2020 Year-End Checklist | Lord Abbett
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Retirement Perspectives

Now is the time to review and act to maximize your retirement, education, and health savings accounts and secure a variety of tax benefits for you and your family.

Read time: 14 minutes

In the final weeks of the year, it’s critical to take time to review your retirement, education, and health savings accounts (HSA) to ensure you’re taking full advantage of the benefits offered. In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act offers new, temporary tax benefits created due to the COVID-19 pandemic that expire at year- end.

Here’s my annual year-end checklist to use as a guide when reviewing your tax-advantaged accounts.

Q. Did you take a qualified birth or adoption distribution?

A. The Setting Every Community Up For Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act created a new in-service distribution option up to $5,000 to help pay for expenses for a qualified birth or adoption.  A qualified distribution, although taxable, is not subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty that otherwise applies to pre-age 59½ distributions.

Learn more about qualified birth or adoption distributions.

Q. Did you take a Coronavirus Related Distribution?

A. Coronavirus Related Distributions (CRDs)  are tax-advantaged distributions of up to $100,000, made from IRAs, employer-sponsored plans, or a combination both which are made by a “qualified individual” through December 30, 2020 (not December 31).

Importantly, the tax treatment of a CRD is an individual issue, not a plan issue. CRDs are reported as part of individual’s tax return. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter how the retirement plan or IRA provided reported the distribution.  Finally, a qualified individual may choose to include the total income from the CRD in (1) 2020 or (2) ratably over tax years 2020, 2021, and 2022.  Once a qualified individual files his or her 2020 taxes reflecting one of the two methods, it cannot be changed later. Qualified individuals report CRDs, using IRS Form 8915-E (the IRS said this form will be available before the end of 2020) to report any repayment of a CRD and to determine the amount of any CRD includible in income for a year. 

Q. Did you contribute to an employer sponsored retirement plan or individual retirement account (IRA) in 2020?

A. The saver’s credit is a nonrefundable federal income tax credit available to individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $65,000 (2020). Salary-deferral contributions to a 401(k), 403(b), governmental 457(b), SIMPLE IRA, and SAR SEP can reduce an individual’s AGI, creating Saver’s Tax Credit eligibility. In addition, the credit is available for contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA. The maximum annual contribution eligible for the credit is $2,000, and the maximum credit is 50%, making the maximum saver’s credit $1,000.

Q. Have you fully funded your employer sponsored retirement plan?
In 2020, you can defer a maximum of $19,500 into your 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), or Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). This limit is an aggregate of all pretax and/or Roth contributions made.  In addition, those individuals age 50+ can defer an additional $6,500 in “catch up” contributions.

Tip: 457(b) salary deferrals are not coordinated with contributions to a 403(b) or 401(k) plan. Thus, you can fully fund your 403(b) or 401(k) without reducing the contribution limits to either plan. In other words, participation in both plan types offers a tremendous opportunity to fully fund both plans to maximize the deferral limit, thus doubling your salary deferrals.

For example, in 2020, an individual participating in both a 457(b) and 403(b) or 401(k) can defer up to a $39,000 ($19,500 into a 457(b) plus an additional $19,500 into a 401(k) or 403(b), for a total of $39,000). In addition, individuals age 50+ can defer an additional ($6,500 per plan) $13,000 in catch-up contributions.

Q. Have you fully funded your individual retirement account (IRA)?
 While it’s true that you have until your 2020 tax filing (generally, April 15, 2021) to contribute your IRA for the 2020 tax year, why not fund it now?

Virtually anyone with reportable (earned) income is eligible to fund a traditional IRA up to $6,000 ($7,000 including the age 50+ catch-up contribution) in 2020. Everyone, however, is not eligible to make Roth IRA contributions. Roth IRAs carry statutory maximum income levels; therefore, investors must satisfy an annual income test. Notably, there are no maximum age restrictions on Roth contributors.  Furthermore, the  SECURE Act of 2019 repealed the rule preventing otherwise eligible individuals to fund a traditional IRA in the year they attain age 70½.  Therefore, starting this year, an otherwise eligible individual can contribute to a traditional IRA regardless of their age.

Tip! A spousal IRA is an exception to the (earned) income requirement; available to those married couples where one spouse has no earned income. Notably, the spousal IRA only applies to those (married) couples that file a joint tax return.

Q. Have you fully funded your SIMPLE IRA?
In 2020, you can defer a maximum of $13,500 into your SIMPLE IRA. Participants age 50 or older may make an additional catch-up contribution of $3,000, for a total of $16,500. By participating, you are eligible to receive a non-forfeitable, immediately vested employer funded contribution in the form of a 3% match or 2% non-elective.

Q. Have you contributed to a Roth IRA for a child?
 There is no minimum age to establish a Roth IRA. Instead, a child, regardless of age, who has reportable earned income, is eligible to establish and fund their Roth IRA. Once established, the IRA can be funded by anyone, up to the amount earned by the minor. For more information, see my article about establishing Roth IRA for a child.

Q. Have you had the “back-door” Roth discussion?
A backdoor Roth IRA is a retirement savings strategy whereby you contribute aftertax funds (non-deductible) to a traditional IRA, which virtually everyone is allowed to do, and then immediately convert the account to a Roth IRA.

As noted, Roth IRA eligibility is means tested—that is, an investor must satisfy an annual income threshold as set by the IRS. For you to contribute directly to a Roth IRA, your income must be under a threshold dependent on your tax filing status. If your household income is above an upper limit, then you can't contribute to a Roth IRA. However, high-income earners, regardless of the amount of their household income, are eligible to convert funds to a Roth IRA. For more information on this popular strategy, see my column.

Q. Did you “overfund” your IRA?
. It’s common occurrence to contribute more to your IRA than allowed. "Excess contributions," as the IRS refers to them, typically occur when you unintentionally deposit funds that are not permitted to be made to your IRA.

There are several scenarios that can lead an IRA owner to overfund their IRA. Common errors that lead to excess IRA contributions include: contributing more than the maximum annual contribution limit, not satisfying Roth income-eligibility, and funding an IRA with an ineligible rollover such as a required minimum distribution (RMD) or a hardship withdrawal, neither of which is permitted.

Notably, tax law permits excess IRA contributions to be withdrawn without penalty—if corrected within the tax-filing deadline (including extension). If not corrected by the deadline, the excess contribution plus earnings are subject to a 6% penalty for every year the excess remains in the IRA.

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

Q. Did you make a nondeductible (aftertax) traditional IRA contribution?
If you did, it is essential that you or most likely your tax professional complete and file IRS Form 8606 “Nondeductible IRAs.”  Learn more about nondeductible IRAs and form 8606.

How do I determine if my IRA contribution is tax deductible? A number of variables—including tax filing status, modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), and whether an individual and/or their spouse are active participants in a workplace retirement plan—can determine whether a taxpayers’ contribution to their traditional IRA are tax deductible.

Participation in an employer-sponsored plan, such as a 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), TSP, SIMPLE, or SEP IRA, does not affect IRA eligibility or contribution limits. However, participation may affect whether your IRA contribution is tax deductible.

Learn more about IRA deductibility.

Q. Did you take a distribution from a traditional IRA? 
The tax liability of a distribution (e.g. normal, Roth conversion, RMD) from any IRA once you have accumulated (aftertax dollars) basis is determined and reported on IRS Form 8606 “Nondeductible IRAs.” Therefore, an IRA owner (or their tax professional) is required file Form 8606 in those tax years that a non-deductible contribution was made and, in any year that funds are distributed (including a conversion to a Roth IRA) from any IRA that contains non-deductible dollars.

For tax purposes, all IRAs (except Roth IRAs) are considered a single IRA regardless of where they were established (for example, different IRA providers)) and distributions are taxed proportionately or “pro-rata,” partly from your pretax (tax deductible contributions plus earnings, if any) and partly from your non-deductible (aftertax) IRA funds. In other words, when there are aftertax dollars (basis) in a traditional IRA (including rollover, SEP, and SIMPLE) and the entire the entire IRA balance (across all IRAs) isn’t distributed, the amount of the distribution subject to income tax is based on the ratio of aftertax dollars to total IRA assets (across all IRAs, including rollover IRA, SEP, and SIMPLE) at the end of the year. This is commonly referred to as the “pro-rata” rule.

See my article for more on nondeductible (aftertax) contributions.

Q. Did you (or intend to) make a Roth IRA conversion in 2020?
  Conversions are made on a calendar year basis. Therefore, a Roth conversion must be completed by year-end to qualify for 2020.  In other words, there is no such thing as a prior year Roth conversion,

The Tax Cuts and Jobs of 2017 Act lowered individual tax rates for many tax payers, thus making Roth conversions more appealingPlus, IRA owners can convert as much or as little of a traditional IRA (including SEP and SIMPLE) to a Roth IRA as they want; although the amount of funds converted (minus any basis) is subject income tax (federal and state, if applicable) in the year of conversion. The conversion amount is taxed at your marginal tax bracket.

Tip: Converting to a Roth account is irrevocable. The Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 repealed the recharacterization of a Roth conversion. For more on the elimination of recharacterization, see my column.

Q. Did you turn age 72 in 2020?

One annual deadline that you do not have to be concerned with this year is taking your required minimum distributions (RMDs) by year-end. The CARES Act waived 2020 RMDs for all retirement accounts (except defined benefit and non-government 457 plans.)

Importantly, if a 2020 RMDs was previously taken, the funds can be repaid (avoiding taxation) if you are otherwise eligible for a rollover. This means any repayment must be made within 60 days and is also subject to the once-per-year IRA-IRA rollover rule.

Q. Did the CARES Act waive 2020 RMDs for non-spouse beneficiaries?

Yes. The waiver applies to inherited IRAs (including inherited Roth IRAs) and employer retirement plans (i.e. 401(k) beneficiaries.) However, unlike lifetime RMDs, non-spouse beneficiaries cannot repay (rollover) previously received RMDs.

Q. Did you or (are you planning) on using net unrealized appreciation (NUA) strategy?
  NUA is a tremendous tax-planning strategy if you hold highly appreciated company

stock in your 401(k). NUA allows an individual to pay ordinary income tax on the cost basis when distributed. The difference between the two amounts (NUA) isn’t taxable until the shares are sold—and at favorable long-term capital gains rates—even if sold within a year. However, NUA treatment requires a taxpayer to satisfy several rules. One requirement is all plan funds must be distributed by the end of the year. In other words, if funds remain (in the plan) at the end of the year, the lump sum distribution requirement will not be satisfied.

For more on the NUA strategy, see my column

Q. Did you turn any of these ages in 2020?

Q. Are all beneficiary designation forms in order?
 Retirement accounts generally are not subject to probate; therefore, the beneficiary designation on file, rather than a will, is what prevails. Did you get married this year? Divorced? Did a previously designed beneficiary predecease you? Birth of a child? Adoption? Any of these life events could affect your beneficiary designation.

Review and, if necessary, update your beneficiary forms for all your retirement accounts. Are the correct individual(s) designated to receive the benefits? If you are unsure who to name as your beneficiary (primary or contingent), we suggest discussing your estate planning needs with your financial professional.

Also, learn more about how the SECURE Act affects naming a retirement account beneficiary.

Q. Did you inherit an IRA or qualified plan from someone other than your spouse in 2019?
 If you did, and intend on "stretching" the payout, you generally must begin taking minimum distributions—even if it’s an inherited Roth account—beginning the year following the year of the owner’s death (i.e. 2020); regardless of your age. However, the CARES Act waived 2020 RMDs including those for inherited IRAs. Therefore, beneficiaries’ initial RMD would be in 2021.  

Q. Has a separate inherited IRA been established for each designated beneficiary?
 When multiple beneficiaries stand to inherit an IRA, it’s favorable to divide the (deceased’s) account into separate inherited IRAs for each beneficiary. This approach, when finalized 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 (i.e., shortest life expectancy) to determine the annual minimum distribution payout.

Designated (named) beneficiaries have until December 31 (year following the year of the IRA owner’s death) to split the account into separate shares so that each beneficiary can use their own life expectancy to calculate required minimum distributions (RMDs). Each share should be transferred into a separate, properly titled inherited IRA. The account can be split after December 31, but beneficiaries will be “stuck” using the life expectancy of the oldest beneficiary (i.e. beneficiary with the shortest life expectancy).

Q. What do you need to know about qualified charitable distributions (QCD) from IRAs this year?
 QCDs are a tax-free direct transfer of funds up to $100,000 annually from your IRA, payable to a qualified charity. QCDs can be counted toward satisfying your required minimum distributions (RMDs) for the year, if certain rules are satisfied. QCDs can be made from traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and inactive SEPs and SIMPLE IRAs belonging only to account owners or beneficiaries who are age 70½ or older.

QCDs can still be done in 2020 even though there are no RMDs to offset. A QCD would still be nontaxable but would not save money by reducing otherwise taxable income from your RMD. Instead, all a QCD would do is reduce your IRA balance and future RMDs.

Tip: The SECURE Act changed the start of RMDs to age 72, however an otherwise eligible individual can still do a QCD at age 70½. QCD prior to the start of RMDs would function like a QCD this year when there are no RMDs.

For those who do make a QCD, be aware that although the amount of these distributions will be reported on IRS Form 1099-R, there is no code signifying the distribution is a QCD.  As such, QCDs can easily be missed on a tax return, resulting in a taxable IRA distribution. Therefore, it’s up to the taxpayer to properly report the QCD as tax-free on his/her IRS Form 1040.

Tip: Since a 2020 QCD must be received by a qualifying charity by December 31, 2020, waiting until the end of the year is not prudent.

Learn more about QCDs.

Find out how the SECURE Act may affect QCDs.

Q. Did you do a 60-day rollover in 2020?
A. Verify that 60-day rollovers were completed in a timely fashion. Further, confirm that only one 60-day IRA-to-IRA rollover per account owner was done in a 365-day period (not calendar year).The rule prevents an unwanted IRA distribution from being rolled back into the same or another IRA via a 60-day rollover if another IRA-to-IRA 60-day rollover has been completed during past 365 days.

Tip! IRA owners who received multiple distributions can still rollover the funds while bypassing the once-per-year rollover rule by rolling the second (or more) distributions to a non-IRA employer sponsored retirement plan (i.e. 401(k), 403(b) etc.) that accepts roll-ins. Alternatively, if a plan rollover option is not available, you still can receive benefits by doing a Roth conversion (not subject to once-per-year rollover rule), although funds will still be subject to income tax.

Q. Have you funded a Coverdell Education Savings Account?
The deadline to establish and/or fund a Coverdell ESA for 2020 is April 15, 2021. The total contributions for the beneficiary cannot exceed $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established. Any individual can contribute to a Coverdell ESA if the individual's household income (MAGI) for the year is less than $110,000. For married couples filing joint returns, that amount increases to $220,000.

Learn more about Coverdell ESAs.

Q. Have you funded a 529 ABLE Account?
 Section 529 ABLE (Achieve a Better Life Experience, also known as 529A) accounts are tax-advantaged accounts for individuals who become disabled before age 26 that help pay for qualified disability expenses without affecting eligibility for benefits such as Medicaid.

The total annual contribution by all participating individuals in 2020 is $15,000. The amount may be adjusted periodically for inflation. Under current tax law, $15,000 is the maximum amount that individuals can make as a gift to someone else and not report the gift to the IRS (gift tax exclusion).

Notably, under a newer provision, even if the annual contribution limit to maxed, designated beneficiary themselves may be able to make an additional contribution above and beyond the annual limit if they have earned income from employment.  Maximum amount of employment income that can be contributed is lesser of 100% of their compensation, or the Federal poverty line threshold for a one-person household ($12,760 in 2020). In addition, the beneficiary must not also be contributing to an employer retirement plan (401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan).

New rules permit money in a 529 plan to be rolled over to a 529A account (without any non-qualified distribution penalties), as long as the 529A beneficiary is the same person (or a member of the same family) as the original 529 plan account. However, even rollovers from 529 plans to 529A accounts will still be restricted to (and count toward) the annual contribution limit for ABLE accounts, which is the annual gift exclusion.

Tip! If the designated beneficiary makes the contributions, he/she will now be able to claim the Saver’s Credit  as well (which is normally only available for contributions to retirement accounts).

Learn more about 529 ABLE Accounts.

Q. Have you contributed to a health savings account (HSA)?
You may be eligible to contribute to a HSA if you are enrolled in a high deductible health plan (HDHP). HSAs are triple tax-advantaged savings accounts that are designed to be used for future medical costs. In 2020, an eligible individual with single coverage can contribute $3,550, whereas the limit is $7,100 for family coverage. In addition, a $1,000 catch-up contribution is available to those individuals age 55 and older.

Tip: Once you determine the maximum allowable HSA limit, contributions can be made anytime between January 1 and April 15 of the following year. For example, you can make a 2020 HSA contribution as late as April 15, 2021.

Learn more about HSAs in our article  and podcast.

Q. Did you have any activity in your HSA in 2020?
If so, you are required to file Form 8889 “Health Savings Accounts” PDF Document and file it along with your Form 1040. Activity includes contributions (including those made by your employer) and distributions.

Q. Did you inherit a HSA in 2020?
. HSA requires an account owner to name a beneficiary, just as you would with an IRA or 401(k). And like retirement accounts, the individual you name inherits the HSA after your death. Moreover, as with retirement accounts, you can name anyone as beneficiary, including spouse, non-spouse, estate, etc. Naming a HSA beneficiary follows a number of guidelines for employer sponsored retirement plans and IRAs—but that is generally where the similarity ends. Read more about beneficiary rules for HSAs.

Q. Small business owners: Have you distributed SIMPLE IRA plan notifications to eligible employees?
Employers that sponsor SIMPLE plans are required to distribute notices to eligible participants providing plan information such as the opportunity to make or change salary deferrals, summary plan description, and employer contribution formula (3% match or 2% non-elective) for the following year. The election period is generally the 60-day period immediately preceding January 1 of a calendar year.

Q. Small business owners: Are you complying with the SIMPLE IRA “exclusive plan” rule?
A SIMPLE IRA must be the only qualified retirement plan an employer maintains during a calendar year (“exclusive plan rule”). However, if no contributions are made and no benefits accrue to an existing qualified plan (e.g., 401(k)) during this time period, the employer will satisfy the requirement.

For more information on SIMPLE IRAs and the “exclusive plan” rule, see my column.

Advisors, if you have additional questions, please contact your Lord Abbett representative at 888-522-2388.


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 and are not indicative of any particular client situation.

The information provided is not directed at any investor or category of investors and is provided solely as general information about Lord Abbett's products and services and to otherwise provide general investment education. None of the information provided should be regarded as a suggestion to engage in or refrain from any investment-related course of action as neither Lord Abbett nor its affiliates are undertaking to provide impartial investment advice, act as an impartial adviser, or give advice in a fiduciary capacity. If you are an individual retirement investor, contact your financial advisor or other fiduciary about whether any given investment idea, strategy, product or service may be appropriate for your circumstances.


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.

A 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 Roth IRA are not tax deductible, but withdrawals during retirement are generally tax-free.

A SIMPLE IRA plan is an IRA-based plan that gives small-business employers a simplified method to make contributions toward their employees’ retirement and their own retirement. Under a SIMPLE IRA plan, employees may choose to make salary reduction contributions and the employer makes matching or nonelective contributions. All contributions are made directly to an individual retirement account (IRA) set up for each employee (a SIMPLE IRA). SIMPLE IRA plans are maintained on a calendar-year basis.

A simplified employee pension plan (SEP IRA) 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.

401(k) is a qualified plan established by employers to which eligible employees may make salary deferral (salary reduction) contributions on an aftertax 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.

A 403(b) plan is a retirement savings plan that allows employees of public schools, nonprofit, and 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations to invest on a pretax and or Roth aftertax basis. Contributions to a 403(b) plan are conveniently deducted directly from your paycheck. In addition, your employer may elect to make a contribution on your behalf.

A governmental 457(b) deferred-compensation plan allows employees of states, political subdivisions of a state, or any agency or instrumentality of a state to invest money on a pretax or Roth aftertax basis through salary reductions. The employer deposits amounts withheld into an annuity, custodial, or a trust account, where the funds accumulate tax-deferred or potentially tax free in the case of Roth aftertax contributions until withdrawals commence, usually at retirement.

A Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a tax-deferred retirement savings and investment plan that offers Federal employees the same type of savings and tax benefits that many private corporations offer their employees under 401(k) plans. By participating in the TSP, Federal employees have the opportunity to save part of their income for retirement and receive matching agency contributions.

Required minimum distribution (RMD) is the minimum amount you must withdraw from your account each year. You generally have to start taking withdrawals from your IRA, SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, or retirement plan account when you reach age 70½. Roth IRAs do not require withdrawals until after the death of the owner.

health savings account (HSA) is a savings account that lets employees set aside money on a pretax basis to pay for qualified medical expenses.

A Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) offers investors the ability to save for a child’s education. Contributions to an ESA are made with aftertax dollars, however, withdrawals used to pay for qualified education expenses are tax-free. Qualified expenses include: tuition, fees, books, etc. Click here for more informaton about Coverdell account from Lord Abbett.

529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future education costs. 529 plans, legally known as “qualified tuition plans,” are sponsored by states, state agencies, or educational institutions and are authorized by Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code.

An ABLE Account, also called a 529A account, allows individuals with disabilities and their families a tax-advantaged way to save money for disability-related expenses of the account’s designated beneficiary. Contributions to an ABLE account may be made by any person (the account beneficiary, family and friends) using post-taxed dollars. The ABLE account was created with the passage of the Stephen Beck Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, or the ABLE Act.

qualified charitable distribution (QCD) allows individuals who are 70½ years old or older to donate up to $100,000 annually to one or more charities directly from a taxable IRA instead of taking their required minimum distributions.

Net unrealized appreciation (NUA) of employer stock held in an employer-sponsored retirement plan permits gains that occurred inside the plan to be taxed outside the plan (e.g., brokerage account) at preferential long-term capital gains rates.  

catch-up contribution allows people aged 50 or older to make additional contributions to their retirement accounts.



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