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.
INSPIRED BY THE TV series The Queen’s Gambit, many people suddenly want to master the game of chess. But I’m more interested in mastering the practical world of retirement gambits—and that means matching wits with Congress and the IRS.
During my working career, I saved money in taxable brokerage accounts, IRAs and 401(k)s, but never focused on Roth accounts. At age 55, having left my last employer, I had two things that compelled me to begin—time and reduced income.
IF YOU DESIGNATE beneficiaries for your retirement accounts, that’s usually a surefire way to pass those assets directly to your desired heirs without going through probate—but not always.
Because those beneficiary designations are so important, you should verify your choices every year in case there’s a change due to, say, marriage, birth, divorce or death. Especially marriage and divorce. Which brings me to a crucial issue: When dealing with IRA and 401(k) beneficiary designations,
LATE LAST YEAR, Congress voted to kill off the so-called stretch IRA, which had allowed those who inherited retirement accounts to draw them down slowly over their lifetime. Many folks were surprised by the stretch IRA’s demise, but they shouldn’t have been.
When a tax break or some other government provision benefits only a few folks, Congress often changes the law. Think back to 2015. That year, Congress eliminated the ability to “file and suspend” Social Security—another strategy that tended to be exploited only by a privileged few.
I BEGAN MY CAREER in investments as a junior analyst at a public endowment fund. It was 1980 and I’d just finished my last investment class at college, where I learned about Modern Portfolio Theory. Why, decades later, is it still called “Modern”?
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was below 1000, versus today’s 27000. Men wore suits in 100-degree Texas heat. We had individual offices. We researched companies by reading brokerage reports, talking to brokers and requesting annual reports from companies.
I WORKED IN the investment department of three different insurance companies. But I never had any interest in buying a whole-life insurance policy. I knew term insurance was the best way to get the maximum death benefit for my premium dollars.
Instead, as a mutual fund manager, I was always more interested in investing in the stock market. (That said, I didn’t invest in the first mutual fund I managed. Why not? I didn’t want to pay the 7% “load”—the upfront sales commission.)
But my attitude toward whole-life insurance changed six years ago.
AS I PLAN MY retirement, I have the advantage of a strong background in finance. I worked for 35 years in the investment field, primarily managing mutual funds. Early on, I obtained the Chartered Financial Analyst designation, which helped immensely.
Six years ago, when I was age 55, I embarked on a journey to comprehend the myriad rules and strategies surrounding retirement. I studied to become an RICP—a Retirement Income Certified Professional. While the CFA was useful for investment management,
DELAYING SOCIAL Security until age 70 will get you the largest possible monthly benefit, and that’s the right strategy for many retirees. But what’s right for many folks won’t necessarily be right for you—and you may want to file at 62, the youngest possible age, so you maximize your total lifetime benefit.
If you’re single with no dependents, you should probably file at age 62 if you’re in poor health or your family doesn’t have great genes,
IF YOU’RE MARRIED, filing for Social Security can be confusing. But there’s one group who has it even worse—those who are divorced.
In recent weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations with women who had no idea that they were even eligible for spousal benefits based on their ex-husband’s earnings record. (I also recently watched the television show Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, which gave completely erroneous advice on benefits for ex-spouses.) My hope: Someone reading this may learn that he or she is eligible for spousal or survivor benefits from an ex-spouse.
FORCED TO SHELTER in place, I’ve used the time at home to organize my finances. I’d already read Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up. But I needed her new book, Joy at Work, to motivate me to organize my digital life. Sometimes, it helps to have a step-by-step guide to prod you to deal with such drudgery. Here are four tips I used to get myself organized:
1. Consolidate fixed costs.
REACHING AGE 65 is a financial relief for many folks—because they’re finally eligible for Medicare. But then disappointment often sets in.
Why? Medicare might cover just 80% of medical expenses, leaving the patient to handle the other 20%. How will you cover that 20%? The usual solution is to buy a Medigap policy. But there are so many choices that it can be overwhelming.
My goal today: Help you narrow that choice a little—by comparing two Medigap plans,
I FIRST STARTED managing mutual funds a few months before the 1987 stock market crash, and I’ve had to navigate a fair number of market declines since then. My advice: Instead of worrying about how far share prices will fall or how widely the coronavirus will spread, think about the opportunities. I spy four of them.
1. Buy the dip. If you have cash, you might slowly dollar-cost average into the market,
IF YOU’RE IN YOUR 70s or older and you are charitably inclined, it’s time to get acquainted with one of your best financial friends: the qualified charitable distribution, or QCD.
A QCD is a distribution that’s made directly from your IRA to an organization eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. A QCD counts toward your annual required minimum distribution, or RMD. But unlike a regular RMD, the QCD won’t add to your taxable income for the year—a potentially huge advantage.
MEET IRMAA. You won’t like her. IRMAA is short for income-related monthly adjustment amount. It’s a premium surcharge levied on those covered by Medicare Part B and Part D—and who have income above certain thresholds.
In 2020, the standard premium for Part B, which covers outpatient care, is $144.60 a month. That’s what you pay if you file taxes as a single individual and your modified adjusted gross income is $87,000 or less, or if you’re married filing jointly with annual income of $174,000 and below.
FUNDING A ROTH—and enjoying tax-free growth—may not have been an option for many high-income baby boomers when they were working. But these folks can still get money into a Roth IRA by converting their traditional retirement accounts—and often there’s a great opportunity to do so if they retire early and find themselves in a lower tax bracket.
The first thing to know: Converting from traditional tax-deferred accounts to a Roth IRA will generate ordinary income equal to the taxable sum converted.