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 You will not only owe income taxes on the amount not withdrawn, you will owe 50% more.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.
Staying healthy could save you some money.
How healthy a retirement do you think you will have? If you can stay active as a senior and curb or avoid certain habits, you could potentially reduce one type of retirement expense.
Each year, Fidelity Investments presents an analysis of retiree health care costs. In 2019, Fidelity projected that the average 65-year-old couple would spend around $285,000 on health care during retirement, including about $11,000 in the first year. Both projections took Medicare benefits into account.
Could healthy behaviors help you save retirement dollars? Maybe. From another point of view, ceasing unhealthy habits certainly would. For example, the average pack of cigarettes now costs $6.28, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That adds up to $2,292 annually. A decade of pack-a-day smoking therefore projects to $22,920 in expenses (and that does not even consider inflation or the possibility of new state or local cigarette taxes). If you could invest $2,292 a year for 20 years and realize a 7% annual return on that money, your sustained investment would grow to more than $100,000.
Think about joining a senior wellness program. Some communities offer classes developed through the National Council on Aging’s Center for Healthy Aging. (NCOA is a nonprofit senior advocacy organization founded in the 1950s.) These physical activity programs are evidence based; the exercise curriculum has been shown to provide discernible health benefits to their participants. Often, they are low cost or free and low impact as well.
Be sure to use your Medicare benefits. Medicare entitles you to an annual free wellness visit with a primary care physician. In this visit, you can have your blood pressure, weight, and overall health checked, and the doctor can also run a check for the possibility of dementia. You can also get free screening for diabetes, certain kinds of cancers, hepatitis B and C, and heart disease under Medicare if your physician classifies you as “at risk” for these conditions. Medicare may even pick up the tab for smoking cessation counseling and obesity counseling for certain people.
If you stay fairly healthy well into your retirement, there could be a nice financial side effect: an exemption, for the present, from expenses that some of your peers could be dealing with.
Sometimes you can take penalty-free early withdrawals from retirement accounts.
Do you need to access your retirement money early? Maybe you just want to retire before you turn 60 and plan a lifelong income stream from the money you have saved and invested. You may be surprised to know that the Internal Revenue Service allows you a way to do this, provided you do it carefully.
Usually, anyone who takes money out of an IRA or a retirement plan prior to age 59½ faces a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the distribution. That isn’t always the case, however. You may be able to avoid the requisite penalty by taking distributions compliant with Internal Revenue Code Section 72(t), section 2.
While any money you take out of the plan will amount to taxable income, you can position yourself to avoid that extra 10% tax hit by breaking that early IRA or retirement plan distribution down into a series of substantially equal periodic payments (SEPPs). These periodic withdrawals must occur at least once a year, and they must continue for at least 5 full years or until you turn 59½, whichever period is longer. (Optionally, you can make SEPP withdrawals on a monthly basis.)
How do you figure out the SEPPs? They must be calculated before you can take them, using one of three I.R.S. methods. Some people assume they can just divide the balance of their IRA or 401(k) by five and withdraw that amount per year, but that is not the way to determine them.
It is wise to calculate your potential SEPPs by each of these three methods. When the math is complete, you can schedule your SEPPs in the way that makes the most sense for you.
The Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) method calculates the SEPP amount by dividing your IRA or retirement plan balance at the end of the previous year by the life expectancy factor from the I.R.S. single life expectancy table, joint life and last survivor expectancy table, or uniform life table.
The Fixed Amortization method amortizes your retirement account balance into SEPPs based on your life expectancy. A variation on this, the Fixed Annuitization method, calculates SEPPs using your current age and the mortality table in Appendix B of Rev. Ruling 2002-62.
If you use the Fixed Amortization or Fixed Annuitization method, you are also required to use a reasonable interest rate in calculating the withdrawals. That interest rate can’t exceed more than 120% of the federal midterm rate announced periodically by the I.R.S.
A lot to absorb? It certainly is. The financial professional you know can help you figure all this out, and online calculators also come in handy. Bankrate.com, in fact, offers you a free 72(t) distribution calculator.
There are some common blunders that can wreck a 72(t) distribution. You should be aware of them if you want to schedule SEPPs.
If you are taking SEPPs from a qualified workplace retirement plan instead of an IRA, you must generally separate from service (that is, quit working for that employer) before you take them. If you are 51 when you quit and start taking SEPPs from your retirement plan, and you change your mind at 53 and decide you want to keep working, you still have this retirement account that you are obligated to draw down through age 56 – not a good scenario.
Once you start taking SEPPs, you are locked into them for five consecutive years or until you reach age 59½. If you break that commitment or deviate from the SEPP schedule or calculation method you have set, then the I.R.S. applies a 10% early withdrawal penalty to all the SEPPs you have already made, plus interest.
The I.R.S. does permit you to make a one-time change to your distribution method without penalty: if you start with the Fixed Amortization or Fixed Annuitization method, you can opt to switch to the RMD method. You can’t switch out of the RMD method to either the Fixed Amortization or Fixed Annuitization methods, however.
If you want or need to take 72(t) distributions, ask for help. A financial professional can help you plan to do it right.
Are you prepared for the possibility – and expense – of eldercare?
Do you have an extra $33,000 to $100,000 to spare this year? How about next year, and the year after that? Your answer to these questions is probably “no.”
What could possibly cost so much? Eldercare.
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, a year of in-home care for a senior costs roughly $33,000. A year at an assisted living facility? About $45,000. A year in a nursing home? Approximately $100,000.
Medicare has limitations. Generally speaking, it will pay for no more than 35 hours per week of home health care and only up to 100 days of nursing home care, following a hospitalization. It may pay for up to six months of hospice care. If you or someone you love happens to develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, Medicare will not pay for any degree of room and board for them at an assisted living facility.
Medicaid is another resource entirely. For seniors who are eligible, Medicaid can pick up assisted living facility or nursing home expenses, and even in-home eldercare, in some instances. Qualifying for Medicaid is the hard part. Normally, you only qualify for it when you have spent down your assets to the point where you can no longer pay for eldercare out of pocket or with insurance.
An extended care strategy may factor into a thoughtful retirement strategy. After all, your retirement may be lengthy, and you may need such care. The Social Security Administration projects that a quarter of today’s 65-year-olds will live past age 90, with a tenth making it to age 100.
Insurance companies have modified extended care policies over the years. Some have chosen to bundle extended care features into other policies, which can make the product more accessible. An insurance professional familiar with industry trends may be able to provide you more information about policies and policy choices.
Waiting for federal or state lawmakers to pass a new program to help with the costs of eldercare is not much of a strategy. It is up to you, the individual, to determine how to face this potential financial challenge.
If you lead a healthy and active life, you may need such care only at the very end. Assuming you do require it at some point, you may consider living in an area where you can join a continuing-care-at-home program (there are currently more than 30 of these, essentially operating as remote care programs of assisted living communities) or a “village network” that offers you some in-home help (not skilled nursing care, however).
Those rare and nice options aside, retirement saving also needs to be about saving for potential extended care expenses. If insurance addressing extended care is not easy to obtain, then a Health Savings Account (HSA) might be an option. These accounts have emerged as another solution to extended care needs. An HSA is not a form of insurance, but it does provide a tax-advantaged savings account to which you (and potentially, your employer) can make contributions. You can use these funds to pay for most medical expenses, including prescription drugs, dental care, and vision care. You can look into this choice right away, to take advantage of savings over time.
Once you reach age 65, you are required to stop making contributions to an HSA. Remember, if you withdraw money from your HSA for a nonmedical reason, that money becomes taxable income, and you face an additional 20% penalty. After age 65, you can take money out without the 20% penalty, but it still becomes taxable income.
An HSA works a bit like your workplace retirement account. Your employer can make contributions alongside you. However, the money that you contribute comes from your pretax income and can be invested for you over time, so it may grow as your contributions accumulate.
There are also some HSA rules and limitations to consider. You are limited to a $3,500 contribution for 2019, if you are single; $7,000, 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. Your employer can contribute, but the ceiling is cumulative between your contributions and theirs. For example, say you are lucky enough to have your employer put a hypothetical $1,000 into your account in 2019; you may only contribute as much as the rest of your limit, minus that $1,000. If you go over that limit, you will incur a 6% tax penalty, so it is smart to watch how much you contribute.
Alternately, you could do without an HSA and simply earmark a portion of your retirement savings for possible extended care costs.
One thing is for certain: any retiree or retirement saver needs to keep the possibility of extended care expenses in mind. Today is not too soon to explore the financial options to try and meet this challenge.
The important question: Are you prepared?
Addressing the potential threat of long-term care expenses may be one of the biggest financial challenges for individuals who are developing a retirement strategy.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 69% of people over age 65 can expect to need extended care services at some point in their lives. So, understanding the various types of long-term care services – and what those services may cost – is critical as you consider your retirement approach.
What Is Long-Term Care? Long-term care is not a single activity. It refers to a variety of medical and non-medical services needed by those who have a chronic illness or disability that is most commonly associated with aging.
Long-term care can include everything from assistance with activities of daily living – help dressing, bathing, using the bathroom, or even driving to the store – to more intensive therapeutic and medical care requiring the services of skilled medical personnel.
Long-term care may be provided at home, at a community center, in an assisted living facility, or in a skilled nursing home. And long-term care is not exclusively for the elderly; it is possible to need long-term care at any age.
How Much Does Long-Term Care Cost? Long-term care costs vary state by state and region by region. The national average for care in a skilled care facility (semi-private in a nursing home) is $85,775 a year. The national average for care in an assisted living center is $45,000 a year. Home health aides cost a median $18,200 per year, but that rate may increase when a licensed nurse is required.
Individuals who would rather not burden their family and friends have two main options for covering the cost of long-term care: they can choose to self-insure or they can purchase long-term care insurance.
Many self-insure by default – simply because they haven’t made other arrangements. Those who self-insure may depend on personal savings and investments to fund any long-term care needs. The other approach is to consider purchasing long-term care insurance, which can cover all levels of care, from skilled care to custodial care to in-home assistance.
When it comes to addressing your long-term care needs, many look to select a strategy that may help them protect assets, preserve dignity, and maintain independence. If those concepts are important to you, consider your approach for long-term care.
How global returns and proper diversification are affecting overall returns.
“Why is my portfolio underperforming the market?” This question may be on your mind. It is a question that investors sometimes ask after stocks shatter records or return exceptionally well in a quarter.
The short answer is that even when Wall Street rallies, international markets and intermediate and long-term bonds may underperform and exert a drag on overall portfolio performance. A little elaboration will help explain things further.
A diversified portfolio necessarily includes a range of asset classes. This will always be the case, and while investors may wish for an all-equities portfolio when stocks are surging, a 100% stock allocation is obviously fraught with risk.
Because the stock market has advanced so much over the past decade, some investors now have larger positions in equities than they originally planned, and that may leave them exposed to an uncomfortable degree of market risk. A portfolio held evenly in equities and fixed income ten years ago may now have a clear majority of its assets in equities, with the performance of stock markets influencing its return to a greater degree.
Yes, stock markets – not just here, but abroad. U.S. investors have more global exposure than they once did. International holdings represented about 5% of the typical investor’s portfolio back in the 1990s. Today, they account for around 15%. If overseas markets struggle, the impact on portfolio performance may be noticeable.
In addition, a sudden change in sector performance can have an impact. At one point in 2018, tech stocks accounted for 25% of the weight of the S&P 500. While the recent restructuring of S&P sectors lowered that by a few percentage points, portfolios can still be greatly affected when tech shares slide, as investors witnessed in late 2018.
The state of the fixed-income market can also potentially impact portfolio performance. Bond prices commonly fall when interest rates rise, which presents a short-term concern for an investor. If a bond is held to maturity, though, the investor will receive the promised principal and interest (assuming no default on the part of the issuer). Moreover, a rising interest rate environment may help the fixed-income segment of the portfolio’s long-term performance. New bonds issued in a rising interest rate environment have the potential to generate more yield than the older bonds of similar duration that they replace.
This year, U.S. stocks have done well. A portfolio 100% invested in the U.S. stock market in 2019 would have a year-to-date return approximating that of the S&P 500. But who invests entirely in stocks, let alone without any exposure to international and emerging markets?
Just as an illustration, assume that there actually is a hypothetical investor this year who is 100% invested in equities, as follows: 50% domestic, 35% developed foreign markets, and 15% emerging markets.
In this illustration, the S&P 500 will serve as the model for the U.S. market, MSCI’s EAFE index will stand in for developed foreign markets, and MSCI’s Emerging Markets index will represent the emerging markets. Through the end of July, the S&P was +18.89% year-to-date, the EAFE +10.31% YTD, and the Emerging Markets just +7.38% YTD. As foreign and domestic stocks have equal weight in this hypothetical portfolio, it is easy to see that its overall YTD gain would have been less than 18.9% as of the July 31 closing bell.
Your portfolio is not the market – and vice versa. Your investments may return less than the S&P 500 (or another benchmark) in a particular year due to various factors, including the behavior of the investment markets. Those markets are ever-changing. In some years, you may get a double-digit return. In other years, your return may be much smaller.
When your portfolio is diversified across asset classes, the highs may not be so high – but the lows may not be so low, either. If things turn volatile, diversification may help insulate you from some of the ups and downs that come with investing.
Some specifics about the “second act.”
Does your vision of retirement align with the facts? Here are some noteworthy financial and lifestyle facts about life after 50 that might surprise you.
Up to 85% of a retiree’s Social Security income can be taxed. Some retirees are taken aback when they discover this. In addition to the Internal Revenue Service, 13 states levy taxes on some or all Social Security retirement benefits: Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia. (It is worth mentioning that the I.R.S. offers free tax advice to people 60 and older through its Tax Counseling for the Elderly program.)
Retirees get a slightly larger standard deduction on their federal taxes. Actually, this is true for all taxpayers aged 65 and older, whether they are retired or not. Right now, the standard deduction for an individual taxpayer in this age bracket is $13,500, compared to $12,200 for those 64 or younger.
Retirees can still use IRAs to save for retirement. There is no age limit for contributing to a Roth IRA, just an inflation-adjusted income limit. So, a retiree can keep directing money into a Roth IRA for life, provided they are not earning too much. In fact, a senior can potentially contribute to a traditional IRA until the year they turn 70½.
A significant percentage of retirees are carrying education and mortgage debt. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau says that throughout the U.S., the population of borrowers aged 60 and older who have outstanding student loans grew by at least 20% in every state between 2012 and 2017. In more than half of the 50 states, the increase was 45% or greater. Generations ago, seniors who lived in a home often owned it, free and clear; in this decade, that has not always been so. The Federal Reserve’s recent Survey of Consumer Finance found that more than a third of those aged 65-74 have outstanding home loans; nearly a quarter of Americans who are 75 and older are in the same situation.
As retirement continues, seniors become less credit dependent. GoBankingRates says that only slightly more than a quarter of Americans over age 75 have any credit card debt, compared to 42% of those aged 65-74.
About one in three seniors who live independently also live alone. In fact, the Institute on Aging notes that nearly half of women older than age 75 are on their own. Compared to male seniors, female seniors are nearly twice as likely to live without a spouse, partner, family member, or roommate.
Around 64% of women say that they have no “Plan B” if forced to retire early. That is, they would have to completely readjust and reassess their vision of retirement and also redetermine their sources of retirement income. The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies learned this from its latest survey of more than 6,300 U.S. workers.
Few older Americans budget for travel expenses. While retirees certainly love to travel, Merrill Lynch found that roughly two-thirds of people aged 50 and older admitted that they had never earmarked funds for their trips, and only 10% said that they had planned their vacations extensively.
What financial facts should you consider as you retire? What monetary realities might you need to acknowledge as your retirement progresses from one phase to the next? The reality of retirement may surprise you. If you have not met with a financial professional about your retirement savings and income needs, you may wish to do so. When it comes to retirement, the more information you have, the better.