Are you aware of them?
The federal government offers some major tax breaks for older Americans. Some of these perks deserve more publicity than they receive.
If you are 65 or older, your standard deduction is $1,300 larger. Make that $1,600 if you are unmarried. Thanks to the passage of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, the 2018 standard deduction for an individual taxpayer at least 65 years of age is a whopping $13,600, more than double what it was in 2017. (If you are someone else’s dependent, your standard deduction is much less.)
You may be able to write off some medical costs. This year, the Internal Revenue Service will let you deduct qualifying medical expenses once they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. In 2019, the threshold will return to 10% of AGI, unless Congress acts to preserve the 7.5% baseline. The I.R.S. list of eligible expenses is long. Beyond out-of-pocket costs paid to doctors and other health care professionals, it also includes things like long-term care insurance premiums, travel costs linked to medical appointments, and payments for durable medical equipment, such as dentures and hearing aids.
Are you thinking about selling your home? Many retirees consider this. If you have lived in your current residence for at least two of the five years preceding a sale, you can exclude as much as $250,000 in gains from federal taxation (a married couple can shield up to $500,000). These limits, established in 1997, have never been indexed to inflation. The Department of the Treasury has been studying whether it has the power to adjust them. If modified for inflation, they would approach $400,000 for singles and $800,000 for married couples.
Low-income seniors may qualify for the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. This incentive, intended for people 65 and older (and younger people who have retired due to permanent and total disability), can be as large as $7,500 based on your filing status. You must have very low AGI and nontaxable income to claim it, though. It is basically designed for those living wholly or mostly on Social Security benefits.
Affluent IRA owners may want to make a charitable IRA gift. If you are well off and have a large traditional IRA, you may not need your yearly Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for living expenses. If you are 70½ or older, you have an option: you can make a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) with IRA assets. You can donate up to $100,000 of IRA assets to a qualified charity in a single year this way, and the amount donated counts toward your annual RMD. (A married couple gets to donate up to $200,000 per year.) Even more importantly, the amount of the QCD is excluded from your taxable income for the year of the donation.
Some states also give seniors tax breaks. For example, the following 11 states do not tax federal, state, or local pension income: Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania. Twenty-eight states (and the District of Columbia) refrain from taxing Social Security income.
Unfortunately, your Social Security benefits could be partly or fully taxable. They could be taxed at both the federal and state level, depending on how much you earn and where you happen to live. Whether you feel this is reasonable or not, you may have the potential to claim some of the tax breaks mentioned above as you pursue the goal of tax efficiency.
Breaking down the basics & what each part covers.
Whether your 65th birthday is on the horizon or decades away, you should understand the parts of Medicare – what they cover and where they come from.
Parts A & B: Original Medicare. There are two components. Part A is hospital insurance. It provides coverage for inpatient stays at medical facilities. It can also help cover the costs of hospice care, home health care, and nursing home care – but not for long and only under certain parameters.
Seniors are frequently warned that Medicare will only pay for a maximum of 100 days of nursing home care (provided certain conditions are met). Part A is the part that does so. Under current rules, you pay $0 for days 1-20 of skilled nursing facility (SNF) care under Part A. During days 21-100, a $170.50 daily coinsurance payment may be required of you.
Part B is medical insurance and can help pick up some of the tab for physical therapy, physician services, expenses for durable medical equipment (hospital beds, wheelchairs), and other medical services, such as lab tests and a variety of health screenings.
Part B isn’t free. You pay monthly premiums to get it and a yearly deductible (plus 20% of costs). The premiums vary according to the Medicare recipient’s income level. The standard monthly premium amount is $135.50 this year. The current yearly deductible is $185. (Some people automatically receive Part B coverage, but others must sign up for it.)
Part C: Medicare Advantage plans. Insurance companies offer these Medicare-approved plans. To keep up your Part C coverage, you must keep up your payment of Part B premiums as well as your Part C premiums. To say not all Part C plans are alike is an understatement. Provider networks, premiums, copays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket spending limits can all vary widely, so shopping around is wise. During Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period (October 15 - December 7), seniors can choose to switch out of Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or vice versa; although, any such move is much wiser with a Medigap policy already in place.
How does a Medigap plan differ from a Part C plan? Medigap plans (also called Medicare Supplement plans) emerged to address the gaps in Part A and Part B coverage. If you have Part A and Part B already in place, a Medigap policy can pick up some copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles for you. You pay Part B premiums in addition to Medigap plan premiums to keep a Medigap policy in effect. These plans no longer offer prescription drug coverage.
Part D: prescription drug plans. While Part C plans commonly offer prescription drug coverage, insurers also sell Part D plans as a standalone product to those with Original Medicare. As per Medigap and Part C coverage, you need to keep paying Part B premiums in addition to premiums for the drug plan to keep Part D coverage going.
Every Part D plan has a formulary, a list of medications covered under the plan. Most Part D plans rank approved drugs into tiers by cost. The good news is that Medicare’s website will determine the best Part D plan for you. Go to medicare.gov/find-a-plan to start your search; enter your medications and the website will do the legwork for you.
Perhaps both traditional and Roth IRAs can play a part in your retirement plans.
IRAs can be an important tool in your retirement savings belt, and whichever you choose to open could have a significant impact on how those accounts might grow.
IRAs, or Individual Retirement Accounts, are investment vehicles used to help save money for retirement. There are two different types of IRAs: traditional and Roth. Traditional IRAs, created in 1974, are owned by roughly 35.1 million U.S. households. And Roth IRAs, created as part of the Taxpayer Relief Act in 1997, are owned by nearly 24.9 million households.
Both kinds of IRAs share many similarities, and yet, each is quite different. Let's take a closer look.
Up to certain limits, traditional IRAs allow individuals to make tax-deductible contributions into the retirement account. Distributions from traditional IRAs are taxed as ordinary income, and if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. For individuals covered by a retirement plan at work, the deduction for a traditional IRA in 2019 has been phased out for incomes between $103,000 and $123,000 for married couples filing jointly and between $64,000 and $74,000 for single filers.
Also, within certain limits, individuals can make contributions to a Roth IRA with after-tax dollars. To qualify for a tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal of earnings, Roth IRA distributions must meet a five-year holding requirement and occur after age 59½. Like a traditional IRA, contributions to a Roth IRA are limited based on income. For 2019, contributions to a Roth IRA are phased out between $193,000 and $203,000 for married couples filing jointly and between $122,000 and $137,000 for single filers.
In addition to contribution and distribution rules, there are limits on how much can be contributed to either IRA. In fact, these limits apply to any combination of IRAs; that is, workers cannot put more than $6,000 per year into their Roth and traditional IRAs combined. So, if a worker contributed $3,500 in a given year into a traditional IRA, contributions to a Roth IRA would be limited to $2,500 in that same year.
Individuals who reach age 50 or older by the end of the tax year can qualify for annual “catch-up” contributions of up to $1,000. So, for these IRA owners, the 2019 IRA contribution limit is $7,000.
If you meet the income requirements, both traditional and Roth IRAs can play a part in your retirement plans. And once you’ve figured out which will work better for you, only one task remains: opening an account.
Follow the rules, and you might get a big federal tax break.
Is your annual IRA withdrawal a bother? If you are an affluent retiree, that might be the case. The income is always nice, but the taxes that come with it? Not so much.
If only you could satisfy your yearly IRA withdrawal requirement minus the attached taxes. Guess what: there might be a way.
If you gift traditional IRA assets to charity, you could see some big tax savings. The Internal Revenue Service calls this a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD), and you may want to explore its potential. Some criteria must be met: you need to be at least 70½ years old in the year of the donation, the donation must take the form of a direct transfer of assets from the IRA custodian to the charity, and the charity must be “qualified” in the eyes of the I.R.S. Any 501(c)(3) non-profit organization meets the I.R.S. qualification, as do houses of worship.
The amount you gift can be applied toward your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for the year, and you may exclude it from your taxable income. If you are retired and well-to-do, a charitable IRA gift could be a highly tax-efficient move.
Just how much could you save? That depends on two factors: how much you gift, and your federal income tax bracket. As an example, say you are in the 35% federal income tax bracket, and you donate $40,000 from your traditional IRA to a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. That $40,000 will be gone from your taxable income, and the donation will cut your federal tax bill for the year by $14,000 (as 35% of $40,000 is $14,000). Yes, the savings could be significant.
You can donate as much as $100,000 to a qualified charity this way in a single year. That limit is per IRA owner; if you are married, and you and your spouse both have traditional IRAs, you can each donate up to $100,000.
What about the fine print? There is plenty of that, and it is all worth reading. You may be curious if you can make a QCD from a SIMPLE or SEP-IRA; the answer is no. You can make a QCD from a Roth IRA, but there is little point in it: Roth IRA withdrawals are commonly tax-free.
Regarding the asset transfer, the critical detail is that you cannot touch the money. The distribution must be payable directly to the non-profit organization or charity, not to you. (Income tax does not need to be withheld from the distribution since the amount withdrawn will not count as taxable income.) In addition, your tax preparer must identify the distribution as a QCD on your federal tax return. This is crucial and must not be overlooked, because the custodian of your IRA will probably report your QCD as a normal IRA distribution.
If you itemize your deductions, you should know that a charitable IRA gift does not count as a deductible charitable contribution. (That would amount to a double tax break.) Of course, fewer taxpayers have incentive to itemize now, since the standard deduction is so large, thanks to the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.
If you want to make a charitable IRA gift, start the process before the year ends. If you try to make the gift in late December, your IRA custodian might not be able to move fast enough for you, and the asset transfer may occur later than you would like (i.e., after December 31). Talk with a tax or financial professional before the year ends, so that you can plan a charitable IRA donation with some time to spare.