:

  • Join a Medicare Prescription Drug (Part D) Plan
  • Switch from one Part D plan to another Part D plan
  • Drop your Part D coverage altogether
  • Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare
  • Change from one Medicare Advantage Plan to a different Medicare Advantage Plan
  • Change from a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that does offer prescription drug coverage

What should you do?

Now is a good time to review your current Medicare plan. As part of the evaluation, you may want to consider several factors. For instance, are you satisfied with the coverage and level of care you’re receiving with your current plan? Are your premium costs or out-of-pocket expenses too high? Has your health changed, or do you anticipate needing medical care or treatment?

Open enrollment period is the time to determine whether your current plan will cover your treatment and what your potential out-of-pocket costs may be. If your current plan doesn’t meet your health-care needs or fit within your budget, you can switch to a plan that may work better for you.

What’s new in 2018?

The initial deductible for Part D prescription drug plans increases by $5 to $405 in 2018. Also, most Part D plans have a temporary limit on what a particular plan will cover for prescription drugs. In 2018, this gap in coverage (also called the “donut hole”) begins after you and your drug plan have spent $3,750 on covered drugs — a $50 increase over the 2017 initial coverage limit. It ends after you have spent $5,000 out-of-pocket, after which catastrophic coverage begins. However, part of the Affordable Care Act gradually closes this gap by reducing your out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions purchased in the coverage gap. In 2018, you’ll pay 35% of the cost for brand-name drugs in the coverage gap (65% discount) and 44% (56% discount) of the cost for generic drugs in the coverage gap. Each succeeding year, out-of-pocket prescription drug costs in the coverage gap continue to decrease until 2020, when you’ll pay 25% for covered brand-name and generic drugs in the gap.

Medicare beneficiaries who file individual tax returns with income that is greater than $85,000, and beneficiaries who file joint tax returns with income that is greater than $170,000, pay an additional monthly premium or Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) for their Medicare Part D prescription drug plan coverage. In 2018, some of these beneficiaries will see their IRMAA increase by as much as 58%, while other beneficiaries may actually see their IRMAA drop. For more information, visit the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website, https://www.cms.gov/.

Where can you get more information?

Determining what coverage you have now and comparing it to other Medicare plans can be confusing and complicated. Pay attention to notices you receive from Medicare and from your plan, and take advantage of help available by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or by visiting the Medicare website, https://www.medicare.gov/.

13
Sep

The Equifax Data Breach

On September 7, 2017, Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting agencies, announced a massive data security breach that exposed vital personal identification data— including names, addresses, birth-dates, and Social Security numbers on as many as 143 million consumers, roughly 55% of Americans age 18 and older.1

This data breach was especially egregious because the company reportedly first learned of the breach on July 29 and waited roughly six weeks before making it public (hackers first gained access between mid-May and July) and three senior Equifax executives reportedly sold shares of the company worth nearly $2 million before the breach was announced. Moreover, consumers don’t choose to do business or share their data with Equifax; rather, Equifax — along with TransUnion and Experian, the other two major credit reporting agencies  — unilaterally monitors the financial health of consumers and supplies that data to potential lenders without a consumer’s approval or consent.2

Equifax has faced widespread criticism following its disclosure of the hack, both for the breach itself and for its response, particularly the website it established for consumers to check if they may have been affected. Both the FBI and Congress are investigating the breach.3 In the meantime, here are answers to questions you might have.

1. What’s the deal with the website Equifax has set up for consumers?

Equifax has set up a website, equifaxsecurity2017.com, where consumers can check if they’ve been affected by the breach. Once on the site, click on the button “Potential Impact” at the bottom of the main page. You then need to click on “Check Potential Impact,” where you will be asked to provide your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number — a request that was widely mocked on social media as being too intrusive when the standard request is for only the last four digits.

Equifax has stated that regardless of whether your information may have been affected, everyone has the option to sign up on the website for one free year of credit monitoring and identify theft protection. You can do so by clicking the “Enroll” button at the bottom of the screen. Note: Just clicking this button does not mean you’re actually enrolled, however. You must follow the instructions to go through an actual enrollment process with TrustedID Premier to officially enroll.

More wrath was directed at Equifax when some eagle-eyed observers noted that enrolling in the free year of credit protection with TrustedID Premier meant that consumers gave up the right to join any class-action lawsuit against the company and agreed to be bound by arbitration. But an Equifax spokesperson has since stated that the binding arbitration clause related only to the one year of free credit monitoring and not the breach itself; Equifax has since removed that language from its site.4

2. What is TrustedID Premier?

Equifax’s  response to the data breach is to offer consumers one free year of credit file monitoring services through TrustedID Premier. This includes monitoring reports generated by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion; the ability to lock and unlock Equifax credit reports with a credit freeze; identity theft insurance; and Social Security number monitoring.

Consumers who choose to enroll in this service will need to provide a valid email address and additional information to verify their identity. A few days after enrolling, consumers will receive an email with a link to activate TrustedID Premier. The enrollment period ends November 21.  After the one free year is up, consumers will not be automatically charged or enrolled in further monitoring; they will need to sign up again if they so choose (some initial reports stated that consumers would be automatically re-enrolled after the first year).5

3. What other steps can I take?

It is always a good idea to monitor your own personal information and be on the lookout for identity theft. Here are specific additional steps you can take:

  • Fraud alerts: Your first step should be to establish fraud alerts with the three major credit reporting agencies. This will alert you if someone tries to apply for credit in your name. You can also set up fraud alerts for your credit and debit cards.
  • Credit freezes: A credit freeze will lock your credit files so that only companies you already do business with will have access to them. This means that if a thief shows up at a faraway bank and tries to apply for credit in your name using your address and Social Security number, the bank won’t be able to access your credit report. (However, a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making changes to your existing accounts.) Initially, consumers who tried to set up credit freezes with Equifax discovered they had to pay for it, but after a public thrashing Equifax announced that it would waive all fees for the next 30 days (starting September 12) for consumers who want to freeze their Equifax credit files.6 Before freezing your credit reports, though, it’s wise to check them first. Also keep in mind that if you want to apply for credit with a new financial institution in the future, or you are opening a new bank account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance, you will need to unlock or “thaw” the credit freeze.
  • Credit reports: You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit agencies once every 12 months by requesting the reports at com or by calling toll-free 877-322-8228. Because the Equifax breach could have long-term consequences, it’s a good idea to start checking your report as part of your regular financial routine for the next few years.
  • Bank and credit card statements: Review your financial statements regularly and look for any transaction that seems amiss. Take advantage of any alert features so that you are notified when suspicious activity is detected. Your vigilance is an essential tool in fighting identity theft.

4. How can I get more information from Equifax?

Consumers with additional questions for Equifax can call the company’s dedicated call center at 866-447-7559. The call center is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern time. Equifax said it is experiencing high call volumes but is working diligently to respond to all consumers.7

1, 3-5,7) The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2017, September 10, 2017

2) CNNMoney, September 8, 2017

6) The New York Times, September 12, 2017

28
Aug

Health Savings Accounts: Are They Just What the Doctor Ordered?

Are health insurance premiums taking too big of a bite out of your budget? Do you wish you had better control over how you spend your health-care dollars? If so, you may be interested in an alternative to traditional health insurance called a health savings account (HSA).

How does this health-care option work?

An HSA is a tax-advantaged account that’s paired with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Let’s look at how an HSA works with an HDHP to enable you to cover your current health-care costs and also save for your future needs.

Before opening an HSA, you must first enroll in an HDHP, either on your own or through your employer. An HDHP is “catastrophic” health coverage that pays benefits only after you’ve satisfied a high annual deductible. (Some preventative care, such as routine physicals, may be covered without being subject to the deductible). For 2017, the annual deductible for an HSA-qualified HDHP must be at least $1,300 for individual coverage and $2,600 for family coverage. However, your deductible may be higher, depending on the plan.

Once you’ve satisfied your deductible, the HDHP will provide comprehensive coverage for your medical expenses (though you may continue to owe co-payments or coinsurance costs until you reach your plan’s annual out-of-pocket limit). A qualifying HDHP must limit annual out-of-pocket expenses (including the deductible) to no more than $6,550 for individual coverage and $13,100 for family coverage for 2017. Once this limit is reached, the HDHP will cover 100% of your costs, as outlined in your policy.

Because you’re shouldering a greater portion of your health-care costs, you’ll usually pay a much lower premium for an HDHP than for traditional health insurance, allowing you to contribute the premium dollars you’re saving to your HSA. Your employer may also contribute to your HSA, or pay part of your HDHP premium. Then, when you need medical care, you can withdraw HSA funds to cover your expenses, or opt to pay your costs out-of-pocket if you want to save your account funds.

An HSA can be a powerful savings tool. Because there’s no “use it or lose it” provision, funds roll over from year to year. And the account is yours, so you can keep it even if you change employers or lose your job. If your health expenses are relatively low, you may be able to build up a significant balance in your HSA over time. You can even let your money grow until retirement, when your health expenses are likely to be substantial. However, HSAs aren’t foolproof. If you have relatively high health expenses (especially within the first year or two of opening your account, before you’ve built up a balance), you could deplete your HSA or even face a shortfall.

How can an HSA help you save on taxes?

HSAs offer several valuable tax benefits:

  • You may be able to make pretax contributions via payroll deduction through your employer, reducing your current income tax.
  • If you make contributions on your own using after-tax dollars, they’re deductible from your federal income tax (and perhaps from your state income tax) whether you itemize or not. You can also deduct contributions made on your behalf by family members.
  • Contributions to your HSA, and any interest or earnings, grow tax deferred.
  • Contributions and any earnings you withdraw will be tax free if they’re used to pay qualified medical expenses.

Consult a tax professional if you have questions about the tax advantages offered by an HSA.

Can anyone open an HSA?

Any individual with qualifying HDHP coverage can open an HSA. However, you won’t be eligible to open an HSA if you’re already covered by another health plan (although some specialized health plans are exempt from this provision). You’re also out of luck if you’re 65 and enrolled in Medicare or if you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

How much can you contribute to an HSA?

For 2017, you can contribute up to $3,400 for individual coverage and $6,750 for family coverage. This annual limit applies to all contributions, whether they’re made by you, your employer, or your family members. You can make contributions up to April 15th of the following year (i.e., you can make 2016 contributions up to April 15, 2017). If you’re 55 or older, you may also be eligible to make “catch-up contributions” to your HSA, but you can’t contribute anything once you reach age 65 and enroll in Medicare.

Can you invest your HSA funds?

HSAs typically offer several savings and investment options. These may include interest-earning savings, checking, and money market accounts, or investments such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that offer the potential to earn higher returns but carry more risk (including the risk of loss of principal). Make sure that you carefully consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with each option before investing. A financial professional can help you decide which savings or investment options are appropriate.

How can you use your HSA funds?

You can use your HSA funds for many types of health-care expenses, including prescription drugs, eyeglasses, deductibles, and co-payments. Although you can’t use funds to pay regular health insurance premiums, you can withdraw money to pay for specialized types of insurance such as long-term care insurance. IRS Publication 502 contains a list of allowable expenses.

There’s no rule against using your HSA funds for expenses that aren’t health-care related, but watch out–you’ll pay a 20% penalty if you withdraw money and use it for nonqualified expenses, and you’ll owe income taxes as well. Once you reach age 65, however, this penalty no longer applies, though you’ll owe income taxes on any money you withdraw that isn’t used for qualified medical expenses.

Questions to consider

  • How much will you save on your health insurance premium by enrolling in an HDHP? If you’re currently paying a high premium for individual health insurance (perhaps because you’re self-employed), your savings will be greater than if you currently have group coverage and your employer is paying a substantial portion of the premium.
  • What will your annual out-of-pocket costs be under the HDHP you’re considering? Estimate these based on your current health expenses. The lower your costs, the easier it may be to accumulate HSA funds.
  • How much can you afford to contribute to your HSA every year? Contributing as much as you can on a regular basis is key to building up a cushion against future expenses.
  • Will your employer contribute to your HSA? Employer contributions can help offset the increased financial risk that you’re assuming by enrolling in an HDHP rather than traditional employer-sponsored health insurance.
  • Are you willing to take on more responsibility for your own health care? For example, to achieve the maximum cost savings, you may need to research costs and negotiate fees with health providers when paying out-of-pocket.
  • How does the coverage provided by the HDHP compare with your current health plan? Don’t sacrifice coverage to save money. Read all plan materials to make sure you understand benefits, exclusions, and all costs.
  • What tax savings might you expect? Tax savings will be greatest for individuals in higher income tax brackets. Ask your tax advisor or financial professional for help in determining how HSA contributions will impact your taxes.

Most HSAs allow you to contribute through automatic transfers from a bank account or, if you’re employed, through an automatic payroll deduction plan.

REV.20170828

19
May

U.S. Census Bureau Releases Report on Young Adulthood

In an April 2017 report, the U.S. Census Bureau examines changes in young adulthood over the last 40 years. The study looks at how the economic and demographic characteristics of young adults (ages 18 to 34) have changed from 1975 to 2016.

The report defines adulthood as a period in life associated with common experiences and the achievement of particular milestones, such as living independently of parents, working full-time, getting married, and having children.

This puts some recent changes in perspective: In 1975, 45% of young adults (ages 25 to 34) had completed four specific milestones — lived independently of their parents, had ever married, lived with a child, and were in the labor force — compared with only 24% of 25- to 34-year-olds in 2016.

The report also reveals that while educational and economic accomplishments are considered important milestones of adulthood by most of today’s Americans, marriage and parenthood rank much lower.

Education and economic stability rated most important

The highest-ranked milestone of adulthood by Americans today is completing a formal education: More than 60% of Americans believe that doing so is extremely important. Ranked second is working full-time (52%), followed by the ability to support a family financially (50%).

More young adults today have achieved this educational milestone compared with their counterparts 40 years ago. For example, less than one-fourth of 25- to 34-year-olds had a college degree in 1975, compared with more than one-third in 2016.

Marriage and parenthood are delayed milestones

Over half of Americans believe that getting married and having children are not important to becoming an adult, but this does not mean they plan to forgo these milestones altogether. Instead, getting married and having children are occurring later in life.

Whereas eight in 10 young adults in the mid-1970s had married before age 30, this milestone isn’t reached today by the same proportion of Americans until their early 40s. Similarly, more than two-thirds of women in the mid-1970s were mothers by the time they were ages 25 to 29, but today that proportion is not reached until ages 30 to 34.

Living independently is less important

Only about one-fourth of Americans rank moving out of a parent’s home as an extremely important adult milestone. So it’s not surprising that the number of young adults living independently has declined. In 1975, 26% of young adults (ages 18 to 34) were living in their parents’ home, compared with 31% in 2016.

Also noteworthy is that in just a decade, living arrangements changed dramatically. In 2005, a majority of young adults lived independently in their own households (either alone, with a spouse, or with an unmarried partner) in 35 states. By 2015, though, only six states had a majority of young adults living independently.

Not completing a formal education and lack of a steady job are contributing factors to the decline in young adults living independently. Young people who still live with their parents today are far less likely than their peers to have a college degree or a full-time job. Of young adults (ages 25 to 34) today who are living independently, 41% have a bachelor’s degree and 64% have a full-time job. Not surprisingly, young people living independently also tend to have higher incomes: More than half of older millennials living in their own households earn $30,000 or more in income, compared with only about one-third of their peers who live with roommates and one-fourth who live with their parents.

Of young adults (ages 25 to 34) living in their parents’ home today, one in four are not attending school or working. Often they are older millennials who have only a high school education. This group typically faces challenges such as the loss or unavailability of a job, unaffordable housing rates, and child-rearing responsibilities.

The shifting paths of young adulthood

Over the last 40 years, the milestones of adulthood have remained largely the same, but the importance and timing of these milestones have changed. Young adults today are less focused on marriage and parenthood in their 20s and early 30s and are more concerned about establishing financial security by finishing school and gaining work experience. More of them have college degrees and full-time jobs than their counterparts did in 1975, but fewer own their own homes. As a result, young people today often delay establishing a household and settling down with a family until they are able to support themselves financially.

Source: Jonathan Vespa, “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975-2016,” Current Population Reports, P20-579, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, April 2017

view the full report, visit census.gov.
16
May

Six Steps to Consider Before Tapping Your Retirement Savings Plan

You’ve worked long and hard for years, saving diligently through your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. Now, with retirement on the horizon, it’s time to begin thinking about how to tap your plan assets for income. But hold on, not so fast. You may need to take a few steps first.

Step 1: Evaluate your needs
The first step in any retirement income plan is to estimate how much income you’ll need to meet your desired lifestyle. The conventional guidance is to plan on needing anywhere from 70% to 100% of your pre-retirement income each year during retirement; however, your amount will depend on your unique circumstances. While some expenses may fall in retirement, others may rise. So before even thinking about how to tap your plan assets, you should have a concrete idea of how much you’ll need to (1) cover your basic needs and (2) live comfortably, according to your wishes.

First, estimate your non-negotiable fixed needs — such as housing, food, and medical care. This will help you project how much you’ll need just to make ends meet. Then focus on your variable wants — including travel, leisure, and entertainment. This is the area that you’ll have the easiest time adjusting, if necessary, as you refine your income plan.

Step 2: Assess your sources of predictable income
Next, you’ll want to determine how much to expect from sources of predictable income, such as Social Security and traditional pension plans. These could be considered the foundation of your retirement income.

Social Security
A key decision regarding Social Security is when to claim benefits. Although you can begin receiving benefits as early as age 62, the longer you wait to begin (up to age 70), the more you’ll receive each month.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates your retirement benefit using a formula that takes into account your 35 highest earning years, so if you had some years of no or low earnings, your benefit amount may be lower than if you had worked steadily.

You can estimate your retirement benefit by using the calculators on the SSA website, https://www.ssa.gov . You can also sign up for a my Social Security account so that you can view your Social Security Statement online. Your statement contains a detailed record of your earnings, as well as estimates of retirement, survivor, and disability benefits, along with other information about Social Security.

Pensions
Traditional pensions have been disappearing from employer benefit programs over the past couple of decades. If you’re one of the lucky workers who stand to receive a pension benefit, congratulations! But be aware of your pension’s features. For example, will your benefit remain steady throughout retirement or increase with inflation?

Your pension will most likely be offered as either a single or joint and survivor annuity. A single annuity provides benefits until the worker’s death, while a joint and survivor annuity generally provides reduced benefits until the survivor’s death.1

Step 3: Reflect
If it looks as though your Social Security and pension income will be enough to cover your fixed needs, you may be well positioned to use your retirement savings plan assets to fund the extra wants. On the other hand, if those sources are not sufficient to cover your fixed needs, you’ll need to think carefully about how to tap your retirement savings plan assets, as they will be a necessary component of your income.

Step 4: Understand your plan options
Upon leaving your employer, you typically have four options:

1. Plans may allow you to leave the money alone or may require that you begin taking distributions once you reach the plan’s normal retirement age.

2. You may choose to withdraw the money, either as a lump sum or a series of substantially equal periodic payments for the rest of your life, or you might use other withdrawal options offered by your plan. Note that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that only third of 401(k) plans offer other withdrawal options, such as installment payments, systematic withdrawals, and managed payout funds.

3. You may roll the money into an IRA. You’ll want to carefully compare the investment options, fees, and expenses of both your current plan and the IRA before making any rollover decision.

4. If you continue to work during your retirement years, you may be able to roll the money into your new employer’s plan, if that plan allows. Again, be sure to compare plans before making any decisions.

An annuity is an insurance contract designed to provide steady income over a set period of time or over either your lifetime or that of you and your spouse. According to the GAO, only about 25% of 401(k) plans offer an annuity option as a plan feature. If you think an annuity may apply to your situation, check to see if it is available in your plan. You may want to consider rolling at least some of your tax-deferred money into an IRA and purchasing an immediate fixed annuity. As noted above, however, you’ll want to carefully compare fees and expenses associated with all options before making any final decisions.3

Step 5: Compare tax deferred and tax-free
If you have both tax-deferred and tax-free (Roth) accounts, consider that the taxable portion of distributions from tax-deferred accounts will be taxed at your current income tax rate, while qualified withdrawals from Roth accounts are tax-free. For this reason, general guidelines often suggest tapping tax-deferred accounts before Roth accounts to allow those accounts to continue potentially growing free of taxes.

Note that all assets in employer-sponsored retirement savings plans — even money held in Roth accounts — will be subject to required minimum distributions (RMDs). These rules state that minimum distributions generally must begin in the year you turn age 70½; however, you may delay your first distribution up to April 1 of the following year.

Roth IRAs, however, are not subject to RMD rules until after your death. This is just one reason you might consider converting your employer-sponsored retirement assets to a Roth IRA. Keep in mind that a conversion will trigger an immediate tax consequence on the taxable portion of the converted assets, which can result in a hefty bill from Uncle Sam.

Step 6: Seek professional assistance
Determining the appropriate way to tap your assets can be challenging and should take into account a number of factors. These include not only your tax situation, but also whether you have other assets you’ll use for income, your overall health, and your estate plan. A financial professional can help make sense of your options in light of your unique situation.

1 Current federal law requires employer-sponsored plan participants to select a joint and survivor annuity unless the spouse waives those rights. This requirement is not mandated in an IRA, however.

2
“401(k) Plans: DOL Could Take Steps to Improve Retirement Income Options for Plan Participants,” GAO Report to Congressional Requesters, August 2016

3 Generally, annuity contracts have fees and expenses, limitations, exclusions, holding periods, termination provisions, and terms for keeping the annuity in force. Most annuities have surrender charges that are assessed if the contract owner surrenders the annuity in the early years of the contract. Qualified annuities are typically purchased with pre-tax money, so withdrawals are fully taxed as ordinary income. Withdrawals prior to age 59½ may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. Any guarantees are contingent on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. It is important to understand that purchasing an annuity in an IRA or an employer-sponsored retirement plan provides no additional tax benefits other than those available through the tax-deferred retirement plan.

The foregoing is provided for information purposes only.  It is not intended or designed to provide legal, accounting, tax, investment or other professional advice.  Such advice requires consideration of individual circumstances.  Before any action is taken based upon this information, it is essential that competent, individual, professional advice be obtained.  JAS Financial Services, LLC is not responsible for any modifications made to this material, or for the accuracy of information provided by other sources.

16
Dec

What I learned from my grand daughter

Being with the family is generally very enjoyable. This year I received an extra benefit from my 5-year-old granddaughter.  She was telling us what she was going to be doing. It sounded like she was too young to be able accomplish the task. We asked her how she would complete the tasks. She explained that she would visualize what she was going to do.  Her teacher had taught the class to visualize what they want to do.

I realized that is also the approach to planning. If you know what you want to accomplish, you need to see where you are, where you want to be and the steps required to get there. This sets your focus. You need to be aware of your progress. You may need to adjust your course if there are changes in your priorities, what you have or your goals.

If you have postponed your planning, try visualizing.

Wishing you and yours the best for the Holiday’s and the entire New Year!

2
Nov

College Board releases 2016/2017 college cost data.

The College Board has released college cost figures for the 2016/2017 college cost data in its annual Trends in College Pricing report. “Total average cost” includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, transportation, and personal expenses. Here are the highlights:

Public colleges (in-state students):

  • Tuition and fees increased an average of 2.4% to $9,650
  • Room and board increased an average of 2.9% to $10,440
  • Total average cost for 2016/2017: $24,610 (up from $24,061 in 2015/2016)

Public colleges (out-of-state students):

  • Tuition and fees increased an average of 3.6% to $24,930
  • Room and board increased an average of 2.9% to $10,440
  • Total average cost for 2016/2017: $39,890 (up from $38,544 in 2015/2016)

Private colleges:

  • Tuition and fees increased an average of 3.6% to $33,480
  • Room and board increased an average of 3.0% to $11,890

Total average cost for 2016/2017: $49,320 (up from $47,831 in 2015/2016)

Link to “Trends in College Pricing 2016” https://trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/2016-trends-college-pricing-web_0.pdf

College costs are a major expense. Understanding the current cost will help to plan how to meet the costs in the future. The information can also be helpful to grandparents in their gift planning.

One way to fund college expenses is to use a  “529” plan. These are offered by state or educational institutions. Earnings are not subject to federal tax and generally are not subject to state tax when used for “qualified education expenses” of the “designated beneficiary”. Some states offer tax incentives for state residents that  contribution to the plans in their states.

Not everyone should use a 529 plan.  Review the alternatives, benefits and drawbacks to determine if 529 plans should be part of your planning.

5
Oct

October Is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Observed each year in October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is led by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The purpose of NDEAM is to build awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of workers with disabilities.  This year’s theme is “InclusionWorks.”

Employers, associations, and unions in all industries are encouraged to participate. To help organizations build awareness of this  important initiative, the DOL has developed a number of resources, which can be accessed at dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/.

What is NDEAM?
National Disability Employment Awareness Month dates back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“By fostering a culture that embraces individual differences, including disabilities, businesses profit by having a wider variety of tools to confront challenges,” said Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. “Our nation’s most successful companies proudly make inclusion a core value. They know that inclusion works. It works for workers, it works for employers, it works for opportunity, and it works for innovation.”

How can organizations participate?
The DOL’s suggestions range from simple promotional activities, such as putting up a poster, to comprehensive programs, such as implementing a disability education program for all employees or organization members. Resources available on the website include press releases, posters, a sample proclamation for organizational and government leaders, articles for internal publications, sample social media content, and tips for improving social media accessibility.

What is the ODEP?
The Office of Disability Employment Policy  is the only nonregulatory federal agency that promotes policies and coordinates with employers and all levels of government to increase workplace success for people with disabilities. Recognizing the need for a national policy to ensure that people with disabilities are fully integrated into the 21st century workforce, the Secretary of Labor delegated authority and assigned responsibility to the Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy. ODEP is a subcabinet-level policy agency in the Department of Labor.

For more information on ODEP, visit dol.gov/odep/.