Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘tax deferred’

Lots of ink has been spilled discussing one of the most hyped retirement and tax strategies: Roth IRA conversions.  The prospect of future tax-free withdrawals is enticing.  But there are lots of issues that need to be considered whether it is right for you.

According to Google, there has been a surge in interest about Roth IRA conversions as it has become one of the top search terms this fall. (1)

This is hardly surprising considering that starting in 2010, all taxpayers, regardless of income, are eligible to convert tax-deferred retirement assets to a Roth IRA.

Prior to the change, the law prevented taxpayers with household incomes above $100,000 from converting assets to a Roth IRA.

Starting this year, tax code changes allow conversions of other tax-deferred retirement accounts regardless of income. This broadens the opportunity for those who did not have these choice before. It should be noted that there are still annual income limits in place for determining eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA. (There are no limits to use a Roth 401k provision in your employer’s plan).

The majority of Americans believe their own taxes are going to increase.  Given government deficits and entitlements for an aging workforce, taxes may certainly be needed to cover these commitments.

As it stands, tax rates are scheduled to increase in 2011. Unless Congress acts to delay reversion to the prior tax rates, taxes on Roth IRA conversions will be higher after 2010.

A Roth IRA conversion offers an opportunity for future tax-free income.2

But does it make sense?

Does Roth Conversion Make Sense

Whether or not a Roth conversion makes sense really depends on an individual’s circumstances.

Money in all types of tax-deferred accounts like IRAs, 401ks and such are all jointly owned by the participant and Uncle Sam as silent partner.

Although the tax tail shouldn’t wag the dog, you should cut the best deal with the least impact on your personal tax situation.

It makes the most sense for those who expect to have more than enough assets and income for retirement and don’t want to be forced to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) on IRA accounts.  It also makes sense for estate planning purposes as a way to build a multi-generational legacy of tax-deferred wealth accumulation.

And for most who believe that their marginal income tax rates in retirement will be higher whether because of tax policy or because of their own success with work and investments, then it may make sense to lock in the tax liability now.

It also makes sense for those who expect a low income year in 2010 because of retirement or unemployment for example.  Being in a lower tax bracket may reduce the tax bite on the converted funds.

While income and earnings may be withdrawn in retirement tax-free, an investor will still need to pay Uncle Sam now for that future privilege.

And all of this analysis assumes that Congress doesn’t change the rules down the road and even tax Roth accounts.  Consider the fact that during the 1980s, Congress changed the rules about taxing Social Security benefits.

Keeping that in mind, it still may make sense as a way to hedge against future tax policy to do a partial conversion of some of your tax-deferred retirement accounts especially if you have money from non-IRA accounts to tap.

If you use the funds from the tax-deferred account and you’re younger than 59 ½, you’ll be hit with an early withdrawal penalty and your investment will be starting from a lower base making the payback of the strategy more complicated.

Because the tax is assessed on the gains in the account, an ideal time to do this and minimize the tax impact is when account values are off their highs.  With the gains over the past year, this may make a conversion less attractive.

Another thing to consider is that by doing a conversion, your adjusted gross income will increase and potentially result in loss of COBRA subsidy or education credits which are subject to income phase outs.

You Can Change Your Mind Later

Unlike most things in life, you can get a “do over” called a recharacterization that converts everything back to the way it was. The assets would be converted back to tax-deferred status and you can file an amended tax return seeking a refund of the income taxes you paid on the conversion.

Roth IRA conversions offer the potential for tax-free income in retirement for taxpayers at all income levels. If you want more information about converting to a Roth IRA, call 617-398-7494 or email today.

It’s critical to review your individual situation before making a decision about moving important assets.
1) InvestmentNews, November 16, 2009
2) Rasmussen Reports, September 3, 2009

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Both dependent care and medical flexible spending accounts are funded with pre-tax deductions from your paycheck. Both have a “use or lose” policy if the funds deducted are not used in the calendar year for which the election was made.

Typically, a person can only make the election to have these deductions taken at the time of their hiring or during the annual enrollment period every company offers for their employees to make changes to their health and welfare benefits. (There are other times as well during certain “life events” such as marraige or birth of a child when benefit elections can also be changed.)

Since the election to make these deductions are made for a full year, one must be very cautious about the amount chosen. If you don’t use the funds towards eligible expenses in the time period allowed, you cannot get the money back.

For those with young children or elder parents needing day care, the dependent care FSA can be useful.  The maximum amount that can be set aside is pegged at $5,000 each year. With the costs of child care and adult day care being what they are, it is not likely that an employee will end up not using the full amount set aside so maxing out makes sense.

However, the dependent care program only allows a person to receive funds already in their FSA account, regardless of how much the person has already paid out in dependent care expenses. For example, if a person elects the $5,000 maximum to be withdrawn over the course of the year, after 3 months there is only $1,250 in the account. Even though the person has already paid more than that to the child care provider, they can only receive the balance.

With the medical flexible spending account, however, a person can be reimbursed at any time during the year up to the annual
amount elected to have withdrawn
.  Thus, the person can receive funds from the FSA prior to the funds actually having been withdrawn from their paycheck.

Let’s assume you know you are going to have a surgical procedure in January and your cost will be about $5,000, so you elect to have $5,000 deducted towards the medical FSA during the open enrollment period. In February, you pay your $5,000 portion. Even though you have only about $800+ in your FSA account, you can submit a reimbursement claim for the full $5,000 that you paid out.

It is prudent to review what your expected medical expenses may be in the upcoming year, verify that they are eligible FSA expenses with your employer’s FSA administrator, and then make the election. It can’t hurt to underestimate, so you may have to pay some expenses with after tax dollars, but that’s still much better than giving away money because you overestimated and you lose what you had deducted and not used.

Some examples for using a medical FSA are when you incur orthodontia expenses and dental procedures for which you have a high deductible and/or co-pay. Regular doctor office visit co-pays, which are not usually exceptionally expensive, are eligible for FSA reimbursement. If you go often enough, even saving a few tax dollars can be beneficial.

Using the FSA is a great tool to enforce a disciplined savings program to cover expenses that are expected to be incurred anyway during the year.  And by doing it through a tax-deferred program at work, you’re ultimately reducing the cost by your marginal income tax rate so that your savings stretch out to buy you more services. (For someone in the 20% marginal tax bracket, for example, one would have to earn $1.25 to have enough cash to pay for $1.00 of services after the impact of taxes.)

By taking some time to project your personal expenses, you can ultimately benefit with Uncle Sam’s help.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: