Things you can do for your future as the year unfolds.
What financial, business, or life priorities do you need to address for the coming year? Now is a good time to think about the investing, saving, or budgeting methods you could employ toward specific objectives, from building your retirement fund to managing your taxes. You have plenty of choices. Here are a few ideas to consider:
Can you contribute more to your retirement plans this year? In 2020, the contribution limit for a Roth or traditional individual retirement account (IRA) remains at $6,000 ($7,000 for those making “catch-up” contributions). Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may affect how much you can put into a Roth IRA: singles and heads of household with MAGI above $139,000 and joint filers with MAGI above $206,000 cannot make 2020 Roth contributions.
Before making any changes, remember that withdrawals from traditional IRAs are taxed as ordinary income, and if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. To qualify for the tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal of earnings, Roth IRA distributions must meet a five-year holding requirement and occur after age 59½.
Make a charitable gift. You can claim the deduction on your tax return, provided you itemize your deductions with Schedule A. The paper trail is important here. If you give cash, you need to document it. Even small contributions need to be demonstrated by a bank record, payroll deduction record, credit card statement, or written communication from the charity with the date and amount. Incidentally, the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) does not equate a pledge with a donation. If you pledge $2,000 to a charity this year, but only end up gifting $500, you can only deduct $500.
These are hypothetical examples and are not a replacement for real-life advice. Make certain to consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional before modifying your strategy.
See if you can take a home office deduction for your small business. If you are a small-business owner, you may want to investigate this. You may be able to legitimately write off expenses linked to the portion of your home used to exclusively conduct your business. Using your home office as a business expense involves a complex set of tax rules and regulations. Before moving forward, consider working with a professional who is familiar with homebased businesses.
Open an HSA. A Health Savings Account (HSA) works a bit like your workplace retirement account. There are also some HSA rules and limitations to consider. You are limited to a $3,550 contribution for 2020, if you are single; $7,100, if you have a spouse or family. Those limits jump by a $1,000 “catch-up” limit for each person in the household over age 55.
If you spend your HSA funds for non-medical expenses before age 65, you may be required to pay ordinary income tax as well as a 20% penalty. After age 65, you may be required to pay ordinary income taxes on HSA funds used for nonmedical expenses. HSA contributions are exempt from federal income tax; however, they are not exempt from state taxes in certain states.
Pay attention to asset location. Tax-efficient asset location is an ignored fundamental of investing. Broadly speaking, your least tax-efficient securities should go in pretax accounts, and your most tax-efficient securities should be held in taxable accounts.
Asset allocation is an approach to help manage investment risk. Asset allocation does not guarantee against investment loss. Before adjusting your asset allocation, consider working with an investment professional who is familiar with tax rules and regulations.
Review your withholding status. Should it be adjusted due to any of the following factors?
* You tend to pay a great deal of income tax each year.
* You tend to get a big federal tax refund each year.
* You recently married or divorced.
* A family member recently passed away.
* You have a new job and you are earning much more than you previously did.
* You started a business venture or became self-employed.
These are general guidelines and are not a replacement for real-life advice. So, make certain to speak with a professional who understands your situation before making any changes.
Are you marrying in 2020? If so, why not review the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts and other assets? When considering your marriage, you may want to make changes to the relevant beneficiary forms. The same goes for your insurance coverage. If you will have a new last name in 2020, you will need a new Social Security card. Additionally, the two of you may have retirement accounts and investment strategies. Will they need to be revised or adjusted with marriage?
Are you coming home from active duty? If so, go ahead and check the status of your credit and the state of any tax and legal proceedings that might have been preempted by your orders. Make sure any employee health insurance is still there and revoke any power of attorney you may have granted to another person.
Consider the tax impact of any upcoming transactions. Are you planning to sell any real estate this year? Are you starting a business? Do you think you might exercise a stock option? Might any large commissions or bonuses come your way in 2020? Do you anticipate selling an investment that is held outside of a tax-deferred account?
If you are retired and older than 70½, remember your year-end RMD. Retirees over age 70½ must begin taking Required Minimum Distributions from traditional IRAs and 401(k), 403(b), and profit-sharing plans by December 31 of each year. The I.R.S. penalty for failing to take an RMD can be as much as 50% of the RMD amount that is not withdrawn.
Lastly, should you make 13 mortgage payments this year? If your house is underwater, this makes no sense – and you could argue that those dollars might be better off invested or put in your emergency fund. Those factors aside, however, there may be some merit to making a January 2020 mortgage payment in December 2019. If you have a fixed-rate loan, a lump-sum payment can reduce the principal and the total interest paid on it by that much more.
If you’re considering making 13 payments, consider working with a tax, legal, or accounting professional who is familiar with your situation.
Vow to focus on being healthy and wealthy in 2020. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals who understand your individual situation.
Helpful tips for tax time.
Being a small-business owner isn’t easy. After all, balancing payroll, managing employees, drawing up marketing plans, and handling the bookkeeping can be stressful! Luckily, the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) allows small-business owners to take some surprising deductions, which may help come tax time. Read on to learn more.
Remember, the information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult a professional with legal or tax expertise for specific information regarding your individual situation.
Employ your personal cell phone. The I.R.S. allows small-business owners to deduct the cost of the time spent on business calls made while using their personal mobile device. The key is to make sure you keep an itemized monthly phone bill for your records.1 Assuming an $80-per-month phone bill and a 50% deduction, you may be able to deduct $480 from your state and federal tax returns! The best way to track your business call time? Try a using separate number for your business, which automatically routes to your phone. This way, it will be easy to see your business versus personal phone usage.
Put your home to work. If you use part of your home for business, you may be able to deduct those expenses. These can include a portion of your home as well as insurance and utilities.
However, there are some conditions that must be met to claim these deductions. First, the portion of your home you claim for business use must be exclusively for your company. Second, the part of your home used by your company must be either your principal place of business, a place to meet with customers, or a separate structure used in connection with your business.
Hold your meetings over a meal. If you and your employees have meetings, consider having them over a meal. As long as the dining expenses are reasonable and you’re eating with an employee to discuss business-related items, you are permitted to deduct 50% of the meal cost.
This may seem like a small advantage, but consider this: if you manage to have a “business lunch” every day for $10, you can deduct $5 of that expense, which could amount to over $1,200 a year in claimable deductions!
Deduct and fly for free. Many small-business owners believe they can reduce travel costs by using the miles they earn through a qualifying credit card to pay for their next business flight. Since your travel costs for business may be fully deductible, however, why not put those miles to use in your personal life instead?
Depending on your air-travel expenses, your income tax rate, and the number of miles you may be able to accrue in a year, this could save you thousands of dollars in expenses.
What you need to know.
When you reach age 70½, the Internal Revenue Service instructs you to start making withdrawals from your traditional IRA(s). These withdrawals are also called Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). You will make them, annually, from now on.
If you fail to take your annual RMD or take out less than the required amount, the I.R.S. will notice. You will not only owe income taxes on the amount not withdrawn, you will owe 50% more. (The 50% penalty can be waived if you can show the I.R.S. that the shortfall resulted from a “reasonable error” instead of negligence.)
Many IRA owners have questions about the rules related to their initial RMDs, so let’s answer a few.
How does the I.R.S. define age 70½? Its definition is pretty straightforward. If your 70th birthday occurs in the first half of a year, you turn 70½ within that calendar year. If your 70th birthday occurs in the second half of a year, you turn 70½ during the subsequent calendar year.
Your initial RMD has to be taken by April 1 of the year after you turn 70½. All the RMDs you take in subsequent years must be taken by December 31 of each year.
So, if you turned 70 during the first six months of 2020, then you will be 70½ by the end of 2020, and you must take your first RMD by April 1, 2021. If you turn 70 in the second half of 2020, then you will be 70½ in 2021, and you won’t need to take that initial RMD until April 1, 2022.
Is waiting until April 1 of the following year to take my first RMD a bad idea? The I.R.S. allows you three extra months to take your first RMD, but it isn’t necessarily doing you a favor. Your initial RMD is taxable in the year that it is taken. If you postpone it into the following year, then the taxable portions of both your first RMD and your second RMD must be reported as income on your federal tax return for that following year.
An example: James and his wife Stephanie file jointly, and they earn $78,950 in 2019 (the upper limit of the 22% federal tax bracket). James turns 70½ in 2019, but he decides to put off his first RMD until April 1, 2020. Bad idea: this means that he will have to take two RMDs before 2020 ends. So, his taxable income jumps in 2020 as a result of the dual RMDs, and it pushes the pair into a higher tax bracket for 2020 as well. The lesson: if you will be 70½ by the time 2019 ends, take your initial RMD by the end of 2019 – it might save you thousands in taxes to do so.
How do I calculate my first RMD? I.R.S. Publication 590 is your resource. You calculate it using I.R.S. life expectancy tables and your IRA balance on December 31 of the previous year. For that matter, if you Google “how to calculate your RMD,” you will see links to RMD worksheets at irs.gov and a host of other free online RMD calculators.
If your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you and happens to be designated as the sole beneficiary for one or more of the traditional IRAs that you own, you should use the I.R.S. IRA Minimum Distribution Worksheet (downloadable as a PDF online) to help calculate your RMD.
If your IRA is held at one of the big investment firms, that firm may calculate your RMD for you and offer to route the amount into another account of your choice. It will give you and the I.R.S. a 1099-R form recording the income distribution and the amount of the distribution that is taxable.
When I take my RMD, do I have to withdraw the whole amount? No. You can also take it in smaller, successive withdrawals. Your IRA custodian may be able to schedule them for you.
What if I have more than one traditional IRA? You then figure out your total RMD by calculating the RMD for each traditional IRA you own, using the IRA balances on the prior December 31. This total is the basis for the RMD calculation. You can take your RMD from a single traditional IRA or multiple traditional IRAs.
What if I have a Roth IRA? If you are the original owner of that Roth IRA, you don’t have to take any RMDs. Only inherited Roth IRAs require RMDs.
Be proactive when it comes to your first RMD. Putting off the initial RMD until the first quarter of next year could mean higher-than-normal income taxes for the year ahead.
Is it appropriate for your estate?
When an individual dies, the executor is faced with an important decision that has the potential to impact the taxes owed by the estate and its heirs. The executor will have the option of valuing the estate on the date of death, or on the six-month anniversary of death – the “Alternate Valuation Date.”
This situation assumes the deceased has a valid will and has named an executor, who is responsible for carrying out the directions of the will. If a person dies intestate, it means that a valid will has not been executed. Without a valid will, a person’s property will be distributed to the heirs as defined by the state law.
Pick a Date. It may seem like an obvious decision and simple choice, but it’s not. Here’s why.
For estates with substantial holdings in stocks, the use of the Alternate Valuation Date may be an appropriate approach if the executor believes stock prices will be lower than they were on the date of death.
When heirs inherit assets, such as stocks, they may receive a step-up in the cost basis if the value of the asset is higher than it was when the original owner acquired it. The heir’s valuation is reset to either the value on the date of the owner's death – or the value on the Alternate Valuation Date – whichever is chosen by the executor.
Market Moves. Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example. Say Dad bought Out-of-Date Technologies at $10 per share several years ago. At his death, the stock was worth $35. The executor used the Alternate Valuation Date and six months later, due to market movements, the stock was worth $28.
His heir, Julie, will inherit this asset and receive a step-up in the cost basis to $28, the value declared by the estate. Let’s now assume that Julie sells the stock a short-time later at $35.
If the estate had used the value on the date of death – $35 – she might not have owed capital gains tax, since she would have been selling the stock at the same price as her cost basis. But since she received the stock with the lower cost basis – $28 – because the executor chose the Alternate Valuation Date, capital gains tax on the $7 per share gain may be due.
This is a hypothetical example used for illustrative purposes only. It is not representative of any specific investment or combination of investments.
In this example, the estate saved money by electing the Alternate Valuation Date, but the heir was exposed to a lower cost basis and the prospect of paying higher capital gains tax in the future.
Consider & Balance. As the executor thinks through this balancing act, they should consider the relative prevailing tax rates for the estate and for the heirs to ascertain what approach may result in the most efficient transfer, net of taxes, to the heirs.
Keep in mind the information in this article is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.