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Retirement Perspectives

The final few months of the year are a good time to take stock of where you stand financially.

The end of the year often signals the deadline for doing (or undoing) financial transactions and preparing for filing taxes in the months ahead. Estate planning, while longer term, should be reviewed periodically to make sure there have been no major changes that would require updating legacy decisions.

So, as 2015 approaches its close, here is a fairly comprehensive check list for you to review with your financial advisor and/or tax professional, while there is still time to act.

Q. Have you fully funded your IRA?

A. Virtually anyone under the age of 70½ at the end of 2015 is eligible to fund an IRA; having earned income is the sole requirement. Even children or grandparents who have reportable earned income can fund IRAs.

A number of variables apply in determining whether taxpayers’ contributions to their IRAs are tax deductible. The variables include filing status, modified adjust gross income (MAGI), and whether individuals and/or their spouses are active participants in a workplace retirement plan.

Individuals must have earned income to contribute to both traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. However, not everyone is eligible to make Roth IRA contributions. Roth IRAs carry statutory maximum income levels, and investors must satisfy an annual income test. There are no maximum age restrictions on Roth contributors, whereas individuals older than 70½ cannot make contributions to traditional IRAs.

While it is true that you can wait until April 15, 2016, to fully fund your IRA, why not fund it now, if you are able to, and have the money working for you on a tax-favored basis for a longer time?

Q. Have you funded a Roth IRA for a minor?

A: A minor who has reportable earned income is eligible to establish a Roth IRA. Once established, the IRA can be funded by anyone, up to the amount earned by the minor.   

Q. Can you make IRA contributions if you participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan?

A. Yes. Participation in employer-sponsored plans, such as 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), SIMPLE, and SEP plans, does not affect IRA eligibility or contribution limits. However, participation may affect whether or not the contributions are tax-deductible.

While just about anyone under 70½ who is earning an income is eligible to fund a traditional IRA, only about 12% of eligible taxpayers made IRA contributions in tax-year 2013 (the latest year for which statistics are available), according to the Investment Company Institute. Confusion about eligibility may be part of the reason.

Q. Have you checked to see if you have made excess IRA contributions?

A. There are a number of situations that can lead IRA participants to over-contribute to their accounts. Misunderstanding the limits ($5,500 in 2015), not meeting the income-eligibility for Roth accounts, and funding an IRA with an ineligible rollover are just a few of the common errors.

Reviewing all of your account activity for the past year with your financial and/or tax advisor may help you avoid an inadvertent overfunding that could result in taxes and/or penalties.

Q. Have you had the “back-door” Roth IRA discussion?

A. As noted, funding a Roth IRA is means tested; an investor must satisfy an annual income requirement. Since 2010, however, high-income earners have been eligible to convert traditional IRA assets to Roth IRAs, a practice known as a “back-door” Roth IRA. This is accomplished by making nondeductible (aftertax) contributions to a traditional IRA and converting the assets to a Roth sometime thereafter.

Q. Did you make a nondeductible (aftertax) IRA contribution?

A. If you did, it is essential that you file IRS Form 8606, “Nondeductible IRAs.” The critical form is used to track IRA account owners’ aftertax (basis) dollars.

Q. Did you turn 70½ in 2015?

A. If you did, you are required by the IRS to start taking annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from all IRAs, excluding Roth IRAs. You are, however, permitted to postpone your first RMD until April 1, 2016, but then you must take a second distribution before the end of 2016 and every year thereafter. Be aware that taking two distributions in 2015 may affect your tax rate.

Q. If you are older than age 70½, have you taken your RMD for 2015? 

A. A hefty 50% excise tax is applied to the amount that was not taken, but which should have been. For example, if you are required to take $10,000 by December 31, 2015, but you withdraw only $2,000, a 50% excise tax of $4,000 will be applied to the $8,000 shortfall, plus you will be subject to federal income taxes on the $8,000 when distributed. The shortage is reported on IRS Form 5329, “Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts.”  

You can always take more than the mini­mum. RMD figures become available each January 1 for that year.

Q. If you are taking RMDs, have you included all your IRAs in the calculation? 

A. Government rules require account owners to calculate RMD amounts for each individual (separate) IRA, including SEP IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs, but not Roth IRAs. Once calculated, however, the total may be taken from any one or more IRAs.

Q. Are you clear on the RMD rules that apply to your 401(k) account?

A. IRAs and 401(k)s have different rules regarding minimum distributions. Unlike a traditional IRAs, 401(k) participants who own less than 5% of their current employer’s plan can defer their RMD until the year they turn 70½ or the year they retire, whichever is later. Participants who own 5% or more are required to start taking RMDs at 70½, regardless of work status. If you own multiple 401(k) accounts, a RMD must be calculated and taken separately from each plan.

(For additional RMD information please see our Retirement Perspectives article, “The ABCs of RMDs,” on our website.)

Q. Are all beneficiary designation forms in order?

A. Individuals often have several IRAs established at different times. Life events, such as marriages, divorces, children, and death, can change situations and outlooks. Are the correct people still positioned to receive the benefits? IRAs do not pass through probate, so the beneficiary designation on file with the IRA provider, rather than a will, is what prevails.

Q. Did you inherit an IRA or employer-sponsored retirement-plan account from someone other than your spouse in 2014?

A. If you did, you must begin taking minimum distributions—even if it’s a Roth IRA—before the end of 2015, regardless of your age. If you miss this year-end deadline, IRS rules generally require the account to be paid out in full within five years after the death of the plan owner (“five-year rule”), which would mean by December 2019.

Q. If you want to designate multiple beneficiaries by creating separate IRAs for each one, have you done so?

A. When multiple beneficiaries stand to inherit an IRA, it’s often advantageous to divide the account among separate inherited IRAs established for each beneficiary. This strategy, when completed by December 31 of the year following the death of the IRA owner, allows each beneficiary to use his or her own life expectancy for future minimum distributions. If separate inherited accounts are not established in a timely manner, all beneficiaries must use the life expectancy of the oldest beneficiary for purposes of determining minimum distribution payout.

Q. What can you do to optimize the tax implications of converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2015?

A. Each taxpayer’s situation is somewhat unique, so we cannot offer specific tax advice. However, in general, each of these strategies potentially could help lower taxes:

▪ Consider spreading the taxable income over two or more tax years. By converting part of an IRA to a Roth IRA in 2015 and another part in 2016, the taxable income generated does not fall in one tax year and may avoid raising your tax bracket. 

▪ When there are aftertax dollars in a traditional IRA and you are not going to convert the whole IRA, know that partial conversion taxation is based on the ratio of your aftertax dollars to your total IRA dollars (across all IRAs owned, excluding Roth and inherited IRAs) at the end of the year. This is referred to as the "pro-rata rule."  It is, therefore, recommended that you either transfer the taxable dollars from your IRA to a qualified plan (such as a 401(k)) before December 31, 2015, or refrain from rolling over money from another qualified plan to your IRA until after December 31, 2015.

▪ Consider opening a separate Roth IRA for each investment you select. You have until October 15, 2016, to reverse your conversion—through a process known as “recharacterization"— on an IRA-by-IRA basis. This strategy allows you to reverse only accounts that did not perform. If multiple investments are under a single Roth umbrella, a recharacterization does not allow you to allocate the loss to a specific investment.

Q. Can I pay taxes from my IRA upon converting to a Roth IRA?

A. Yes, although you should proceed with caution. In general, there are no penalties assessed on pretax IRA dollars converted to a Roth IRA. However, if you are younger than 59½ and you convert to a Roth, the amount withdrawn to pay the taxes will be viewed as a distribution, subject to the 10% early-withdrawal penalty (in addition to  income taxes). However, the penalty does not apply to those investors who are 59½ or older at the time of distribution. In addition, if you decide to reverse (recharacterize) your Roth IRA conversion, you cannot recover the taxes paid as part of the conversion.

Q. What do you need to know about charitable donations from IRAs this year?

A. As of this writing (October 2015), the qualified charitable distribution (QCD) exemption has not been extended by Congress to 2015. First permitted in 2006, QCDs are tax-free IRA distributions of up to $100,000, which are sent directly to a qualifying charity. QCDs can be made from traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and inactive SEP and SIMPLE IRAs belonging only to account owners or beneficiaries who are age 70½ or older.

Although Congress has not moved to restore the exemption in 2015, the government has reinstated the QCD provision retroactively multiple times in the past, and it bears monitoring by advisors and their clients. In the absence of another extension, however, distributions from IRAs that are made directly to charitable organizations generally will be subject to taxation. 

 

 

To comply with Treasury Department regulations, we inform you that, unless otherwise expressly indicated, any tax information contained herein is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or any other applicable tax law, or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction, arrangement, or other matter.

The information is being provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or tax advice. You should consult your own legal or tax advisor for guidance on regulatory compliance matters. Any examples provided are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be reflective of actual results.

Traditional IRA contributions plus earnings, interest, dividends, and capital gains may compound tax-deferred until you withdraw them as retirement income. Amounts withdrawn from traditional IRA plans are generally included as taxable income in the year received and may be subject to 10% federal tax penalties if withdrawn prior to age 59½, unless an exception applies.

SEP IRA − A Simplified Employee Pension Plan is a retirement plan specifically designed for self-employed people and small-business owners. When establishing a SEP-IRA plan for your business, you and any eligible employees establish your own separate SEP IRA; employer contributions are then made into each eligible employee’s SEP IRA.

A SIMPLE IRA plan provides small employers with a simplified method to contribute toward their employees' and their own retirement savings. Employees may choose to make salary reduction contributions and the employer is required to make either matching or nonelective contributions. Contributions are made to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or annuity set up for each employee (a SIMPLE IRA).

Roth IRA is a tax-deferred and potentially tax-free savings plan available to all working individuals and their spouses who meet the IRS income requirements. Distributions, including accumulated earnings, may be made tax-free if the account has been held at least five years and the individual is at least 59½, or if any of the IRS exceptions apply. Contributions to a RothIRA are not tax deductible, but withdrawals during retirement are generally tax-free.

An IRA rollover may involve the application of fees and charges to the investor.

A 401(k) is a qualified plan established by employers to which eligible employees may make salary deferral (salary reduction) contributions on an after tax and/or pretax basis. Employers offering a 401(k) plan may make matching or nonelective contributions to the plan on behalf of eligible employees and may also add a profit-sharing feature to the plan. Earnings accrue on a tax-deferred basis.

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