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.

12 End of Year Tax Saving Tips

end of year tax saving tips

As we approach the close of 2019, we share our list of 12 end of year tax saving tips. Now is a great time to review your finances. You can make several smart and simple tax moves that can help lower your tax bill and increase your tax refund.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 made sweeping changes in the tax code that affected many families and small business owners. If the previous tax season caught you off-guard, now you have a chance to redeem yourself.

Whether you file taxes yourself or hire a CPA, it is always better to be proactive. If you are expecting a large tax bill or your financials have changed substantially since last year, talk to your CPA. Start the conversation. Don’t wait until the last moment. Being ahead of the curve will help you make well-informed decisions without the stress of tax deadlines.

1. Know your tax bracket

The first step of mastering your taxes is knowing your tax bracket. 2019 is the second year after the TCJA took effect. One of the most significant changes in the tax code was introducing new tax brackets.

Here are the tax bracket and rates for 2019.

End of Year Tax Tips

2. Decide to itemize or use a standard deduction

Another big change in the tax law was the increase in the standard deduction. The standard deduction is a specific dollar amount that allows you to reduce your taxable income. As a result of this change, nearly 90% of all tax filers will take the standard deduction instead of itemizing. It makes the process a lot simpler for many Americans. Here are the values for 2019:

End of Year Tax Tips

3. Maximize your retirement contributions

Most contributions to qualified retirement plans are tax-deductible and will lower your tax bill.

  • For employees – 401k, 403b, 457 and TSP. The maximum contribution to qualified employee retirement plans for 2019 is $19,000. If you are at the age of 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,000.
  • For business owners – SEP IRA, Solo 401k and Defined Benefit Plan. Business owners can contribute to SEP IRA, Solo 401k, and Defined Benefits plans to maximize your retirement savings and lower your tax bill. The maximum contribution to SEP-IRA and Solo 401k in 2019 is $56,000 or $62,000 if you are 50 and older.

If you own SEP IRA, you can contribute up 25% of your business wages.

In a solo 401k plan, you can contribute as both an employee and an employer. The employee contribution is subject to a $19,000 limit plus a $6,000 catch-up. The employer match is limited to 25% of your compensation for the maximum $37,000. Depending on how you pay yourself, sometimes solo 401k can allow you for more savings than SEP IRA.

Defined Benefit Plans is an option for high-income earners who want to save more aggressively for retirement above the SEP-IRA and 401k limits. The DB plan uses actuary rules to calculate your annual contribution limits based on your age and compensation. All contributions to your defined benefit plan are tax-deductible, and the earnings grow tax-free.

4. Convert to Roth IRA

The process of transferring assets from a Traditional IRA or 401k plan to a Roth IRA is known as Roth Conversion. It allows you to switch from tax-deferred to tax-exempt retirement savings. You can learn more about the benefits of Roth IRA here.

The conversion amount is taxable for income purposes. The good news is that even though you will pay higher taxes in the current year, it may save you a lot more money in the long run.

While individual circumstances may vary, Roth Conversion could be very effective in a year with low or no income. Talk to your accountant or financial advisor. Ask if Roth conversion makes sense for you.

5. Contribute to a 529 plan

The 529 plan is a tax-advantaged state-sponsored investment plan, which allows parents to save for their children’s future college expenses. 529 plan works similarly to the Roth IRA. You make post-tax contributions. Your investment earnings grow free from federal and state income tax if you use them to pay for qualified educational expenses. Compared to a regular brokerage account, the 529 plan has a distinct tax advantage as you will never pay taxes on your dividends and capital gains.

Over 30 states offer a full or partial tax deduction or a credit on your 529 contributions. You can find the full list here. If you live in any of these states, your 529 contributions can lower your state tax bill significantly.

6. Make a donation

Donations to charities, churches, and various non-profit organizations are tax-deductible. You can support your favorite cause by giving back and lower your tax bill at the same time.

However, due to the changes in the new tax code, donations are tax-deductible only when you itemize your tax return. If you make small contributions throughout the year, you probably will be better off taking the standard deduction.

If itemizing your taxes is crucial for you, then you might want to consolidate your donations in one calendar year. So, instead of making multiple charitable contributions over the years, you can give one large donation every few years.

7. Sell losing investments

The process of selling losing investments to reduce your tax liability is known as tax-loss harvesting. It works for capital assets held outside retirement accounts (such as 401k, Traditional IRA, and Roth IRA). Capital assets may include real estate, cars, gold, stocks, bonds, and any investment property, not for personal use.

The IRS allows you to use capital losses to offset capital gains. If your capital losses are higher than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference as a loss on your tax return. This loss is limited to $3,000 per year or $1,500 if married and filing a separate return.

8. Prioritize long-term over short-term capital gains

Another way to lower your tax bill when selling assets is to prioritize long-term over short-term capital gains. The current tax code benefits investors who keep their assets for more than one calendar year. Long-term investors receive a preferential tax rate on their gains. While investors with short-term capital gains will pay taxes at their ordinary income tax level

Here are the long-term capital gain tax brackets for 2019:

End of Year Tax Tips

High-income earners will also pay an additional 3.8% net investment income tax.

9. Take advantage of FSA and HSA

With healthcare costs always on the rise, you can use a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA) to cover your medical bills and lower your tax bill.

Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is a tax-advantaged savings account offered through your employer. The FSA allows you to save pre-tax dollars to cover medical and dental expenses for yourself and your dependents. The maximum contribution for 2019 is $2,700 per person. If you are married, your spouse can save another $2,700 for a total of $5,400 per family. Typically, you should use your FSA savings by the end of the calendar year. However, the IRS allows you to carry over up to $500 balance into the new year.

Dependent Care FSA (CSFSA)

A Dependent Care FSA (CSFSA) is a pre-tax benefit account that you can use to pay for eligible dependent care services, such as preschool, summer day camp, before or after school programs, and child or adult daycare. It’s an easy way to reduce your tax bill while taking care of your children and loved ones while you continue to work. The maximum contribution limit for 2019 for an individual who is married but filing separately is $2,500. For married couples filing jointly or single parents filing as head of household, the limit is $5,000.

Health Savings Account (HSA)

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is an investment account for individuals under a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) that allows you to save money on a pre-tax basis to pay for eligible medical expenses.The qualified High Deductible Plan typically covers only preventive services before the deductible. To qualify for the HSA, the HDHP should have a minimum deductible of $1,350 for an individual and $2,700 for a family. Additionally, your HDHP must have an out-of-pocket maximum of up to $6,750 for one-person coverage or $13,500 for family.

The maximum contributions in HSA for 2019, are $3,500 for self-only coverage and $7,000 for a family. HSA participants who are 55 or older can contribute an additional $1,000 as a catch-up contribution. Unlike the FSA, the HSA doesn’t have a spending limit, and you can carry over the savings in the next calendar year.

Keep in mind that the HSA has three distinct tax advantages. First, all HSA contributions are tax-deductible and will lower your tax bill. Second, you will not pay taxes on dividends, interest, and capital gains. Third, if you use the account for eligible expenses, you don’t pay taxes on those withdrawals either.

10. Defer income

Deferring income from this calendar year into the next year will allow you to delay some of the income taxes coming with it. Even though it’s not always possible to defer wages, you might be able to postpone a large bonus, royalty, or onetime payment. Remember, it only makes sense to defer income if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket next year.

Reversely, if you are expecting to be in a higher tax bracket tax year next year, you may consider taking as much income as possible in this tax year.

11. Buy Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds are issued by local governments, school districts, and authorities to fund local projects that will benefit the general public. The interest income from most municipal bonds is tax-free. Investors in these bonds are exempt from federal income tax. If you buy municipal bonds issued in the same state where you live, you will be exempt from state taxes as well.

12. Take advantage of the 199A Deduction for Business Owners

If you are a business owner or have a side business, you might be able to use the 20% deduction on qualified business income. The TCJA established a new tax deduction for small business owners of pass-through entities like LLCs, Partnerships, S-Corps, and sole-proprietors. While the spirit of the law is to support small business owners, the rules of using this deduction are quite complicated and restrictive. For more information, you can check the IRS page. In summary, qualified business income must be related to conducting business or trade within the United States or Puerto Rico. The tax code also separates the business entities by industry – Qualified trades or businesses and Specified service trades or businesses.

Qualified versus specified service trade

Specified service businesses include the following trades: Health (e.g., physicians, nurses, dentists, and other similar healthcare professionals), Law, Accounting, Actuarial science, Performing arts, Consulting, Athletics, and Financial Services. Qualified trades or businesses is everything else.

For “specified service business,” the deduction gets phased out between $315,000 and $415,000 for joint filers. For single filers, the phase-out range is $157,500 to $207,500.

The qualified trades and businesses are also subject to the same phaseout limits. However, if their income is above the threshold, the 199A deduction becomes the lesser of the 20% of qualified business income deduction or the greater of either 50 percent of the W-2 wages of the business, or the sum of 25% of the W-2 wages of the business and 2.5% of the unadjusted basis immediately after acquisition of all qualified property.

If this all sounds very complicated to you, it’s because it is complicated.Contact your accountant or tax adviser to see if you can take advantage of this deduction.

The biggest risks for your retirement savings

Biggest risks to your retirement savings

Whether you are just starting your career or about to retire, you need to understand the risks you are facing when you plan for your future retirement.

Most experts recommend that you should aim to replace about 80% of work income during your retirement. Part of your retirement income will come from Social Security. Other sources could be a public pension, IRAs, 401k, rental income, sale of real estate or business, royalties, or a part-time job. However, the 80% is not a definite number. The amount you need in retirement could vary substantially depending on your lifestyle, family size, number of dependents, health issues, and so on.

Social Security benefits

The maximum Social Security benefit in 2019:

  • $3,770 for someone who files at age 70.
  • $2,861 for someone at a full retirement age of 66
  • $2,209 for someone aged 62

For reference, very few people reach these upper limits. The average Social Security retirement benefit in 2019 is $1,461 a month. The average disability benefit is $1,234.

Unfortunately, the Social Security trust is already running a deficit. Currently, the Social Security is paying more benefits than all the proceed its receiving from the payroll taxes. Its reserve will be depleted by 2035. After that point, social security recipients will have to receive only a portion of their actual benefit. The current estimate is around 75%.

Pension Shortfall

Similarly to Social Security, most of the public and private pension plans nationwide have an enormous shortfall between assets and their future liabilities. According to a recent study by Pew Charitable Trust and Pension Tracker, US public pension shortfall is over $1 trillion. States like Alaska, California, Illinois, Ohio, Hawaii, and New Jersey have one of the highest pension burdens in the nation. Even after ten years of economic recovery and bull market, most state pension plans are not prepared to face another downturn. Policymakers must take urgent measures to close the pension funding gap, which remains at historically high levels as a share of GDP.

Low savings rate

With social security benefits expected to shrink, I advise my clients that they need to increase their savings in order to supplement their income in the future. Retirement savings in IRA, 401k and even a brokerage account will provide you with the necessary income during your retirement years.

Unfortunately, not everyone is forward-looking. The average 401k balance, according to Fidelity, is $106,000 in 2019, while the average IRA is $110,000. The sad reality is that most Americans do not save enough for retirement and we are facing a retirement crisis.

Not saving enough for retirement is the highest risk of enjoying your retirement years.

Relying on a single source

Many people make the mistake of relying on a single source of income for their retirement.  

Imagine that you were planning to retire in 2009 upon selling a piece of real estate. Or you had all your retirement savings in a 401k plan and the market just crashed 50%.  Many of these folks had to delay their retirement for several years to make up for the lost income. Similarly, selling your business can be risky too. With technology advancements, many businesses are becoming obsolete. You may not always be able to find buyers or get the highest price for your business.

We always recommend to our clients to have a diversified stream of retirement income. Diversifying your source will create a natural safety net and potentially could increase the predictability of your income in retirement.

Market risk

We all would like to retire when the market is up and our retirement account balance is high. However, the income from these retirement accounts like IRA, Roth IRA and 401k are not guaranteed. As more people relying on them for retirement, their savings become subject to market turbulence and the wellbeing of the economy.  Today, prospective retirees must confront with high equity valuations, volatile markets, and ultra-low and even negative yields.

In my practice, I use my clients’ risk tolerance as an indicator of their comfort level during market volatility. With market risk in mind, I craft well-diversified individual retirement strategies based on my clients’ risk tolerance and long-term and short-term financial goals.

Sequence of returns

The sequence of returns is the order of how your portfolio returns happen over time. If you are in your accumulation phase, the sequence of return doesn’t impact your final outcome. You will end up with the same amount regardless of the order of your annual returns.  

However, if you are in your withdrawal phase, the sequence of returns can have a dramatic impact on your retirement income. Most retires with a 401k or IRAs have to periodically sell a portion of their portfolios to supplement their income. Most financial planning software uses an average annual return rate to project future account balance. However, these average estimates become meaningless if you experience a large loss at the start of your retirement.

Our retirement strategies take the sequence of returns very seriously. Some of the tools we use involve maintaining cash buffers, building bond ladders and keeping a flexible budget.

Taxes

Your IRA balance might be comforting but not all of it is yours. You will owe income taxes on every dollar you take out of any tax-deferred account (IRA, 401k, 403b). You will pay capital gain taxes on all realized gains in your brokerage accounts. Even Social Security is taxable.

With skyrocketing deficits in the treasury budget, social security and public pensions will guarantee one thing – higher taxes. There is no doubt that someone will have to pick up the check. And that someone is the US taxpayer – me and you.

Managing your taxes is a core function of our wealth management practice. Obviously, we all must pay taxes. And we can not predict what politicians will decide in the future. However, managing your investments in a tax-efficient manner will ensure that you keep more money in your pocket.

Inflation risk

Most retirees have a significant portion of their portfolios in fixed income. Modern portfolio managers use fixed income instruments to reduce investment risk for their clients. At the time of this article, we are seeing negative and near-zero interest rates around the world. However, with inflation going at around 2% a year, the income from fixed-income investments will not cover the cost of living adjustments. Retirees will effectively lose purchasing power on their dollars.

Interest risk

Bonds lose value when interest rates go up and make gains when interest rates go down. For over a decade, we have seen rock bottom interest rates. We had a small blip in 2018 when the Fed raised rates 4 times and 1 year’s CDs reached 2.5%. At that point in time, many investors were worried that higher interest rates will hurt bond investors, consumers and even companies who use a lot of debt to finance their business. Even though these fears are subdued for now, interest rates remain a viable threat. Negative interest rates are as bad for fixed income investors as the high rates are. Unfortunately, traditional bond portfolios may not be sufficient to provide income and protect investors for market swings. Investors will need to seek alternatives or take higher risks to generate income.

Unexpected expenses

Most financial planning software will lay out a financial plan including your projected costs during retirement. While most financial planning software these days is quite sophisticated, the plan remains a plan. We can not predict the unexpected. In my practice, I regularly see clients withdrawing large sums from their retirement savings to finance a new home, renovation, a new car, college fees, legal fees, unexpectedly high taxes and so on. Reducing your retirement savings can be a bad idea on many levels. I typically recommend building an emergency fund worth at least 6 months of living expenses to cover any unexpected expenses that may occur. That way, you don’t have to touch your retirement savings.

Healthcare cost

The average health care cost of a retired couple is $260,000. This estimate could vary significantly depending on your health. Unless you have full health insurance from your previous employer, you will need to budget a portion of your retirement savings to cover health-related expenses. Keep in mind that Medicare part A covers only part of your health cost. The remaining, parts B, C, and D, will be paid out of pocket or through private insurance.

Furthermore, as CNBC reported, the cost of long-term care insurance has gone up by more than 60% between 2013 and 2018 and continues to go higher. The annual national median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $100,375 in 2018.

For future retirees, even those in good shape, healthcare costs will be one of the largest expenses during retirement. In my practice, I take this risk very seriously and work with my clients to cover all bases of their health care coverage during retirement.

Longevity

Longevity risk is the risk of running out of money during retirement. Running out of money depends on an array of factors including your health, lifestyle, family support and the size and sources of retirement income.  My goal as a financial advisor is to ensure that your money lasts you through the rest of your life.

Legacy risk

For many of my clients leaving a legacy is an important part of their personal goal. Whether funding college expenses, taking care of loved ones or donating to a charitable cause, legacy planning is a cornerstone of our financial plan. Having a robust estate plan will reduce the risks to your assets when you are gone or incapacitated to make decisions.

Liquidity Risk

Liquidity risk is the risk that you will not be able to find buyers for your investments and other assets that you are ready to sell. Often times, during an economic downturn, the liquidity shrinks. There will be more sellers than buyers. The banks are not willing to extend loans to finance riskier deals. In many cases, the sellers will have to sell their assets at a significant discount to facilitate the transaction.

Behavioral risk

Typically, investors are willing to take more risk when the economy is good and the equity markets are high. Investors become more conservative and risk-averse when markets drop significantly. As humans, we have behavioral biases, Sometimes, we let our emotions get the worst of us. We spend frivolously. We chase hot stocks. Or keep all investments in cash. Or sell after a market crash. Working with a fiduciary advisor will help you understand these biases. Together, we can find a way to make unbiased decisions looking after your top financial priorities.

Final Words

Preparing for retirement is a long process. It involves a wide range of obstacles. With proper long-term planning, you can avoid or minimize some of these risks. You can focus on reaching your financial goals and enjoying what matters most to you.

Reach out

If you need help growing your retirement savings, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page, where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families, physicians, and successful business owners.

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The Secret to becoming a 401k millionaire

401k millionaire

How to become a 401k millionaire? Today, 401k plans are one of the most popular employee benefits. Companies use 401k plans to attract top talent. 401k plan is a powerful vehicle to save for retirement and become financially independent. According to Fidelity, there are 180,000 Fidelity 401(k) plans with a balance of $1 million or more. Congratulations to you If you are one of them. There are still many helpful tips that can get you to reach your financial goals while keeping your investments safe.

You hear stories about people with a million dollars in their 401k plan. Then you look at your 401k balance, and it doesn’t look as high as you would like it to be.

The path to becoming a 401k millionaire

I hope this article will guide you on your path to become a 401k millionaire.

There are many variables that can impact your 401k account – age, salary, debt, tax rate, risk tolerance, plan fees, employee match.

Becoming a 401k millionaire is not as hard as it might seem. However, you need to follow a few simple rules that can get you on the right path.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

Start saving early in your 401k

Saving early in your 401k will guarantee you the highest chance to become a 401k millionaire at the lowest cost.

I did the math for how much you need to contribute if you start fresh at any age. These numbers are based on assumptions for continuous monthly 401k contributions until reaching 65 with a 7% average annual market return for a 60/40 portfolio and 2% annual inflation.  Keep in mind that these assumptions are just assumptions and only for illustration purposes.  Your situation could be unique and could change the math dramatically.

401k Contributions by Age if you start fresh

 

Age|Monthly
Contribution
|Yearly
Contribution
|Lifetime
Contribution
25$387$4,644$190,404
30$560$6,720$241,920
35$820$9,840$305,040
40$1,220$14,640$380,640
45$1,860$22,320$468,720
50$3,000$36,000$576,000
55$5,300$63,600$699,600

 

What drives the growth of your 401k is the power of compounding. It’s the snowball effect of accumulating earning generating more earnings over time. The longer you wait, the larger the amount you will need to contribute to reaching your 1-million goal.

If you are 25-years old and just starting your career, you need to save approximately $390 per month or $4,644 annually to reach the $1-million goal by the age of 65. Your lifetime contribution between the age of 25 and 65 will be $190,000.

When you start saving in your 30s this target number goes to $560 per month. Your lifetime contribution between the age of 30 and 65 will be $241,920.

Your saving rate goes up to 1,220 per month if you start saving actively in your 40s and increases to $5,330 at the age off 55.

Take advantage of your employer match

If my recommended monthly contribution looks like an uphill battle, don’t forget about your employer match. Many employers offer a 401k match to attract and keep top talent. The match could be a percentage of your salary, one-to-one match or an absolute dollar amount. If your employer offers a 4% match, at a minimum you should contribute 4% to your 401k plan. Take full advantage of this opportunity to get free money.

Max out your 401k

In 2020, you can make up to $19,500 contribution to your 401k plan. If you can afford it, always try to max out your contributions.

Catch-up contributions when 50 and older

If you are 50 years or older, you can make an additional $6,500 contribution to your plan. Combined with the $19,500 limit, that is a maximum of $26,000 in 2020.

Save aggressively

Obviously, owning $1 million is a big accomplishment. However, it may not be enough to sustain your lifestyle during retirement.  As a financial advisor, I recommend to my clients replacing at least 80% of their income before retirement. If you are a high earner or plan to retire early, you need to save more aggressively to reach your goals.

Be consistent

An important part of the formula of becoming a 401k millionaire is consistency.  Saving every month and every year is a critical part of achieving your financial goals. On the contrary, large gaps could hurt your chances of reaching your financial goals.

Don’t panic during market turbulence

The market can be volatile. Don’t let your emotions get the worst of you. Nobody has made any money panicking. During the financial crisis of 2008-2009, many people stopped contributing to their 401k plans or moved their investments into cash. These folks never participated in the market recovery and the longest bull market in history. Stay invested. And think of this way. If the market goes down, your plan will invest your automatic monthly contributions at the lower prices. You are already getting a deal.

Watch your fees

Higher fees can erode your returns and slow down the pursuit of your financial goals. I recently advised a 401k plan, where the average fund’s fees were 1.5%. In the age of ETFs and index investing it is mind-blowing that some 401k plan still charges exuberantly high fees. If your 401k plan charges high fees, talk to your manager or HR representative and demand lower fee options.

Be mindful of your taxes

Taxes play a big role in 401k planning. Most 401k contributions are tax-deferred. Meaning that your contributions will reduce your current taxable income. Your investments will grow tax-free until you reach retirement age. You start paying taxes on your withdrawals. There are a couple of strategies you can implement to make your withdrawals to make more tax-efficient. You can reach out to me if you have any questions on that topic as every situation is unique and could require a unique solution.

Roth 401k

Currently, some employers offer a Roth 401k contribution as an additional option to their plan. Unlike the tax-deferred option, Roth 401k contributions are made on an after-tax basis. Roth 401k contributions don’t have an immediate financial impact. However, if planned well, Roth contributions could help you immensely to reach your financial goals. For example, let’s assume that you are in a low tax bracket and your employers offer both tax-deferred and Roth 401k contributions. The tax-deferred option is usually the default. But if you are in a low tax bracket, your tax benefit will be minimal. In that case, maybe it’s worth selecting the Roth 401k.

Don’t take a loan

Under no circumstances, you should take a loan from your 401k plan. No matter how dire the situation is, try to find an alternative.  Taking a loan from your 401k can set you back many years in achieving your financial goal of becoming a 401k millionaire. Obviously, all rules have exceptions, but before you take a loan from your 401k, talk to your financial advisor first for alternatives.

Keep a long-term view

Life happens. Markets go up and down. You can lose your job or change employers. You need to pay off a big loan. Your car breaks down. You need money for a down payment on your first house. Something always happens. Circumstances change. Whatever happens, keep a long-term view. Your 401k plan could be the answer to your financial independence. Don’t make rash decisions.

Reach out

If you need help growing your 401k savings, or learn how to manage your 401k investments, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page, where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families and successful business owners.

The Smart Way to Manage Your Sudden Wealth

The Smart Way to Manage Your Sudden Wealth

Getting rich is the dream of many people. When your sudden wealth becomes a reality, you need to be ready for the new responsibilities and challenges. As someone experienced in helping my clients manage their sudden wealth, I want to share some of my experience.

Wealth sources

Your sudden windfall can come from many different sources – receiving an Inheritance, winning the lottery, selling your business or a real estate property, signing a new sport or music contract, royalties from a bestselling book or a hit song, or selling shares after your company finally goes public. Whatever the source is, your life is about to change. Being rich brings a unique level of issues.  Your new wealth can have a variety of financial, legal and core repercussions to your life.

Avoid making any immediate changes to your life

Don’t make big and hasty changes to your lifestyle. I recommend that you wait at least six months. Let the big news sink in your mind.  Let things settle down before quitting your job, moving to another city or making a large purchase. Keep it quiet. The next six month will give you a chance to reassess your life, control your emotions and set your priorities.

Figure out what you own

This is the moment you have been waiting for all your life. You are probably very excited, and you deserve it. There are tons of things you want to do with your money. But before you do anything.  Take a deep breath. Figure out exactly what you own. Gather all necessary information about your assets. Maybe your sudden windfall is in cash. However, your new wealth could be in real estate, land, stocks, art, gold, rare wines, luxury cars and so on. Not always your new fortunate can easily be converted into cash. Each wealth source is unique on its own and has specific legal and financial rules.

Build your team

Your financial life is about to become a lot more complicated. You will need a team of trusted experts who will help you navigate through these changes. Your financial team can help you understand your wealth.   They watch your back and flag any blind spots. Talk to your team and figure what are your options.

Hire a CPA

You are rich. And that’s a great news for the IRS and your state. There is a very good chance you will pay more taxes that you ever imagined. Start assembling your financial team by hiring a reputable CPA who understands your situation and can steer you through the complex world of taxes.  Each source of wealth has unique tax rules. Find out what rules apply to you.

Hire a financial advisor

Look for a trusted fiduciary financial advisor with experience managing sudden wealth. A fiduciary advisor will look after your best interest and guide you in your new journey. Talk to your new advisors about your personal and financial goals and how to reach them with the help of your new wealth.

Have a financial plan

Ask your advisor to craft a financial plan that is tailored to your unique situation, specific needs and financial objectives. Figure out how your sudden wealth can help you reach your goals – retire early, send your kids to college, buy a new house, become self-employed. The list is endless. Talk to your advisor about your risk tolerance. Many of my clients who earned a windfall have a low risk appetite. An important part of our conversation is how to reach their goals without taking on too much risk.

Protect your new wealth

You need to take steps to protect your sudden windfall.  For a starter, try to keep

If your new money is sitting in your checking account, make sure you allocate it among several different banks and account types. Remember that FDIC insurance covers up to 250k per person per bank in each account category.

If you inherited real estate or art or some other type of physical property make sure to have solid Insurance to protect you from unexpected events.  

In case you received stocks or other investments, speak to your financial advisor how to hedge them from market volatility and losing value.

Have an estate plan

No matter how well you plan, life can be unpredictable. Getting a windfall is a great opportunity to update your estate plan or craft a new one. The estate plan will protect your loved ones and ensure your legacy in the face of the unknown. If something happens to you, your fortune will be used and divided per your own wish. The alternative is going through a lengthy and expensive probate process that may not have the same outcome.

Pay off your debts

If you owe money, you have a chance to pay off your debts.  Credit cards debts and any personal loans with high interest should be your priority. Your new wealth can help your live a debt-free life. This is one area where working with a financial advisor will make a big difference in your life.  

Beware that many people who receive sudden windfall end up borrowing more money and sometimes filing for bankruptcy.  Don’t be that person. You still need to live within your means.

Plan your taxes

Depending on the source of sudden wealth you may owe taxes to the IRS and your state either immediately or sometime in the near future. Don’t underestimate your tax bill. Your CPA and financial advisor should help you understand and prepare for your current and future tax bills.

Don’t overspend

Many lottery winners and former athletes file for bankruptcy due to poor spending habits, lending money to family and friends and money mismanagement. The fact that you are rich doesn’t mean that you can’t lose your money. You need to be responsible. Talk to your advisor about your monthly budget and what you can afford.  

Be philanthropic

Making a donation is an excellent way to give back to the society and leave a legacy.  If you have a charitable cause close to your heart, you make a difference. Often time, charitable contributions can be tax-deductible and lower your tax bill. Talk to your CPA and financial advisors how you can achieve that.

Conclusion

Sudden Wealth can come in all shapes and forms – cash, real estate, land, ongoing business, royalties, stocks, and many others. Even though it might not be completely unexpected, the way you feel about after the fact might be shocking to you. Don’t let your emotions get the worst of you. Getting windfall is a great life accomplishment. And you should make the best out of it.  Work with your team of trusted professionals and build a long-term plan with milestones and objectives.

Reach out

If you are expecting a windfall or recently received a sudden wealth, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families and successful business owners.

Subscribe to get our new Insights delivered right to your inbox

Why you need a Roth IRA

Roth IRA

Do you have a Roth IRA? If you never heard about it, I hope this article will convince you to open one. Roth IRA is a tax-exempt investment account that allows you to make after-tax contributions to save for retirement.  The Roth IRA has a tax free status. It is a great way to save for retirement and meet your financial goals without paying a dime for taxes on your investments. The Roth IRA offers you a lot of flexibility with very few constraints.

Learn more about our Private Client Services

1. Plan for your future

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

If you are single and earn $122,000 or less in 2019, you can contribute up to $6,000 per year in your Roth IRA. Individuals 50 years old and above can add a catch-up contribution of $1,000. If you are married filing jointly, you can contribute the full amount if your MAGI is under $193,000.

There is a phaseout amount between $122,000 and $137,000 for single filers and $193,000 and $203,000 for married filing jointly.

2. No age limit

There is no age limit for your contributions. You can contribute to your Roth IRA at any age as long as you earn income.

Minors who earn income can also invest in Roth IRA. While youngsters have fewer opportunities to make money, there are many sources of income that will count – babysitting, garden cleaning, child acting, modeling, selling lemonade, distributing papers, etc.

3. No investment restrictions

Unlike most 401k plans, Roth IRAs do not have any restriction on the type of investments in the account. You can invest in any asset class that suits your risk tolerance and financial goals.

4. No taxes

There are no taxes on the distributions from this account once you reach the age of 59 ½. Your investments will grow tax-free.  You will never pay taxes on your capital gains and dividends either. Roth IRA is a great saving tool for investors at all income levels and tax brackets.

With an average historical growth rate of 7%, your investment of $6,000 today could bring you $45,674 in 30 years completely tax-free. The cumulative effect of your return and the tax status of the account will help your investments grow faster.

5. No penalties if you withdraw your original investment

While not always recommended, Roth IRA allows you to withdraw your original dollar contribution (but not the return) 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.

6. Diversify your future tax exposure

It is very likely that most of your retirement savings will be in a 401k plan or an investment account. 401k plans are tax-deferred and you will owe taxes on any distributions. Investment accounts are taxable and you pay taxes on capital gains and dividends. In reality, nobody can predict what your tax rate will be by the time you need to take out money from your retirement and investment accounts. Roth IRA adds this highly flexible tax-advantaged component to your investments.

7. No minimum distributions

Unlike 401k plans, 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.

8. Do a backdoor Roth conversion

Due to recent legal changes investors who do not satisfy the requirements for direct Roth IRA contributions, can still make investments to it. The process starts with a taxable contribution, up to the annual limit, into a Traditional IRA. Eventually, the contributions are rolled from the Traditional IRA to the Roth IRA.

9. Roth conversion from Traditional IRA and 401k plans

Under certain circumstances, it could make sense for you to rollover your Traditional IRA and an old 401k plan to Roth IRA. If you expect to earn less income or pay lower taxes in a particular year, it could be beneficial to consider this Roth conversion. Your rollover amount will be taxable at your current ordinary income tax level. An alternative strategy is to consider annual rollovers in amounts that will keep you within your tax bracket.

10. Estate planning

Roth IRA is an excellent estate planning tool. Due to its age flexibility and no minimum required distributions, Roth IRA makes it a good option for generation transfer and leaving a legacy to your beloved ones.

Final words

Roth IRA is an excellent starting point for young professionals. It can help you reach your financial goals faster. So open your account now to maximize its full potential. Investing early in your career will lay out the path for your financial independence.

Reach out

If you’d like to discuss how to open a new Roth IRA or make the most out of your existing account, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit our Insights page where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized wealth management and financial planning services to individuals and families.  To learn more visit our Private Client Services page here.

Essential Guide to Your Employee Stock Purchase Plan

Employee Stock Purchase Plan

What is ESPP

Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP) is a popular tool for companies to allow their employees to participate in the company’s growth and success by becoming shareholders. ESPP gives you the option to buy shares of your employer at a discount price. Most companies set a discount between 10% and 15%. Unlike RSUs and restricted stocks, the shares you purchase through an ESPP are not subject to any vesting schedule restrictions. That means you own the shares immediately after purchase. There are two types of ESPP – qualified and non-qualified. Qualified ESPP generally meets the requirements under Section 423 of the Internal Revenue Code and receive a more favorable tax treatment. Since most ESPP are qualified, I will only talk about them in this article.

How ESPP works

Your company will typically provide you with information about enrollment and offering dates, contribution limits, discounts, and purchasing schedule. There will be specific periods throughout the year when employees can enroll in the plan. During that time, you are required to decide if you want to participate and set a percentage of your salary to be deducted every month to contribute to the stock purchase plan. The IRS allows up to $25,000 limit for ESPP contributions. Make sure you set your percentage, so you don’t cross over this limit.

At this point, you are all set. Your employer will withhold your selected percentage every paycheck. The contributions will accumulate over time and will be used to buy the company stock on the purchase date.

Offering period and look-back provision

Offering periods of most ESPPs are ranging from 6 to 24 months. The longer periods could have multiple six-month periods for purchase. Your employer will use your salary contributions that accrue over time to buy shares from the company stock on your behalf.

Most ESPP offer a look-back provision will allow you to purchase the shares at a discount from the lowest of the beginning and ending price of the offering period.

ESPP Example

For example, let’s assume that on January 2nd, your company stock traded at $100 per share. The stock price had a nice run and ended the six-month period on June 30 at 120. Your ESPP will allow you to buy the stock at 15% of the lowest price, which is $00. You will end up paying $85 for a stock worth $120.

The price discount is what makes the ESPP attractive to employees of high growth companies. By acquiring your company stock at a discount, the ESPP lowers your investment risk, provides you a buffer from future price declines, and sets a more significant upside if the price goes up further.

Selling your ESPP shares

Some ESPPs allow you to sell your shares immediately after the purchase date, realizing an instant gain of 17.65%. Others may have a holding period restriction during which you cannot sell your shares. Find out from your HR.

Taxation

An ESPP plan has its own unique set of tax rules. All contributions are pretax and subject to federal, state and local taxes.

Keeping your stock will not a create a tax event. In other words, you don’t owe any taxes to IRS if you never sell your shares. However, the moment you decide to sell is when things get tricky.

The discount is treated as ordinary income

The first to remember is that the price discount is always treated as ordinary income. You will add the value of the discount to your regular annual income and pay taxes according to your tax bracket.

Capital gains

The difference between the selling price and the purchase price is considered a realized capital gain. There are two types of capital gains – short-term and long-term. Short-term gains are triggered if you sell your stocks in less than one year after the purchase date. You will pay taxes on short-term capital gains as an ordinary income according to your tax bracket.

Long-term capital gains vary between 0%, 15% and 20% depending on your income. In order to get preferential this lower rate from the IRS, you need to keep your shares for more than 2 years from the offer date and 1 year from the purchase date.

Investment risk

Being a shareholder in a solid high growth company could offer a significant boost to your personal finances. In some cases, it could make you an overnight millionaire.

However, here is the other side of the story. Owning too much stock of a company in bad financial health could impose a significant risk to your overall investment portfolio and retirement goals. Participating in the ESPP of a company with a constantly dropping or volatile stock price is like a catching a falling knife. The discount price could give you some downside protection, but you can continue to lose money if the price continues to go down. The price of General Electric, one of the longest Dow Jones members, went down more than 65% in one year.

Remember Enron and Lehman

Many of you remember or heard of Enron and Lehman Brothers. If your company seizes to exist for whatever reason, you could not only lose your job but all your investments in the firm could be wiped out.

You are already earning a salary from your employer. Concentrating your wealth and income from the same source could jeopardize your financial health if your company fails to succeed in its business ventures.

As a fiduciary advisor, I always recommend diversification and caution. Try to limit your exposure to your company stock and sell your shares periodically. Sometimes paying taxes is worth the peace of mind and safety. 

Conclusion

Participating in your employer’s ESPP is an excellent way to acquire company stock at a discount and get involved in your company’s future. While risky, owning company stock often comes with a huge financial upside. Realizing some of these gains could help you build a strong foundation for retirement and financial freedom. When managed properly, it can help you achieve your financial goals, whether they are buying a home, taking your kids to college or early retirement.

Reach out

Keep in many that most ESPPs have different rules. Therefore, this article may not address the specific features of your plan. If you’d like to discuss how to make the most out of your ESPP, please feel free to reach out and learn more about our fee-only financial advisory services. I will meet you in one of our offices in San Francisco, Oakland, Walnut Creek, and Pleasant Hill areas. As a CFA® Charterholder with an MBA degree in Finance and 15+ years in the financial industry, I am ready to answer your questions.

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA 
Founder|Babylon Wealth Management

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Saving for college with a 529 plan

College savings with a 529 plan

What is a 529 plan

The 529 plan is a tax-advantaged state-sponsored investment plan, which allows parents to save for their children college expenses.

In the past 20 years, college expenses have skyrocketed exponentially putting many families in a difficult situation.  Between 1998 and 2018, college tuition and fee have doubled in most private non-profit schools and more than tripled in most 4-year public colleges and universities.

College tuition and fees growth between 1998 and 2018.
Source: College Board

With this article, I would like to share how the 529 plan can help you send your kids or grandkids to college.

Student Debt is Growing

The student debt has reached $1.56 trillion with a growing number of parents taking on student loans to pay for their children’ college expenses. The total number of US borrowers with student loan debt is now 44.7 million.

Amid this grim statistic, less than 30% of families are aware of the 529 plan. The 529 plan could be a powerful vehicle to save for college expenses. Fortunately, 529 plans have grown in popularity in the past 10 years. There are more than 13 million 529 accounts with an average size of $24,057.

Let’s break down some of the benefits of the 529 plan.

College Savings Made Easy

Nowadays, you can easily open an account with any 529 state plan in just a few minutes and manage it online. You can set up automatic contributions from your bank account. Also, many employers allow direct payroll deductions and some even offer a match. Your contributions and dividends are reinvested automatically., so you don’t have to worry about it yourself. As a parent, you can open a 529 plan with as little as $25 and contribute as low as $15 per pay period. Most direct plans have no application, sales, or maintenance fees. 529 plan is affordable even for those on a modest budget.

Flexible Investment Options

Most 529 plans provide a wide variety of professionally managed investment portfolios including age-based, indexed, and actively-managed options. The age-based option is an all-in-one portfolio series intended for those saving for college. The allocation automatically shifts from aggressive to conservative investments as your child approaches college age.

Alternatively, you can design your portfolio choosing between a mix of actively managed and index funds, matching your risk tolerance, timeline, and investment preferences. Some 529 plans offer guaranteed options, which limit your investment risk but also cap your upside.

Earnings Grow Tax-Free

529 plan works similarly to the Roth IRA. You make post-tax contributions. And your investment earnings will grow free from federal and state income tax when used for qualified expenses. Compared to a regular brokerage account, the 529 plan has a distinct tax advantage as you will never pay taxes on your dividends and capital gains.

Tax-exempt growth
529 plan versus taxable investment account
The chart hypothetically assumes a $6,300 annual contribution, a 5% average annual return and a 20% average tax rate on taxable income in a comparable brokerage account. The final year post-tax difference would be $14,539, without taking into consideration state tax deductions.on contributions and impact on financial aid application.

Your State May Offer a Tax Break

Over 30 states offer a full or partial tax deduction or credit on your 529 contributions. You can find the full list here. If you live in any of these states, your 529 contributions can lower significantly your state tax bill. However, these states usually require you to use the state-run 529 plan.

If you live in any of the remaining states that don’t offer any state tax deductions, such as California, you can open a 529 account in any state of your choice.

Use at Schools Anywhere

529 funds can be used at any accredited university, college or vocational school nationwide and more than 400 schools abroad. Basically, any institution eligible to participate in a federal student aid program qualifies. A 529 plan can be used to pay for tuition, certain room and board costs, computers and related technology expenses as well as fees, books, supplies, and other equipment.

The TCJA law of 2017 expanded the use of 529 funds and allowed parents to use up to $10,000 annually per student for tuition expenses at a public, private or religious elementary, middle, or high school. However, please check with your 529 plan as not all states passed that provision

Smaller Impact on Scholarship and Financial Aid

Many parents worry that 529 savings can adversely affect eligibility for scholarship and financial aid. Fortunately, 529 plan savings have no impact on merit scholarships. You can even withdraw funds from the 529 plan penalty free up to the amount of the student scholarship.

For FAFSA, funds are typically treated as ownership of the parent, not the child, reducing the impact on financial aid application. A key component of the financial aid application is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Since 529 plans are considered parents’ assets, they are assessed at 5.64% of their value. For comparison, any accounts owned directly by the student such as custodial accounts (UTMAs, UGMAs), trusts and investment accounts are assessed at 20% of their value.

Lower Cost versus Borrowing Money

Starting the 529 plan early can save you and your child money in the long run. The tax advantages of the 529 plan plus the compounding growth over 18 years it will provide you with substantial long-term savings compared to taking a student loan.

Source: Savingforcollege.com

Estate Tax Planning Benefits

Your 529 plan contributions may qualify for an annual gift tax exclusion of $15,000 per year for single filers and $30,000 a year for couples. The 529 plan is the only investment vehicle that allows you to contribute up to 5 years’ worth of gifts at once — for a maximum of $75,000 for a single filer and $150,000 for couples.

Other Family Members Can Contribute Too

Grandparents, as well as other family and friends, can make gifts to your 529 account. They can also set up their own 529 accounts and designate your child as a beneficiary. The grandparent-owned 529 account is not reportable on the student’s FAFSA, which is good for financial aid eligibility. However, any distributions to the student or the student’s school from a grandparent-owned 529 will be added to the student income on the following year’s FAFSA. Student income is assessed at 50%, which means if a grandparent pays $10,000 of college costs it would reduce the student’s eligibility for aid by $5,000.

Funds can be transferred to ABLE Account

Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account was first introduced in 2014. The ABLE account works similarly to a 529 plan with certain conditions. It allows parents of children with disabilities to save for qualified education, job training, healthcare, and living expenses.

Under the TCJA law, 529 funds can be rolled over into an ABLE account, without paying taxes or penalties.

Extra Funds Can Be Assigned to Other Family Members

Finally, if your child or grandchild doesn’t need all the money or his or her education plans change, you can designate a new beneficiary penalty-free so long as they’re an eligible member of your family. Moreover, you can even use the extra funds for your personal education and learning new skills.

Reach out

If you’d like to discuss how to open a new 529 plan or make the most out of your existing 529 account, please reach out today. You learn more about our fee-only financial advisory services. I can meet you in one of our offices in San Francisco, Oakland, Walnut Creek, and Pleasant Hill areas or connect by phone. As a CFA® Charterholder with an MBA degree in Finance and 15+ years in the financial industry, I am ready to answer your questions.

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA 
Founder|Babylon Wealth Management

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