I REMEMBER 40 YEARS ago listening to Salomon Brothers economist Henry Kaufman bemoaning government deficits and predicting higher interest rates as a result. We institutional investors would gather in a room to listen to his declarations through a “squawk box” intercom system—because conference calls weren’t yet a thing.
Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker was in the process of wringing inflation out of the financial system by raising the federal funds rate so high that investors would rather hold cash investments than spend money.
ONLINE SPORTS BETTING is currently legal in 30 states but eventually will be legal everywhere—because the tax revenue is simply too attractive. All this was made possible by the Supreme Court, which in 2018 struck down federal legislation prohibiting online sports betting.
The sports leagues spent decades denouncing gambling, saying it threatened the integrity of the game. But my concern isn’t the “integrity” of the game. Rather, I worry about the individual bettor who ends up wagering too much.
THE SECURE ACT, which took effect Jan. 1, 2020, made inheriting an IRA even more complicated. Before 2020, beneficiaries typically had the option of taking distributions from an inherited IRA over their lifetime, potentially squeezing many more years of tax-favored growth from these accounts.
The SECURE Act drew a new line, eliminating some beneficiaries’ ability to make use of the so-called stretch IRA. Beneficiaries now are divided into two groups. Some have to empty an inherited IRA within 10 years of the original owner’s death.
AS THEY APPROACH retirement age, workers sometimes get to choose between a monthly pension and a lump-sum payout. It’s a choice I recently made—one I researched carefully. In the end, I made an unusual decision that took a few extra steps.
Let me start at the beginning. In 1984, I began working for American National Insurance Company as an investment analyst. I left the company in 1991, but still qualified for a small pension.
I HAD A NEW HOME built in 2017. I financed it with a 30-year mortgage at a 3.875% interest rate.
Early last year, when interest rates dropped due to the pandemic, I suggested that readers refinance. I took my own advice, replacing my 30-year loan with a 15-year mortgage at 2.99%. The cost of refinancing seemed well worth the reduction in my loan interest rate.
Two months ago, I saw that mortgage rates had continued to decline,
THIS IS THE LAST year that my income won’t affect my Medicare premiums.
At issue is IRMAA, or income-related monthly adjustment amount, which is the premium surcharge for Medicare Part B and Part D if you exceed certain income thresholds. The surcharge is based on your modified adjustment gross income from two years earlier. Like almost all retirees, I’ll begin Medicare at age 65. That means IRMAA will be based on my income for the tax year when I reach age 63,
NEWS OF ENTREPRENEUR Peter Thiel’s $5 billion Roth account, which was funded with PayPal stock, has motivated Congress to look at restricting the growth and size of Roth accounts.
There’s talk of limiting Roth account balances to $5 million or $10 million. There are also proposals to limit both backdoor IRA conversions and so-called mega-backdoor conversions. The latter involves funding a nondeductible 401(k) and then immediately converting the money to a Roth. There’s even discussion of not allowing high-income workers to convert traditional IRAs to Roth accounts.
AIRLINE TRAVEL during the pandemic can be frustrating. There’s mask-wearing on all trips, and COVID test results are required before boarding international flights. Then there’s the spate of last-minute cancellations, leaving passengers unhappily stranded at the gate.
On that score, Spirit Airlines has recently made headlines. I’ve also personally endured last-minute cancellations by British Airways and American Airlines. Even when you finally board a flight, many domestic airlines have suspended serving alcoholic beverages, except to first-class passengers.
IF YOU’RE MARRIED, it’s almost certain that one of you will outlive the other—perhaps by many years. What are the financial implications? Here are 10 issues to keep in mind:
1. Social Security. For a married couple, their Social Security benefits can consist of two workers’ benefits or a worker’s benefit and a spousal benefit. On the death of either spouse, the remaining benefit is the higher of the two benefits. For instance,
I HAD PLANNED a trip to Vietnam for 2020—which coincided with the start of the pandemic and got scratched. I naively rescheduled the trip for this summer. Unfortunately, countries that lack vaccines have been forced to lock down and keep out even vaccinated tourists like me, so that trip also got nixed.
Ever the optimist, I rescheduled for Europe in July. This time, it was the delta variant and changing travel restrictions that ended my third international trip before it even began.
LEAVING BEHIND fulltime work leaves a void. How will you fill it? In my semi-retirement, I’ve found four communities.
I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, but moved throughout my career. Fifteen years ago, I returned to Texas and—as part of my relocation—”pioneered” working from home. I’ve spent the past few years reconnecting with classmates from elementary school through high school, meeting them individually for lunch and using Facebook to arrange annual mini-reunions. I’ve known some of these folks for more than 55 years.
IT’S BEEN CALLED the stealth IRA. We’re talking here about health savings accounts, which offer a triple tax play. First, contributions are tax-deductible. Second, the accounts grow tax-deferred. Third, if the money is used to pay permitted medical expenses, there’s no tax on the sum withdrawn.
That might sound similar to an employer-sponsored flexible spending account for health care costs, but those are more restrictive. If much or all of the money isn’t spent by the end of the year,
MANY FOLKS ARE do-it-yourselfers when it comes to home improvement projects. On that score, I have no skills, so I end up paying others. In fact, in high school, I was so anxious to avoid metal shop and woodshop that I opted for typing and four semesters of bookkeeping.
It’s a different story when it comes to my finances. Yes, I use an accountant to file my taxes. But helped by both a degree in finance and the Chartered Financial Analyst designation,
SPECIAL PURPOSE acquisition companies are hot. But will investors get burned?
Also known as “blank check” companies, special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) are shell companies with no current business operations that raise investor funds through an initial public offering (IPO). The companies then seek a merger with a private company, allowing its new partner to go public without the delays and demands of a traditional IPO.
An additional advantage: The acquired companies are allowed to make projections about their business prospects,
RETIREMENT RULES seem to get revised almost every year. Whether it’s IRAs, Roth IRAs or Social Security, Congress is constantly rewriting the regulations.
Just think about what’s happened over the past half-a-dozen years. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 eliminated the “file and suspend” option for Social Security recipients. Savvy financial planners would advise clients who had reached their full Social Security retirement age to file for benefits, so their husband or wife could receive spousal benefits.