Are you aware of these potential tax breaks and tax-saving opportunities?
The federal government offers some major tax breaks for older Americans. Some of these perks deserve more publicity than they receive.
At age 65, the Internal Revenue Service gives you a larger standard deduction. For 2020, standard deductions look like this for taxpayers 65 and older: single filer or married filing separately, $14,050; head of household, $20,300; married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er), $26,100 (when one spouse is 65 or older) or $27,400 (when both spouses are 65 or older). The standard deductions for younger taxpayers range from $1,650-$2,600 less.1
There are two situations where your standard deduction may be limited at age 65 or older, or disappear entirely. One is when another taxpayer claims you as a dependent. The other is when you are married and filing separately, and your spouse itemizes deductions.1
You may be able to write off some medical costs. The I.R.S. will let you deduct qualifying medical expenses once they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). The list of eligible expenses is long. Beyond out-of-pocket costs paid to doctors and other health care professionals, it also includes things like insurance premiums for extended care coverage, travel costs linked to medical appointments, and payments for durable medical equipment, such as dentures and hearing aids.2
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. This exclusion is only allowed once every two years.3
Low-income seniors may qualify for the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. This incentive, intended for people 65 and older, 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.4
Affluent IRA owners may want to make a charitable IRA gift. Generally, once you reach age 72, you must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from a traditional IRA. You may not be looking forward to these annual withdrawals, especially if you are well off. You have another option: you can make a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) using those traditional IRA assets.5
You can donate up to $100,000 of traditional IRA assets to a qualified charity in a single year this way, and the amount donated counts toward your required withdrawal. The amount of the QCD is excluded from your gross income for the year of the donation. Eligibility to make a QCD still begins at 70½, even though the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act raised the starting age for annual traditional IRA distributions from 70½ to 72.5
It must be mentioned 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).
Of course, 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.6
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.7
1 - efile.com/tax-deduction/federal-standard-deduction/ [1/20/20]
2 - thebalance.com/deducting-medical-expenses-retirement-2894613 [11/4/19]
3 - investopedia.com/ask/answers/06/capitalgainhomesale.asp [2/16/20]
4 - thebalance.com/tax-breaks-for-seniors-and-retirees-4148392 [1/14/20]
5 - giving.princeton.edu/giftplanning/current-ira-gifts [2/18/20]
6 - thebalance.com/state-income-taxes-in-retirement-3193297 [7/15/19]
7 - smartasset.com/retirement/is-social-security-income-taxable [1/16/20]
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.
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.
The hows and whys of charity in America.
According to Giving USA 2018, Americans gave an estimated $410.02 billion to charity in 2017. That’s the first time that the amount has totaled more that $400 billion in the history of the report.
Americans give to charity for two main reasons: to support a cause or organization they care about or to leave a legacy through their support.
When giving to charitable organizations, some people elect to support through cash donations. Others, however, understand that supporting an organization may generate tax benefits. They may opt to follow techniques that can maximize both the gift and the potential tax benefit. Here’s a quick review of a few charitable choices:
Remember, the information in this article is not a replacement for real-life advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Make sure to consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional before modifying your charitable giving strategy.
Direct gifts are just that: contributions made directly to charitable organizations. Direct gifts may be deductible from income taxes depending on your individual situation.
Charitable gift annuities are not related to annuities offered by insurance companies. Under this arrangement, the donor gives money, securities, or real estate, and in return, the charitable organization agrees to pay the donor a fixed income. Upon the death of the donor, the assets pass to the charitable organization. Charitable gift annuities enable donors to receive consistent income and potentially manage taxes.
Pooled-income funds pool contributions from various donors into a fund, which is invested by the charitable organization. Income from the fund is distributed to the donors according to their share of the fund. Pooled-income funds enable donors to receive income, potentially manage taxes, and make a future gift to charity.
Gifts in trust enable donors to contribute to a charity and leave assets to beneficiaries. Generally, these irrevocable trusts take one of two forms. With a charitable remainder trust, the donor can receive lifetime income from the assets in the trust, which then pass to the charity when the donor dies; in the case of a charitable lead trust, the charity receives the income from the assets in the trust, which then pass to the donor’s beneficiaries when the donor dies.
Using a trust involves a complex set of tax rules and regulations. Before moving forward with a trust, consider working with a professional who is familiar with the rules and regulations.
Donor-advised funds are funds administered by a charity to which a donor can make irrevocable contributions. This gift may have tax considerations, which is another benefit. The donor also can recommend that the fund make distributions to qualified charitable organizations.
Some people are comfortable with their current gifting strategies. Others, however, may want a more advanced strategy that can maximize their gift and generate potential tax benefits. A financial professional can help you assess which approach may work best for you.
Not all gifts are taxable.
I’d like for you to meet my friend, Hugh. He’s a retired film stuntman who, after a long career, is enjoying his retirement. Some of what he’s enjoying about his retirement is sharing part of his accumulated wealth with his family, specifically his wife and two sons. Like many Americans, Hugh likes to make sure that, when he’s sharing that wealth, he isn’t giving the I.R.S. any overtime.
Hugh knows about the gift tax and knows how to make those gifts without running headlong into a taxable situation. This is Hugh’s responsibility because the I.R.S. puts the onus on the giver. If the gift is a taxable event and Hugh doesn’t pay up, then the responsibility falls to the beneficiaries after he passes in the form of estate taxes. These rules are in place so that Hugh can’t simply, say, give his entire fortune to his sons before he dies.
Exemptions for family and friends. It would be different for Hugh’s wife, Barbara. The unlimited marital deduction means that gifts that Hugh gives to Barbara (or vice versa) never incur the gift tax. There’s one exception, though. Maybe Barbara is a non-U.S. citizen. If so, there’s a limit to what Hugh can offer her, up to $155,000 per year. (This is the limit for 2019; it’s pegged to inflation.)
The gift limit for other people is $15,000 and it applies to both cash and noncash gifts. So, if Hugh buys his older son Tony a $15,000 motorcycle, it’s the same as writing a $15,000 check to his younger son, Jerry, or gifting $15,000 in stock. Spouses have their own separate gift limit, as well; Barbara could also write Jerry a $15,000 check from the account she shares with Hugh.
Education and healthcare. The gift tax doesn’t apply to funds for education or healthcare. So, if Tony breaks his leg riding that motorcycle, Hugh can write a check to the hospital. If Jerry goes back to college to become a chiropodist, Hugh can write a tuition check to the college. This only works if Hugh is writing the check to the institution directly; if he’s writing the check to the beneficiaries (i.e. Tony and Jerry), he might incur the gift tax.
The Lifetime Gift Tax Exemption. What if Hugh were to go over the limit? The lifetime gift tax exemption would go into effect, and the rest would be reported as part of the lifetime exemption via Form 709 come next April. Unlike the annual exemption, the lifetime exemption is cumulative for Hugh. Currently, that lifetime exemption is $11.4 million.
Being a stuntman and an active extreme sportsman, Hugh is concerned about his estate strategy. Were he to borrow Tony’s motorcycle and attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon, what would happen if he didn’t make it across? If that unfortunate event occurred in 2019, and he gave $9 million over his lifetime, and his estate and all of that giving totaled more than $2.4 million, the estate may owe a federal tax and possibly a state estate tax. Barbara would have her own $11.4 million lifetime exemption, however, and since she is the spouse, estate taxes may not apply.
Any wise stuntman will tell you, “leave this to the experts.” Talk to a trusted financial professional about your own plans for giving.
What are your options? What are the benefits?
If you own an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), perhaps you have heard about Roth IRA conversions. Converting your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can make a lot of sense depending on your situation. But remember, consulting with your financial advisor before making financial decisions is never a bad idea. Ready to learn more? Read on.
Why go Roth? There is a belief behind every Roth IRA conversion that future income tax rates will be higher. If you are one of the believers, then you may be compelled to convert. After all, once you are age 59½ and have had your Roth IRA open for at least five calendar years, withdrawals of the earnings from your Roth IRA are exempt from federal income taxes. You can withdraw your Roth IRA contributions tax free and penalty free at any time.
As the law is currently written, you never have to make mandatory withdrawals from a Roth IRA, and if your income permits, you can make contributions to a Roth IRA as long as you live.
Currently, if your filing status is married and your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $193,000 or less you can contribute a maximum of $6,000 to your Roth IRA – $7,000 if you’re age 50 or older. The maximum contribution is also available to single filers with an AGI of $122,000 or less. Depending on how high your AGI is, the amount you are able to contribute may change. Consult with your financial advisor to discuss the latest limitations and potential contributions for your situation.
Why not go Roth? Two reasons: the tax hit could be substantial, and time may not be on your side.
A Roth IRA conversion is a one-time taxable event. The I.R.S. regards it as a payout from a traditional IRA prior to that money entering a Roth IRA, and the payout represents taxable income. That taxable income stemming from the conversion could send you into a higher income tax bracket in the year when the conversion occurs.
If you are nearing retirement age, going Roth may not be worth it. If you convert a large traditional IRA to a Roth when you are in your fifties or sixties, it could take a decade (or longer) for the IRA to recapture the dollars lost to taxes on the conversion.
In many respects, the earlier in life you convert a regular IRA to a Roth, the better. Your income should rise as you get older; you will likely finish your career in a higher tax bracket than you were in when you were first employed. Those conditions relate to a key argument for going Roth: it is better to pay taxes on IRA contributions today than on IRA withdrawals tomorrow.
On the other hand, since many retirees have lower income levels than their end salaries, they may retire to a lower tax rate. That is a key argument against Roth conversion.
You could choose to “have it both ways.” As no one can fully predict the future of American taxation, some people contribute to both Roth and traditional IRAs – figuring that they can be at least “half right” regardless of whether taxes increase or decrease.
If you do go Roth, your heirs may receive a tax-free inheritance. Lastly, Roth IRAs can prove to be very useful estate planning tools. If I.R.S. rules are followed, Roth IRA heirs may end up with a tax-free inheritance, paid out either annually or as a lump sum. In contrast, the distributions of inherited assets from a traditional IRA are routinely taxed.
If you want a tax break and want to help a nonprofit, this may be a good move.
Have you ever wanted to make a major charitable gift? Would you like a significant federal tax break in acknowledgment of that gift? If so, an IRA charitable rollover might be a good option.
If you are age 70½ or older and have one or more traditional IRAs, you may want to explore the potential of this tax provision. In the language of federal tax law, it is called a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) – a direct transfer of up to $100,000 in IRA assets to a qualified charity.
An IRA charitable rollover may help you lower your adjusted gross income (AGI). That may be a goal in your tax strategy, especially if your AGI is large enough to position you for increased Medicare premiums, greater taxation of your Social Security benefits, or exposure to the 3.8% investment income tax and the Medicare surtax.
Up to $100,000 may be excluded from your gross income during the year in which you make the gift. The gifted amount also counts toward your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD).
By the way, this $100,000 annual QCD limit is per individual taxpayer. If you are married, you and your spouse may gift up to $200,000 in a year through IRA charitable rollovers. Imagine lowering your household’s AGI by as much as $200,000 in a tax year.
The Internal Revenue Service will not let you claim the amount of a QCD as a deduction on Schedule A. (That would amount to a double tax break.)
You need not be rich to do this. When many people first learn about the IRA charitable rollover, they think it is only for multimillionaires. That is a misconception. Even if you do not think of yourself as wealthy, a QCD could prove a significant element in your tax strategy.
How does it work? Logistically speaking, an IRA charitable rollover has to unfold in a certain way. The custodian or trustee overseeing your IRA must either make the gift to the charity for you or give you a check made payable to the charity for the amount of the gift.
Do not simply take a distribution from your IRA and then write a check to the charity. That does not qualify as a QCD. If you make this mistake, the money you have taken out of your IRA will simply be included in your gross income for the year, and you may not even be able to claim a charitable contribution deduction for your efforts.
An IRA owner must be age 70½ or older to do this; the gifted assets must come from an IRA, or multiple IRAs, and are subject to RMD rules. (SEPs and SIMPLE IRAs are ineligible if an employer contribution has been made for the particular year.)
The charity or nonprofit involved must pass muster with the I.R.S. It must be a public charity eligible for charitable contribution deductions; that is, it must qualify as 501(c)(3) eligible. It cannot be a donor-advised fund or a private foundation. The charity should provide you with a letter of acknowledgement of your gift, for federal tax purposes. If that letter is not quickly sent to you, be firm in requesting it. It should state that you have received no gift, reward, or benefit from the charity in exchange for your contribution.
If you pledge a donation to a qualified charity or nonprofit, an IRA charitable rollover can be used to satisfy your pledge.
This tax break has been a boon to charities and IRA owners alike. Correctly performed, a charitable IRA rollover may help to lessen tax issues while benefiting qualified nonprofit organizations.