Effective Roth Conversion Strategies for Tax-Free Growth

Roth Conversion

Roth conversion of your tax-deferred retirement savings can be a brilliant move. Learn the must-know rules and tax implications of Roth Conversion before you decide if it is right for you.

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What is a Roth Conversion?

Roth Conversion is the process of transferring the full or partial balance of your existing traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. The conversion effectively moves tax-deferred retirement savings into tax-exempt dollars.

A critical downside of Roth conversion is that you need to pay income taxes on the converted amount. For that reason, it is beneficial to have additional taxable savings to cover the tax cost of the conversion.

Unfortunately, not everybody is the right candidate for Roth conversion. Consider your specific financial and tax circumstances before moving forward.

Watch your tax bracket

A crucial element of any Roth conversion decision making is your taxes. The strategy becomes feasible during low tax years or whenever you expect higher tax rates in the future. Higher future tax rates make a Roth IRA more appealing, while lower future tax rates would make a traditional IRA more attractive.

Consider your investment horizon

Generally, you will achieve a higher benefit if you perform your conversions earlier. Your Roth IRA will have time to grow tax-free for longer and will offset the cost of paying taxes upfront. 

Roth IRA 5-year rule

When you do a Roth conversion, you need to be mindful of the 5-year rule. The rule requires that 5 years have passed since your first Roth contributions before taking penalty-free withdrawals of your tax-free earnings.

You can still withdraw your original contributions at any time. However, your earnings are subject to the 5-year minimum restriction. If you do not meet the minimum 5-year holding period, your profits can be subject to ordinary income tax as well as a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

Furthermore, each separate Roth conversion has a five-year limit. The Five-Year clock begins ticking on January 1st of the year when you make the conversion.

The advantages of Roth conversion

Converting your tax-deferred dollars to Roth RIA can have several financial and estate benefits.

Your money grows tax-free

Savings in your Roth IRA grow tax-free. As long as you meet the 5-year rule, you will not owe any taxes on your distributions. Roth IRA contributions are pre-tax. You are paying taxes beforehand but do not owe taxes on any future earnings.

In comparison, contributions to Traditional IRA are typically tax-deductible. When you take distributions from Traditional IRA, you have to pay ordinary income taxes on your entire withdrawal amount. 

Tax Diversification

If your future tax rate is uncertain for various reasons, you may want to diversify your tax risk through Roth conversion. You will benefit from holding both tax-deferred and tax-exempt retirement accounts. Tax diversification gives you more flexibility when it comes to future retirement withdrawals and tax planning. 

Asset Location

Asset location is a tax-optimization strategy that takes advantage of different types of investments, getting different tax treatments. Investors who own a variety of taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-exempt accounts can benefit from asset location. By doing Roth conversion, you can determine which securities should be held in tax-deferred accounts and which in Roth accounts to maximize your after-tax returns.

No Required Minimum Distributions

Traditional IRA rules mandate you to take taxable required minimum distributions (RMDs) every year after you reach age 72.

Alternatively, your Roth IRA does not require minimum distributions at any age. Your money can stay in the account and grow tax-free for as long as you want them.

Leave behind a tax-free legacy

The Roth IRA can play a crucial role in your estate planning. Your heirs who inherit your Roth IRA will receive a tax-free gift. They will be required to take distributions from the account. However, they will not have to pay any income tax on the withdrawals if the Roth IRA has been open for at least five years. Roth IRA is especially appealing if your heirs are in a higher tax bracket than you.

Keep Social Security income tax and Medicare Premiums low

Another hidden benefit of the Roth conversion is it could potentially lower your future social security income tax and Medicare Premiums.

Up to 85% of your Social Security checks can be taxable for individuals earning more than $34,000 and families receiving more than $44,000 per year.

Your Medicare Plan B premium will be calculated based on your reported income-related monthly adjustment amount (IRMAA) 2 years prior to your application. Even a dollar higher can push in a higher premium bracket,

Roth Conversion Strategies

With some planning, Roth IRA offers substantial tax-free benefits. Due to income limits, many retirement savers end up with significant amounts in tax-deferred accounts such as 401k and Traditional IRA. These plans give you initial tax relief to encourage retirement savings. However, all future distributions are fully taxable.

The Roth conversion may help you reduce your future tax burden and unlock some of the befits of Roth IRA. Here are some of the strategies that can be helpful in your decision process.

  

End-of-year Roth conversion

The stability of your income can be critical to your success. Each conversion must be completed by the end of each tax year. If your income is constant, you can process the conversion at any time. If your income is less predictable, your only choice will be to make your conversions towards the end of the year when you will have more visibility on your earnings.

Conversion during low-income years

The Roth conversion is generally more attractive during your low-income years when you will be in a lower tax bracket. The additional reported income from the conversion will add on to your base earnings. If you do the math right, you will be able to maintain your taxes relatively low. Analyze your tax bracket and convert the amount that will keep in your desired marginal tax rate.

Conversion during a market downturn

Another popular strategy is performing Roth conversion during a market downturn. A Roth conversion could become appealing if your Traditional IRA is down 20% or 30%. At the same time, you have a long-term investment horizon and believe that your portfolio will recover the losses over time.

Your largest benefit will come from the potential tax-free portfolio gains after the stock market goes higher. With this approach, your underlying taxes take a lower priority versus the ability to earn higher tax-free income in the future. However, you still need to determine whether saving taxes on future gains provides a higher benefit than paying higher taxes now.

Monthly or quarterly cost averaging

Timing the stock market is hard. The cost averaging strategy removes the headache of trying to figure out when the stock market will go up or down. This approach calls for making planned periodic, monthly, or quarterly, conversions. The benefit of this method is that at least part of your portfolio may benefit from lower stock values. It is a way to hedge your bets on surprising stock market moves. If your portfolio goes higher consistently throughout the year, your earlier conversions will benefit from lower stock values. If the stock market goes down in the second half of the year, your later-in-the-year conversion will produce a higher benefit.

Roth Conversion barbelling

This strategy makes sense if your annual income is variable and less predictable. For example, your income fluctuates due to adjustments in commissions, bonuses, royalties, or other payments. With barbelling, you perform two conversions per year. You make the first conversion early in the year based on a projected income that is at the high end of the range. The second conversion will occur towards the end of the year, when your income becomes more predictable. If your income is high, you may convert a much smaller amount or even nothing. If your earnings for the year are at the lower end of expectation, then you convert a larger amount.

Roth Conversion Ladder

As I mentioned earlier, each Roth conversion is subject to its own 5-year rule. The 5-year period starts on January 1st of the tax year of your Roth conversion. Every subsequent conversion will have a separate 5-year holding period.

The Roth Conversion ladder strategy requires a bit of initial planning. This approach stipulates that you make consistent annual conversions year after year. After every five years, you can withdraw your savings tax-free from the Roth IRA. In effect, you are creating a ladder similar to the CD ladder.

Keep in mind that this strategy only makes sense under two conditions. One, you can afford to pay taxes for the conversion from another taxable account. Second, your future taxable income is expected to increase, and therefore you would be in a higher tax bracket.

Conclusion

Roth Conversion can be a great way to manage your future taxes. However, not every person or every family is an ideal candidate for a Roth conversion. In reality, most people tend to have lower reportable income when they retire. For them keeping your Traditional IRA and taking distributions at a lower tax rate makes a lot of sense. However, there are a lot of financial, personal, and legacy planning factors that come into play. Make your decision carefully. Take a comprehensive look at your finance before you decide if Roth conversion is right for you.

TSP contribution limits 2020

TSP contribution limits 2020

TSP contribution limits for 2020 is 19,500 per person. Additionally, all federal employees over the age of 50 can contribute a catch-up of $6,500 per year.

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What is TSP?

Thrift Saving Plan is a Federal retirement plan where both federal employees and agencies can make retirement contributions. Moreover, this retirement plan is one of the easiest and most effective ways for you to save for retirement. As a federal employee, you can make automatic contributions to your TSP directly through your employer’s payroll. You can choose the percentage of your salary that will go towards your retirement savings, Most TSP will provide you with multiple investment options in stocks and fixed income. Additionally, most agencies offer a TSP match up to a certain percentage. In most cases, you need to participate in the plan in order to get the match.

Who is Eligible to Participate in the TSP?

Most employees of the United States Government are eligible to participate in the Thrift Savings Plan. You are eligible if you are:

  • Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) employees (started on or after January 1, 1984)
  • Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) employees (started before January 1, 1984, and did not convert to FERS)
  • Members of the uniformed services (active duty or Ready Reserve)
  • Civilians in certain other categories of Government service

How much can I contribute to my TSP in 2020?

TSP contribution limits change every year. IRS typically increases the maximum annual limit with the cost of living adjustment and inflation. These contribution limits apply to all employees who participate in the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan,  401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans. Additionally, the limits apply to both tax-deferred and Roth contributions combined. 

  • Employees can contribute up to $19,500 to their TSP plan for 2020,  $500 more than  2019.
  • Employees of age 50 or over are eligible for an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 in 2020,  $500 higher than  2019
  • Employee compensation limit for calculating TSP contributions is $285,000, $5,000 more than 2019
  • For participants who contribute to both a civilian and a uniformed services TSP account during the year, the elective deferral and catch-up contribution limits apply to the combined amounts of traditional (tax-deferred) and Roth contributions in both accounts.
  • Members of the uniformed services, receiving tax-exempt pay (i.e., pay that is subject to the combat zone tax exclusion), your contributions from that pay will also be tax-exempt. Your total contributions from all types of pay must not exceed the combined limit of $57,000 per year.

There are two types of contributions – tax-deferred traditional TSP  and tax-exempt Roth TSP contributions.

Tax-deferred TSP

Most federal employees, typically, choose to make tax-deferred TSP contributions. These contributions are tax-deductible. They will lower your tax bill for the current tax year. Your investments will grow on a tax-deferred basis. Therefore, you will only owe federal and state taxes when you start withdrawing your savings.

Roth TSP

Roth TSP contributions are pretax. It means that you will pay all feral and state taxes before making your contributions. The advantage of Roth TSP is that your retirement savings will grow tax-free. As long as you keep your money until retirement, you will withdraw your gain tax-free. It’s a great alternative for young professionals and workers in a low tax bracket.

TSP Matching

Federal agencies can make a matching contribution up to the combined limit of $57,000 or $63,500 with the catch-up contribution. If you contribute the maximum allowed amount, your agency match cannot exceed $37,500 in 2020.

If you are an eligible FERS or BRS employee, you will receive matching contributions from your agency based on your regular employee contributions. Unlike most private companies, matching contributions are not subject to vesting requirements.

FERS or BRS participants receive matching contributions on the first 5% of your salary that you contribute each pay period. The first 3% of your contribution will receive a dollar-for-dollar match. The next 2% will be matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Contributions above 5% of your salary will not be matched.

Consider contributing at least 5% of your base salary to your TSP account so that you can receive the full amount of matching contributions.

Matching schedule

TSP Matching contribution
Source: tsp.gov

Opening your TSP account

FERS Employees

If you are a federal employee, hired after July 31, 2010, your agency has automatically enrolled you in the TSP.  By default, 3% of your base salary will be deducted from your paycheck each pay period and deposited in the traditional balance of your TSP account.  If you decide, you have to make an election to change or stop your contributions.

If you are a FERS employee who started before August 1, 2010, you already have a TSP account with accruing 1% automatic contributions. In addition, you can make contributions to your account from your pay and receive additional matching contributions.

 

CSRS Employees

If you are a Federal civilian employee who started before January 1, 1984, your agency will establish your TSP account after you make a contribution election using your agency’s election system.

BRS Members of the Uniformed Services

Members of the uniformed services who began serving on or after January 1, 2018, will automatically enroll in the TSP once you serve 60 days. By default,  3% of your basic pay is deducted from your paycheck each pay period and deposited in the traditional balance of your TSP account. You have can always select to change or stop your contributions.

 

IRA Contribution Limits 2020

IRA contribution limits 2020

The IRA contribution limits for 2020 are $6,000 per person with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for people who are 50 or older.

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What is an IRA?

IRA or Traditional IRA is a tax-deferred retirement savings account that allows you to make tax-deductible contributions to save towards retirement. Your savings grow tax-free. You do not owe taxes on dividends and capital gains. Once you reach retirement age, you can start taking money out of the account. All distributions from the IRA are taxable as ordinary income in the year of withdrawal.

IRA income limits for 2020

The tax-deductible IRA contribution limits for 2020 are based on your annual income. If you are single and earn $124,000 or less, you can contribute up to the full amount of $6,000 per year.  If your aggregated gross income is between $124,000 and $139,000 you can still make contributions but with a lower value.

Married couples filing jointly can contribute up to $6,000 each if your combined income is less than $196,000.  If your aggregated gross income is between $196,000 and $206,000 you can still make reduced contributions.

Spousal IRA

If you are married and not earning income, you can still make contributions. As long as your spouse earns income and you file a joint return, you may be able to contribute to an IRA even if you did not have taxable compensation. Keep in mind that, your combined contributions can’t be more than the taxable compensation reported on your joint return.

IRA vs 401k

IRA is an individual retirement account.  401k plan is a workplace retirement plan, which is established by your employer. You can contribute to a 401k plan if it’s offered by your company.  In comparison, starting in 2020, anyone who is earning income can open and contribute to a traditional IRA regardless of your age.

IRA vs Roth IRA 

Traditional and Roth IRA have the same annual contributions limits.  The Traditional IRA contributions can be tax-deductible or after-tax depending on your income. In comparison. Roth IRA allows you to make after-tax contributions towards retirement. Another difference, your Traditional IRA retirement savings grow tax-deferred, while Roth IRA earnings are tax-free.

 

Roth IRA Contribution Limits 2020

Roth IRA contribution limits for 2020

The Roth IRA contribution limits for 2020 are $6,000 per person with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for people who are 50 or older.

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Roth IRA income limits for 2020

Roth IRA contribution limits for 2020 are based on your annual earnings. If you are single and earn $124,000 or less, you can contribute up to the full amount of $6,000 per year.  If your aggregated gross income is between $124,000 and $139,000 you can still make contributions but with a lower value.

Married couples filing jointly can contribute up to $6,000 each if your combined income is less than $196,000.  If your aggregated gross income is between $196,000 and $206,000 you can still make reduced contributions.

What is a Roth IRA?

Roth IRA is a tax-free retirement savings account that allows you to make after-tax contributions to save towards retirement. Your Roth investments grow tax-free. You will not owe taxes on dividends and capital gains. Once you reach retirement your withdrawals will be tax-free as well.

Roth vs Traditional IRA

Roth IRA allows you to make after-tax contributions towards retirement. In comparisons. Traditional IRA has the same annual contributions limits. The Traditional IRA contributions can be tax-deductible or after-tax depending on your income. Additionally, your Traditional IRA savings grow tax-deferred. Unlike Roth Roth, you will owe income taxes on your withdrawals.

Roth IRA Rules

The Roth IRA offers a lot of flexibility and few constraints.  There are Roth IRA rules that can help you maximize the benefits of your tax-free savings account.

Easy and convenient

Opening a Roth IRA account is a great way to start planning for your financial future. The plan is an excellent saving opportunity for many young professionals with limited access to workplace retirement plans. Even those who have 401k plans with their employer can open a Roth IRA.

Flexibility

There is no age limit for contributions. Minors and retired investors can invest in Roth IRA as well as long as they earn income.

No investment restrictions

There is no restriction on the type of investments in the account. Investors can invest in any asset class that suits their risk tolerance and financial goals.

No taxes

There are no taxes on the distributions from this account once you reach 59 ½. Your investments will grow tax-free. You will never pay taxes on your capital gains and dividends either.

No penalties if you withdraw your original investment

While not always recommended, Roth IRA allows you to withdraw your original dollar contributions (but not the return from them) before reaching retirement, penalty and tax-free. Say, you invested $5,000 several years ago. And now the account has grown to $15,000. You can withdraw your initial contribution of $5,000 without penalties.

Diversify your future tax exposure

Roth IRA is ideal for investors who are in a lower tax bracket but expect higher taxes in retirement. Since most retirement savings sit in 401k and investment accounts, Roth IRA adds a very flexible tax-advantaged component to your investments. Nobody knows how the tax laws will change by the time you need to take out money from your retirement accounts. That is why I highly recommend diversifying your mix of investment accounts and take full advantage of your Roth IRA.

No minimum distributions

Unlike 401k and IRA, Roth IRA doesn’t have any minimum distributions requirements. Investors have the freedom to withdraw their savings at their wish or keep them intact indefinitely.

Earnings cap

You can’t contribute more than what you earned for the year. If you made $4,000, you could only invest $4,000.

401k contribution limits 2020

401k conntribution limits for 2020

401k contribution limits for 2020 are $19,500 per person. All 401k participants over the age of 50 can add a catch-up contribution of $6,500.

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What is 401k?

401k plan is a workplace retirement plan where both employees and employers can make retirement contributions. These retirement plans can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to save for retirement. As an employee, you can make automatic contributions to your 401k directly through your company payroll. You can choose the percentage of your salary that will go towards your retirement savings, Most 401k will provide you with multiple investment options in stocks and fixed income. Additionally, most companies offer a 401k match up to a certain percentage. In most cases, you need to participate in the plan in order to get the match.

There are two types of contributions – traditional 401k tax-deferred and tax-exempt Roth 401k contributions.

Tax-deferred 401k

Most employees, typically, choose to make tax-deferred 401k contributions. These payments are tax-deductible. They will lower your tax bill for the current tax year. Your investments will grow on a tax-deferred basis. Therefore, you will only owe federal and state taxes when you start withdrawing your savings.

Roth 401k

Roth 401k contributions are pretax. It means that you will pay all feral and state taxes before making your contributions. The advantage of Roth 401k is that your retirement savings will grow tax-free. As long as you keep your money until retirement, you will withdraw your gain tax-free. It’s a great alternative for young professionals and workers in a low tax bracket.

How much can I contribute to my 401k in 2020?

401k contribution limits change every year. IRS typically increases the maximum annual limit with the cost of living adjustment and inflation. These contribution limits apply to all employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan. Additionally the limits apply to both tax-deferred and Roth contributions combined. 

  • Employees can contribute up to $19,500 to their 401(k) plan for 2020,  $500 more than  2019.
  • Employees of age 50 or over are eligible for an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 in 2020,  $500 higher than  2019
  • Employee compensation limit for calculating 401k contributions is $285,000, $5,000 more than 2019
  • Companies can make a matching contribution up to the combined limit of $57,000 or $63,500 with the catch-up contribution. If an employee makes the maximum allowed contribution, the company match cannot exceed $37,500 in 2020.

Solo 401k contribution limits 2020

A solo 401k plan is a type of 401k plan with one participant. Those are usually solo entrepreneurs, consultants, freelancers, and other small business owners. Self-employed individuals can take advantage of solo 401k plans and save for retirement.

  • The maximum contribution limit in 2020 for a solo 401k plan is $57,000 or $63,500 with catch-up contributions. Solo entrepreneurs can make contributions both as an employee and an employer.
  • The employee contribution cannot exceed $19,500 in the solo 401(k) plan for 2020.
  • Self-employed 401k participants, age 50 or over are eligible for an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 in 2020.
  • The total self-employed compensation limit for calculating solo 401k contributions is $285,000.
  • Employer contribution cannot exceed 25% of the compensation
  • If you participate in more than one 401k plan at the same time, you are subject to the same annual limits for all plans.

Please note that if you are self-employed and decide to hire other employees, they will have to be included in the 401k plan if they meet the plan eligibility requirements.

 

Charitable donations: 6 Tax Strategies

Charitable donations

Charitable donations are an excellent way to help your favorite cause, your church, a foundation, a school, or any other registered charitable institution of your choice. Americans made $373.25 billion of charitable donations in 2015, which was 4.1% higher than in 2014. The average annual household contribution was $2,974. In 2015, the majority of charitable dollars went to religious institutions (32%), educational organizations (15%), human services (12%), grantmaking foundations (11%), and health organizations (8%).

Charitable donations are also a powerful tool to reduce your overall tax liability to the IRS. By carefully following the tax law and IRS rules you can substantially increase the impact of donations. Here is what you can do.

1. Meet the requirements for charitable donations

In order to receive tax deductions for your gift, donations need to meet certain requirements. Some of the most important rules are:

  • You have to give to qualified charitable organizations approved by the IRS. The charity can be public or private. Usually, public charities receive more favorable tax treatment.
  • You need to have a receipt for your gift.
  • You need to itemize your tax return.
  • Donations apply for the same tax year when you make them. For most individuals the tax year and calendar year are the same. For some companies, their tax year may end on a different date during the calendar year (for example, November 1 to October 31)
  • All gifts are valued at fair market value. Depending on your donation, the fair market value may not be equal to the initial cash value.
  • You have to transfer the actual economic benefit or ownership to the receiver of your gift.

There are many ways to give. Some are straightforward, others are more complex and require professional help. Each one of them has its rules, which you need to understand and follow strictly to receive the highest tax benefit.

2. Give Cash

Giving money is by far the easiest way to make contributions to your favorite charitable cause. IRS allows for charitable donations for as much as 50% of your aggregated gross income. Any amounts of more than 50% can be carried over in future years. However, it’s imperative that you keep a record of your cash donations.

3. Give Household goods

You can donate clothes, appliances, furniture, cars, and other household items in good condition. The items will be priced at fair value, In most cases, the value will be lower than what you paid for them. This category is also subject to the 50% limit of the AGI.

Donating household items is a perfect way to clean your closet from old clothes and shoes that you haven’t worn for years. You can even donate your old car that has been collecting dust in the garage. Moreover, if you plan to do a kitchen remodel, you can give your old cabinets and appliances to charities like the Salvation Army. Remember to keep the receipts of these items in case the IRS asks you for them.

4. Donate Appreciated assets

One of the most popular tax-saving strategies is donating appreciated assets directly to charitable organizations. This approach is subject to 30% of AGI for donations given to qualified public charities. Appreciated assets can include publicly traded stocks, restricted stocks, real estate, privately help companies, collectibles, and artwork. The main caveat to receiving the highest tax benefit is to give the appreciated asset directly to the charitable donations instead of selling it and gifting the remaining cash amount.  This way you will avoid paying a capital gain tax on the sale of your asset and deduct the full fair value of your asset.

 Let’s look at an example. An investor at a 28% tax bracket is considering donating an appreciating stock to her favorite charity. She can sell the stock and give the proceeds or donate the shares directly. The current market value of the stock is $100,000. She purchased it more than one year ago for $20,000. The total capital gain is $80,000.

 By giving the stock directly to her favorite, the investor is achieving three major goals. First, she is not paying a capital gain tax on the proceeds of the sale. Second, she can use the full fair value of the stock (instead of the proceeds from the sale) to reduce her tax liabilities. Third, the charitable organization receives an asset with a higher value, which they can sell tax-free.

 5. Make direct IRA charitable rollover

Donations made directly from your IRA, and 401k accounts are another way of reducing your tax bill. If you reached 70 ½, you could make up to $100,000 a year in gifts to a charity directly from your IRA or 401k accounts. Those contributions count towards the required annual minimum distributions you must take once you reach 70 ½, They also reduce your adjusted gross income. To be compliant, you have to follow two simple rules.

Your plan administrator has to issue a check payable to your charity of choice. Therefore the funds have to transfer directly to the charitable organization. If the check is payable to you, this will automatically trigger a tax event for IRS. In that case, your IRA distribution will be taxable as ordinary income, and you will owe taxes on them. The second rule, you have to complete the transfer by December 31 of the same calendar year.

6. Consolidate your donations

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the standard deduction for all individuals and families.  Therefore relatively small charitable donations may not be tax-deductible at all.

Standard deduction amounts

2019 tax year2020 tax year
Individuals$12,200$12,400
Married couples filing jointly$24,400$24,800
Heads of households$18,350$18,650

If you want to increase the tax impact of your donations you may have to consolidate the small annual donations in a single year.

Preparing for retirement during coronavirus

Preparing for retirement during coronavirus

Are you preparing for retirement during the coronavirus crisis? Many professionals who are planning to retire in 2020 and beyond are facing unique challenges and circumstances. Probably your investment portfolio took a hit in February and March. Maybe your job is at risk. Many people have been furloughed. Some have lost their job. Large employers have announced hiring freezes. Small business owners are facing an existential threat to survival. Landlords are facing uncertainties with rent collection. A range of jobs has become obsolete overnight.

Future retirees will have to make difficult choices in the coming years. With global Interest rates near zero, retirees can no longer rely on traditional safe vehicles such as treasuries, corporate bonds, and annuities for income. The Social Security fund will be depleted in the next decade. The US is building an enormous budget deficit with no plan to repay it anytime soon. Even companies with extensive dividend history are suspending dividend payments to shareholders. Even your private pension might be at risk.

Take a holistic view of your finances 

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a comprehensive view of your finances. if you are preparing for retirement during the coronavirus crisis you must be proactive. We do not know what the future will be after the coronavirus. Some variations of social distancing will remain for the foreseeable future. This crisis will impact every private and public organization. The best way to prepare for the future is to take full control of the presence. Having a holistic view of your finances will help you make informed financial decisions and watch out for blinds spots. Collect all essential financial pieces from 401k and rental income to life insurance and pension. Draw a full picture of your financial life. Take the stress out of your retirement and start planning now.

Stick to a budget

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the first recession since the financial crisis. The US GDP shrank by -4.5% in Q1 of 2020 and is expected to shrink even further in the second quarter. Nearly 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Even if your job is safe, now is an excellent opportunity to take control of your budget. Aim to save at least 10% of your income. If your retirement is imminent, you should save at least 20% of your income. With so much spending out of reach – restaurants, travel, theaters, festivals, and sports events, this is an opportunity to access your spending needs for the next few years.

Pay off debt

The coronavirus crisis proved that liquidity is king, and high levels of debt are detrimental. The extreme volatility we saw March 2020 was the result of inventors looking for cash at any price. Make sure you pay off all your debt before you retire. You must make a cautious effort to clear all your debt, including mortgages and credit cards. Even loans with lower interest can be dangerous if you do not have the income to support it. Start your retirement with a clean slate.

Review your investments

The steep market selloff in March 2020 brought troublesome memories of the financial crisis. The stock market lost 35% from its February high. The wild daily swings ended the longest bull market in US history. Just when everyone was expecting another shoe to drop, the Fed stepped in. The Federal Reserve launched not one but several nuclear bazookas and saved the economy from complete collapse. The quickest drop on record lead to the quickest recovery. The massive Fed intervention alongside positive news of bending the curve, state reopening, vaccine progress, and remdesivir drug approval pushed the stock markets higher.

At the time of this article, Nasdaq was flat for 2020. S&P 500 was down -12% and Russell 2000 down nearly -25%. Gold 10-year treasury is paying 0.64%, and the 30-year treasury is yielding 1.27%.

With all that in mind, you have a perfect opportunity to review your investment portfolio. Take a deep dive and make changes if necessary. Remember that your investments must align with your investment horizon, financial goals, and risk tolerance.

Keep your options open

Prepare for multiple scenarios. Without an effective vaccine, the coronavirus will be a threat to the economy for the foreseeable future. However, in every crisis, there is an opportunity. We will experience a full digital transformation in all business sectors and aspects of life.

Despite the call of numerous experts and overnight “authorities” for a V-shaped, U-shaped, L–shaped, and W-shaped economic recovery, I do not know what the future holds. But I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am confident that we will come out stronger from this crisis. Hopefully, we learn our lessons and become more prepared for future unforeseen threats.

Maybe this crisis affected your health. Perhaps it changed your views about your life and your family. Maybe this crisis made you reevaluate your priorities. It certainly did it for me. As you approach your retirement date, keep an open mind. Have a plan A, B, C, and even D. Build enough cash buffer and never run out of options.

Final words

Preparing for retirement during coronavirus can be stressful. Many of the safe investments and guaranteed income options may not provide you with enough income to support yourself in retirement. Low interest rates are detrimental to retirees. Commodity markets are extremely volatile. The stock market offers dividend and upside with a high risk premium. Real Estate is lucrative but illiquid.

Having a comprehensive view of your finances will help you take a pulse of your financial health. It can help you see areas of financial weakness and strength that you may not be able to see otherwise. Be proactive and keep your options open.

If you are having questions or concerns about your retirement in 2020 or beyond, feel free to contact me directly.

 

 

15 Costly retirement mistakes

15 Costly retirement mistakes

15 Costly retirement mistakes… Retirement is a major milestone for many Americans. Retiring marks the end of your working life and the beginning of a new chapter. As a financial advisor, my job is to help my clients avoid mistakes and retire with confidence and peace of mind.  Together we build a solid roadmap to retirement and a gameplan to achieve your financial goals. My role as a financial advisor is to provide an objective and comprehensive view of my clients’ finances.  As part of my process, I look for any blind spots that can put my clients’ plans at risk.  Here is a list of the major retirement mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Not planning ahead for retirement

Not planning ahead for retirement can cost you a lot in the long run. Delaying to make key decisions is a huge retirement mistake that can jeopardize your financial security during retirement. Comprehensive financial planners are more likely to save for retirement and feel more confident about achieving their financial goals.  Studies have shown that only 32% of non-planners are likely to have enough saved for retirement versus 91% of comprehensive planners.

Reviewing your retirement plan periodically will help you address any warning signs in your retirement plan. Recent life changes, economic and market downturns or change in the tax law could all have a material impact on your retirement plans. Be proactive and will never get caught off guard.

2. Not asking the right questions

Another big retirement mistake is the fear of asking the right question. Avoiding these

Here are some of the questions that my clients are asking –

  • “Do I have enough savings to retire?”
  •  “Am I on the right track?”.
  • “Can I achieve my financial goals?”
  • “Can I retire if the stock market crashes?”.
  • “Are you fiduciary advisor working in my best interest?” (Yes, I am fiduciary)

Asking those tough questions will prepare you for a successful retirement journey. Addressing your concerns proactively will take you on the right track of meeting your priorities and achieving your personal goals

3. Not paying off debt

Paying off debt can be an enormous burden during retirement. High-interest rate loans can put a heavy toll on your finances and financial freedom. As your wages get replaced by pension and social security benefits, your expenses will remain the same. If you are still paying off loans, come up with a plan on how to lower your debt and interest cost. Being debt-free will reduce the stress out of losing viable income.

4. Not setting goals

Having goals is a way to visualize your ideal future. Not having goals is a retirement mistake that can jeopardize your financial independence during retirement. Without specific goals, your retirement planning could be much harder and painful. With specific goals, you have clarity of what you want and what you want to achieve. You can make financial decisions and choose investment products and services that align with your objectives and priorities. Setting goals will put you on a successful track to enjoy what matters most to you.

5. Not saving enough

An alarming 22% of Americans have less than $5,000 in retirement savings. The average 401k balance according to Fidelity is $103,700. These figures are scary. It means that most Americans are not financially ready for retirement. With ultra-low interest rates combined with constantly rising costs of health care,  future retirees will find it difficult to replace their working-age income once they retire. Fortunately, many employers now offer some type of workplace retirement savings plans such as 401k, 403b, 457, TSP or SEP IRA. If your employer doesn’t offer any of those, you can still save in Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, investment account or the old fashioned savings account.

6. Relying on one source for retirement income

Many future retirees are entirely dependent on a single source for their retirement income such as social security or pension.  Unfortunately. with social security running out of money and many pension plans shutting down or running a huge deficit, the burden will be on ourselves to provide reliable income during our retirement years.  If you want to be financially independent, make sure that your retirement income comes from multiple sources.

7. Lack of diversification

Diversification is the only free lunch you can get in investing and will help decrease the overall risk of your portfolio. Adding uncorrelated asset classes such as small-cap, international and emerging market stocks, bonds, and commodities will reduce the volatility of your investments without sacrificing much of the expected return in the long run.

A common mistake among retirees is the lack of diversification. Many of their investment portfolios are heavily invested in stocks, a target retirement fund or a single index fund.

Furthermore, owning too much of one stock or a fund can cause significant issues to your retirement savings. Just ask the folks who worked for Enron or Lehman Brothers who had their employer’s stocks in their retirement plans. Their lifetime savings were wiped out overnight when these companies filed for bankruptcy.

8. Not rebalancing your investment portfolio

Regular rebalancing ensures that your portfolio stays within your desired risk level. While tempting to keep a stock or an asset class that has been on the rise, not rebalancing to your original target allocation can significantly increase the risk of your investments.

9. Paying high fees

Paying high fees for mutual funds and high commission insurance products can eat up a lot of your return. It is crucial to invest in low-cost investment managers that can produce superior returns over time. If you own a fund that has consistently underperformed its benchmark,  maybe it’s time to revisit your options.

Many insurance products like annuities and life insurance while good on paper, come with high upfront commissions, high annual fees, and surrender charges and restrictions.  Before signing a contract or buying a product, make sure you are comfortable with what you are going to pay.

10. No budgeting

Adhering to a budget before and during retirement is critical for your confidence and financial success. When balancing your budget, you can live within your means and make well-informed and timed decisions. Having a budget will ensure that you can reach your financial goals.

11. No tax planning

Not planning your taxes can be a costly retirement mistake. Your pension and social security are taxable. So are your distributions from 401k and IRAs. Long-term investing will produce gains, and many of these gains will be taxable. As you grow our retirement saving the complexity of assets will increase. And therefore the tax impact of using your investment portfolio for retirement income can be substantial. Building a long-term strategy with a focus on taxes can optimize your after-tax returns when you manage your investments.

12. No estate planning

Many people want to leave some legacy behind them. Building a robust estate plan will make that happen. Whether you want to leave something to your children or grandchildren or make a large contribution to your favorite foundation, estate, and financial planning is important to secure your best interests and maximize the benefits for yourself and your beneficiaries.

13. Not having an exit planning

Sound exit planning is crucial for business owners. Often times entrepreneurs rely on selling their business to fund their retirement. Unlike liquid investments in stocks and bonds, corporations and real estate are a lot harder to divest.  Seling your business may have serious tax and legal consequences. Having a solid exit plan will ensure the smooth transition of ownership, business continuity, and optimized tax impact.

14. Not seeing the big picture

Between our family life, friends, personal interests, causes, job, real estate properties, retirement portfolio, insurance and so on, our lives become a web of interconnected relationships. Above all is you as the primary driver of your fortune. Any change of this structure can positively or adversely impact the other pieces. Putting all elements together and building a comprehensive picture of your financial life will help you manage these relationships in the best possible way.

15. Not getting help

Some people are very self-driven and do very well by planning for their own retirement. Others who are occupied with their career or family may not have the time or ability to deal with the complexities of financial planning. Seeking help from a fiduciary financial planner can help you avoid retirement mistakes. A fiduciary advisor will watch for your blind spots and help you find clarity when making crucial financial decisions.

How to Survive the next Market Downturn

How to survive a market downturn

Everything you need to know about surviving the next market downturn: we are in the longest bull market in US history. After more than a decade of record-high stock returns, many investors are wondering if there is another market downturn on the horizon. With so many people saving for retirement in 401k plans and various retirement accounts, it’s normal if you are nervous. But if you are a long-term investor, you know these market downturns are inevitable. Market downturns are stressful but a regular feature of the economic cycle.

What is the market downturn?

A market downturn is also known as a bear market or a market correction. During a market downturn, the stock market will experience a sharp decline in value. Often, market downturns are caused by fears of recession, political uncertainty, or bad macroeconomic data.

How low can the market go down?

The largest-ever percentage drop by the S&P 500 index occurred on October 19, 1987 (known as The Black Monday), when the S&P 500 dropped by -20.47%. The next biggest selloff happened on October 15, 2008, when the S&P 500 lost –9.03%. In both cases, the stock market continued to be volatile for several months before reaching a bottom. Every time, the end of the market downturn was the start of a new bull market. Both times, the stock market recovered and reached historic highs in a few years.

What can you do when the next market downturn happens?

The first instinct you may have when the market drops is to sell your investments. In reality, this may not always be the right move. Selling your stocks during market selloff may limit your losses, may lock in your gains but also may lead to missed long-term opportunities. Emotional decisions do not bring a rational outcome.

Dealing with declining stock values and market volatility can be tough. The truth is nobody likes to lose money. The volatile markets can be treacherous for seasoned and inexperienced investors alike. To be a successful investor, you must remain focused on the strength of their portfolio, your goals, and the potential for future growth. I want to share nine strategies that can help you through the next market downturn and boost the long-term growth of your portfolio.

1. Keep calm during the market downturn

Stock investors are cheerful when the stock prices are rising but get anxious during market corrections. Significant drops in stock value can trigger panic. However, fear-based selling to limit losses is the wrong move. Here’s why. Frequently the market selloffs are followed by broad market rallies. A V-shape recovery often follows a market correction.

The hypothetical table below looks at the performance of $10,000 invested in the S&P 500 between January 4, 1988, and December 31, 2018. It’s important to note this hypothetical investment occurred during two of the biggest bear markets in history, the 2000 tech bubble crash and the 2008 global financial crisis. If you had missed the ten best market days, you would lose 2.4% of your average annual return and nearly half of your dollar return.

As long as you are making sound investment choices, your patience, and the ability to tolerate paper losses will earn you more in the long run.

2. Be realistic: Don’t try to time the market

Many investors believe that they can time the market to buy low and sell high. In reality, very few investors succeed in these efforts.

According to a study by the CFA Institute Financial Analyst Journal, a buy-and-hold large-cap strategy would have outperformed, on average, about 80.7% of annual active timing strategies when the choice was between large-cap stocks, short-term T-bills and Treasury bonds.

3. Stay diversified

Diversification is essential for your portfolio preservation and growth. Diversification, or spreading your investments among different asset classes (domestic versus foreign stocks, large-cap versus small-cap equity, treasury and corporate bonds, real estate, commodities, precious metals, etc.), will lower the risk of your portfolio in the long-run. Many experts believe that diversification is the only free lunch you can get in investing.

Uncorrelated asset classes react uniquely during market downturns and changing economic cycles.

For example, fixed income securities and gold tend to rise during bear markets when stocks fall. Conversely, equities rise during economic expansion.

4. Rebalance your portfolio regularly

Rebalancing your portfolio is a technique that allows your investment portfolio to stay aligned with your long terms goals while maintaining a desired level of risk. Typically, portfolio managers will sell out an asset class that has overperformed over the years and is now overweight. With the proceeds of the sale, they will buy an underweighted asset class.

Hypothetically, if you started investing in 2010 with a portfolio consisting of 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income securities, without rebalancing by the end of 2019, you will hold 79% equities and 21% fixed income. Due to the last decade’s substantial rise in the stock market, many conservative and moderate investors are now holding significant equity positions in their portfolio. Rebalancing before a market downturn will help you bring your investments to your original target risk levels. If you reduce the size of your equity holdings, you will lower your exposure to stock market volatility.

5. Focus on your long-term goals

A market downturn can be tense for all investors. Regardless of how volatile the next stock market correction is, remember that “this too shall pass.”

Market crises come and go, but your goals will most likely remain the same. In fact, most goals have nothing to do with the market. Your investment portfolio is just one of the ways to achieve your goals.

Your personal financial goals can stretch over several years and decades. For investors in their 20s and 30s financial goals can go beyond 30 – 40 years. Even retirees in their 60s must ensure that their money and investments last through several decades.

Remain focused on your long-term goals. Pay of your debt. Stick to a budget. Maintain a high credit score. Live within your means and don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.

6. Use tax-loss harvesting during the market downturn

If you invest in taxable accounts, you can take advantage of tax-loss harvesting opportunities. You can sell securities at depressed prices to offset other capital gains made in the same year. Also, you can carry up to $3,000 of capital losses to offset other income from salary and dividends. The remaining unused amount of capital loss can also be carried over for future years for up to the allowed annual limit.

To take advantage of this option, you have to follow the wash sale rule. You cannot purchase the same security in the next 30 days. To stay invested in the market, you can substitute the depressed stock with another stock that has a similar profile or buy an ETF.

7. Roth Conversion

A falling stock market creates an excellent opportunity to do Roth Conversion. Roth conversion is the process of transferring Tax-Deferred Retirement Funds from a Traditional IRA or 401k plan to a tax-exempt Roth IRA. The Roth conversion requires paying upfront taxes with a goal to lower your future tax burden. The depressed stock prices during a market downturn will allow you to transfer your investments while paying lower taxes. For more about the benefits of Roth IRA, you can read here.

8. Keep a cash buffer

I always recommend to my clients and blog readers to keep at least six months of essential living expenses in a checking or a savings account. We call it an emergency fund. It’s a rainy day, which you need to keep aside for emergencies and unexpected life events. Sometimes market downturns are accompanied by recessions and layoffs. If you lose your job, you will have enough reserves to cover your essential expenses. You will avoid dipping in your retirement savings.

9. Be opportunistic and invest

Market downturns create opportunities for buying stocks at discounted prices. One of the most famous quotes by Warren Buffet’s famous words is “When it’s raining gold, reach for a bucket, not a thimble.” Market selloffs rarely reflect the real long-term value of a company as they are triggered by panic, negative news, or geopolitical events. For long-term investors, market downturns present an excellent opportunity to buy their favorite stocks at a low price. If you want to get in the market after a selloff, look for established companies with strong secular revenue growth, experienced management, solid balance sheet and proven track record of paying dividends or returning money to shareholders.

Final words

Market downturns can put a huge toll on your investments and retirement savings. The lack of reliable information and the instant spread of negative news can influence your judgment and force you to make rash decisions. Market selloffs can challenge even the most experienced investors. That said, don’t allow yourself to panic even if it seems like the world is falling apart. Prepare for the next market downturn by following my list of nine recommendations. This checklist will help you “survive” the next bear market while you still follow your long-term financial goals.

Your Retirement Checklist

Retirement checklist

A happy and financially secure retirement is a primary goal for many working Americans. I created a retirement checklist that will help you navigate through the complex path of retirement planning. For my readers who are serious about their retirement planning, follow these 12 steps to organize and simplify your planning process. My 12-step retirement checklist can be a practical roadmap regardless of the age you want to retire. Following these steps will ensure that you have reviewed all aspects of your life and how they can impact your decisions before and during your retirement. Here is the crucial retirement checklist of all the things you need to do in preparation for the next chapter of your life.

1. Know what you own

You have worked very hard for this moment. You have earned and saved during your entire career. Now it’s time to benefit from your hard work. The first step of your retirement checklist is understanding what you own. Don’t guess. Don’t assume. You need to thoroughly evaluate all your assets, real estate, businesses, and retirement savings. Everything that you have accumulated during your working years can play a pivotal role in your successful retirement.

2. Gather all your financial documents

On the second step of your retirement checklist, you need to collect all relevant documents that show your asset ownership – financial statements, trust documents, wills, property deeds. This will be an excellent opportunity to gather all your plan statements from old 401k and retirement plans. If you own a real estate, make sure you have all your deeds in place. If you are beneficiary of a trust, collect all trust documents. Check all your bank, saving accounts and social security statements. Make sure that you build a complete picture of your financial life.

3. Pay of off your debt

One of your main pre-retirement goals is to become debt-free. If you are still paying off your mortgage, student loans, personal loans or credit card debt, now it’s a great time to review your finances and come up with a payment plan that will help you pay off your debts and improve your retirement prospects.

4. Build an emergency fund

The emergency fund is your rainy-day money. It’s the money that covers unexpected expenses. So, you don’t have to dip in your regular monthly budget. It’s the money that will help you if you unexpectedly lose your job or otherwise unable to earn money. I recommend keeping at least six months’ worth of living expenses in a separate savings account. Ideally, you should have built your emergency fund long before you decided to retire. If you haven’t started yet, it’s never too late to create one. You can set aside a certain percentage of your monthly income to fill the emergency fund until you reach a comfortable level.

5. Learn your employee benefits

Sometimes employers offer generous retirement benefits to attract and retain top talent. Many companies and public institutions provide 401k contribution matching, profit sharing or a pension. Some employers may even offer certain retirement health care benefits. If you are lucky to work for these companies and public organizations, learn your benefits package. Ensure that you are taking full advantage of your employee benefits. Don’t leave any free money on the table.

6. Secure health insurance

A retired couple will spend, on average, $285,000 for healthcare-related expenses during their retirement. This cost is only going higher at a faster rate than regular inflation. Even if you are in good health, healthcare will be one of your highest expenses after you retire.

Medicare part A and part B cover only part of your healthcare cost including impatient and hospital care. They do not include long-term care, dental care, eye exams, dentures, cosmetic surgery, acupuncture, hearing aids and exams, routine foot care. You will be responsible for paying for Medicare parts D out of pocket through your private Medicare Advantage insurance. Medicare Advantage is a "bundled" plan that includes Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance), and usually Medicare prescription drug (Part D).

7. Maximize your savings

Unless you have a generous pension, you will have to rely on your retirement savings to support yourself during retirement. Your 401k and IRA will likely be your primary retirement income source. So even if you have championed your retirement savings, now it’s a great time to calculate if your accumulated savings can support you during retirement. To boost your confidence, maximize your retirement contributions to 401k plans, IRA and even taxable investment accounts. Once you reach 50, the 401k and IRA plans will allow making additional catch up contributions.

There is another compelling reason to save in tax-deferred retirement accounts. If you are in the prime period of your earnings, you are probably in a very high tax bracket. Maximizing your tax-deferred retirement contributions will lower your tax bill for the year. You can withdraw your money

8. Prepare your estate plan

Estate planning is the process of assigning trustees and beneficiaries, writing a will, giving power of attorney, and health directives. The estate plan will guarantee that your wishes are fulfilled, and your loved ones are taken care of if you die or become incapacitated. Creating a trust will ensure that your beneficiaries will avoid lengthy, expensive and public probate. Update your beneficiaries in all your retirement accounts.

Estate planning is never a pleasant topic or an ice-breaking conversation. The sooner you get it done the sooner will go on with your life.

9. Set your budget

Budgeting is a critical step in your retirement checklist. Once you retire, you may no longer earn a wage, but you will still have monthly expenses. Retirement will give you a chance to do things for which you haven’t had time before that. Some people like to travel. Some may pick up a hobby or follow a charitable cause. Others may decide to help with grandchildren. You may choose to buy a house and live closer to your kids. Whatever lifestyle you choose, you need to ensure that your budget can support it.

10. Create social security and retirement income strategy

The most crucial step in your retirement checklist is creating your income strategy. This is the part where you might need the help of a financial planner so you can get the most out of your retirement savings and social security benefits. Your retirement income strategy should be tailored to your specific needs, lifestyle, type of savings and the variety of your assets.

11. Craft a tax strategy

Even though you are retired, you still have to pay taxes. Up to 85% of your social security benefits can be taxable. All your distributions from your 401k plan and Traditional IRA will be subject to federal and state tax. All your dividends and interest in your investment and savings accounts are taxable as well.

Only, the distributions from Roth IRA are not taxable. As long as you have your Roth IRA open for more than five years and you are 59 ½ or older, your withdrawals from the Roth IRA will be tax-free.

Ask your financial advisor to craft a tax strategy that minimizes your tax payments over the long run. Find out if Roth Conversion makes sense to you.

12. Set your retirement goals

Retirement opens another chapter in your life. The people who enjoy their retirement the most are those who have retirement goals. Find out what makes you happy and follow your passions. Your retirement will give you a chance to do everything that you have missed while you were pursuing your career.

Final words

Navigating through your retirement checklist will be a reflection of your life, career, assets, and family. No one’s retirement plan is the same. Everybody’s situation is unique and different. Follow these simple 12 steps so you can enjoy and better prepare for your retirement. Be proactive. Don’t wait until the last minute for crucial financial decisions. Make well-informed choices so you can be ahead of life events and enjoy your retirement to the fullest.