Widow/er Social Security Benefits

Widower Social Security BenefitsA widow or widower is eligible for a survivor’s benefit from Social Security even if they never worked – as long as the deceased spouse qualified for benefits based on his or her own income record. Also, note that surviving spouses must have been married to their most current spouse for at least the nine months prior to their passing or for 10 years if the couple was divorced.

When Can You Claim?

A widow/er may apply for benefits once she turns age 60, age 50 if she qualifies as disabled or if she is responsible for the care of a child under age 16 (or a mentally or physically disabled child aged 16 or older). However, if the widow/er applies for a surviving spouse’s benefit starting at age 60/50, that benefit will be permanently reduced from the maximum amount available if she were to wait until her own full retirement age.

What Is Full Retirement Age for the Widow/er?

For anyone born from 1945 to 1955, their full retirement age (FRA) is 66. If born between 1955 and 1959, FRA increases by two months each year from age 66 to 67. FRA is age 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

How Much Can You Get?

First and foremost, all Social Security beneficiaries receive the highest benefit for which they qualify. Therefore, if a surviving spouse would receive a higher benefit from her own record of earnings than that of the deceased spouse, then that’s the amount she will receive.

If the deceased was receiving Social Security disability benefits when he passed, the survivor benefit is based on the deceased’s disability benefit.

Normally, the spousal benefit equals half the benefit of the higher-earning spouse. However, the surviving spouse’s benefit equals 100 percent of what the deceased worker would have received, including any delayed retirement credits he earned by postponing benefits to age 70.

The minimum surviving spouse benefit at age 60 is 71.5 percent of the available amount. This represents a permanent loss of 28.5 percent of the benefit available at FRA. The widow/er benefit is reduced for each month shy of his or her own FRA, so the closer they get to FRA before applying, the higher the benefit. The amount freezes once they begin drawing benefits, although it will increase incrementally based on cost-of-living adjustments.

The maximum benefit a widow/er may receive is 100 percent of what the deceased spouse would receive if he was still alive. However, that amount may already be reduced. For example, if the deceased began drawing benefits at age 62 instead of waiting until FRA, then that is the maximum benefit the widow/er is eligible for. If she begins drawing early before her own FRA, that benefit will be reduced further.

Ideally, the deceased will not have started receiving Social Security before his death. In this scenario, even if he died in his 50s, his maximum benefit is what he would have received at FRA. Now it’s up to the widow/er to time her survivor benefit – she can wait until her own FRA or take a permanently reduced benefit.

Delay Strategy

One strategy a widow/er may want to consider is to begin her own benefit at age 62, even if it is less than what she would draw as a survivor. Then, she can delay drawing the survivor benefit until it grows higher – ideally, the highest benefit at her FRA.

If the widow/er does not have her own benefit from earnings or can’t live on that amount alone, she may want to withdraw income from other sources, such as retirement savings or an annuity. While that may reduce her overall net worth, it’s important to remember that the Social Security benefit continues for life, so it may be worthwhile to get the highest benefit possible. Other accounts, such as an IRA or 401(k), will stop paying out income once they are depleted.

If the widow/er has a stronger earnings record, another option is to begin drawing the survivor’s benefit early and delay taking her own benefit until FRA or age 70, to receive a higher benefit for life based on her own record. Once she applies for her own benefit, the payout will increase to a higher amount.

Seek Professional Advice

Knowing when to begin drawing a widow/ers benefit can be challenging. The best option is usually based on factors such as other income resources and even the widow’s health. If in poor health and not expected to live many years, it may be wise to begin the survivor’s benefit as soon as possible. Otherwise, it’s probably better to wait and get a higher payout for as long as she lives.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if the widow/er doesn’t know the deceased spouse’s FRA benefit at the time of death, she is not likely to find out until age 60. The Social Security shuts down the deceased’s account at death and won’t reveal the benefit until the widow/er is of qualifying age to begin receiving it. It’s always a good idea for both spouses to check (and share with each other) their accrued benefits each year so that they have accurate numbers to plan with in case one spouse passes away.

The Ins and Outs of a Reverse Stock Split

Reverse Stock Split, What are Reverse Stock SplitWhen a company decides to conduct a reverse stock split, also referred to as a stock consolidation, the number of shares available to investors is reduced.

In a normal (forward) stock split, a company increases its number of outstanding shares without changing their market value. For example, one share of stock valued at $200 may split into two shares, with the shares then valued at $100 each. So, with a shareholder who holds 10 shares for a total of value of $2,000, a traditional one-to-two (1:2) stock split would change his holding to 20 shares – still valued at $2,000. The difference is that the value of each stock would change from $200 to $100.

The opposite occurs with a reverse stock split; a company decreases its number of outstanding shares without changing their market value. Using the same example, a shareholder who owns 10 shares at $200 would hold only five shares after a 2:1 reverse stock split. However, the worth of each share would double in value to $400.

Why Conduct a Reverse Stock Split?

A reverse stock split often indicates that a company is in financial distress, its stock price is on a downward spiral and it wants to reverse that momentum by giving investors a higher share value. This makes individual stocks more valuable to sell. In many cases, the company’s sinking stock price puts it in danger of losing its place on a stock exchange, which would then limit the pool of possible buyers – particularly fund managers and stock brokers. In most cases, companies that conduct a reverse stock split are small, lightly traded companies as well as some exchange-traded funds.

Impact on Small, Retail Investors

Smaller investors are more likely to be negatively impacted by a reverse stock split because they are more likely to own fewer numbers or fractional shares. For example, if a company conducts a 20:1 reverse stock split, investors receive only one share for every 20 they hold. However, if a shareholder owns less than 20 shares, he will simply be paid cash for his shares and his position would dissolve. This also holds true if the investor owns an uneven multiple of the reverse split. In the scenario of a 20:1 stock split, if the investor held 110 shares, he would receive five new post-split shares and be paid in cash for the remaining 10 shares.

How Do Stocks Perform After a Reverse Split?

While the total value of a shareholder’s holding would not change after a reverse stock split, history has shown that share prices after a reverse split tend to stagnate or continue to drop. After all, the company was likely already in financial distress, and this action serves to increase the price of a failing stock. It does not usually entice new investors or motivate current ones to invest more money in the company.

Potential Advantages and Disadvantages of Reverse Splits

To remain listed on a major stock exchange such as the NYSE or Nasdaq, a company’s share price must trade at $5 or higher. The advantage of a reverse stock split is that it increases the value of shares, which may allow them to remain listed on a major exchange. This offers value to both the investor and the company, as exchanges attract far more investors whose interest can help drive up the stock price.

Another scenario in which a reverse stock split is advantageous is if a corporation is planning to spin off a portion of its business into a separate company. By conducting a reverse stock split before the spinoff, shares of the new company are assured of having a high enough stock price to be listed on a major stock exchange.

However, a reverse stock split is most often a signal that the company is failing, is worried about a pervasive decline in its stock price, and is seeking a way to artificially increase investor share prices.

New Personal Finance Provisions in the 2.0 Secure Act

The Continuing Appropriations Act, enacted at the end of 2022, included several provisions that impact retirement plans going forward. Specifically, the legislation enacts SECURE 2.0, an updated version of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019. The following provisions are financial planning considerations that affect individuals.

Increases Catch-up Contributions

Beginning in 2024, catch-up contributions to employer retirement plans made by employees who earn more than $145,000 a year (regularly adjusted for inflation) must be classified as after-tax Roth contributions. This is necessary for eligible plans to retain their tax-favored status.

Starting in 2025, catch-up contributions for participants ages 60 to 63 will increase from $7,500 to $10,000 per year for contributors in most qualified retirement plans. Beginning in 2026, the new catch-up contribution will be indexed to inflation.

Allows Employer Contributions to Roth 401(k)

Employers are now able to make post-tax contributions to a Roth option in an employee’s 401(k) plan. Employers also may open a Roth account option in SIMPLE and SEP IRA plans for employees.

Expands Emergency Distributions from Retirement Accounts

Starting in 2024, there will be a new exception to the rule for early withdrawals from qualified retirement accounts. Distributions used for unforeseeable events, such as a personal or family emergency, will not be subject to the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. However, the rule applies to only one distribution per year and only up to $1,000. The plan member has the option to repay the distribution within three years. Absent full repayment, no further emergency withdrawals may occur during those three years.

The provision also waives the withdrawal penalty on any amount for individuals certified by a physician to have a terminal illness.

Increases Age for Required Minimum Distributions (RMD)

Starting in 2023, the age that triggers required minimum distributions (and their requisite income tax liability) from qualified retirement accounts increases from 72 to 73. Starting in 2033, the trigger age raises to 75. The RMD rule apples to 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans). Also, starting in 2024, Roth 401(k) accounts will no longer require RMDs.

Reduces Excise Tax on Noncompliant RMDs

If an investor is required to start taking minimum distributions and does not take out the required amount in a single year, he is subject to a tax on the amount not distributed. The tax used to be 50 percent, but starting in 2023 it was reduced to 25 percent. Moreover, if the account owner corrects course and takes the full distribution within a certain window of time, the tax may be further reduced to only 10 percent.

Allows Emergency Savings Accounts

Starting in 2024, the legislation permits employers to offer an emergency savings account option within its retirement plan. The following provisions apply:

  • Employee contributions are made with after-tax income
  • There is an annual cap of $2,500
  • Participants may make at least one withdrawal per month
  • Up to four withdrawals per year are not subject to fees
  • Emergency savings may be held in an interest bearing cash-equivalent account
  • Employers may match contributions, but those must be deposited to the participant’s retirement plan investment, not the emergency savings account
  • The emergency account is portable when the participant leaves the employer and can be rolled into a Roth defined contribution plan or IRA

Permits Employer Match for Student Loan Payments

Presently – through 2025 – employers may contribute up to $5,250 (tax-free) a year toward worker student loan payments. Starting next year, employers have the option to classify those loan payments as contributions to the company retirement plan, such as a 401(k). This allows workers with student loans the opportunity to pay down that debt with their own income and still receive an employer match toward their retirement plan – so they don’t have to choose one or the other.

How To Recession-Proof Your Portfolio (Just in Case)

How To Recession-Proof Your PortfolioSome economists and market analysts have been predicting a U.S. recession ever since last fall. They’ve been wrong before – but they’ve also been right. Rather than try to predict how the stock market will react during the next recession, investors are better off planning for a range of potential outcomes. This will help reduce the risk of losses regardless of whether or not the United States experiences a recession in 2023.

Bear in mind that stock and bond markets are forward-looking and typically priced to take into account economic conditions such as higher interest rates, inflation, and commodity prices. In response to whatever factors are in hand, the market adjusts in ways to try to keep returns on par with historical norms and practices.

In its market perspective for 2023, Merrill Lynch suggested that the economic cycle would bottom out, market returns would begin turning a corner, and investors who hold diversified portfolios would see less volatility and be positioned to fully participate in a renewed bull market.

There are several strategies you can implement to help mitigate the impact of an impending recession. Be aware, too, that these strategies are sound all-weather moves designed to help reduce your risk and maximize returns over the long term, regardless of economic and market conditions.

Diversify Your Portfolio

The recent failure of established regional banks is a reminder that there are no “safe” stocks – all stock market investing is subject to a wide range of risks. However, investors should be most wary of owning a high concentration in any single stock. After all, while it is unlikely the stock market will ever be reduced to zero, it is entirely possible for an individual stock to lose total value. This can happen due to a fall in demand, bankruptcy, corruption/embezzlement, a natural disaster, or a public relations scandal. There are many situations that are unforeseen and out of an investor’s control that can lead to substantial losses.

By diversifying your portfolio across a large number of stocks, even those within the same industry (such as competing banks), you can mitigate exposure to a single stock that experiences a major decline in performance. For 2023, Merrill Lynch recommended a broad global stock portfolio with a slight overweight in U.S. equities, including large-cap value stocks and a mixture of small-cap growth and value stocks. It contends that the Energy, Financials, Healthcare, Utilities, and Real Estate sectors offer stable returns via strong cash flow and attractive valuations.

Well-established dividend stocks pay out a steady income as well as offer growth opportunities, which is a good hedge for a strong long-term total return regardless of economic conditions.

Merrill Lynch also favors global fixed-income securities, including investment-grade corporates, 10-year Treasury bonds, and longer-maturity municipal bonds.

Fund Investing

An easy way to diversify across a wide range of stocks and/or bonds is to invest in asset category-specific mutual funds or exchange-traded funds. The immense universe of funds offers a broad range of stocks (e.g., growth, value, large-, medium- and small-cap) and bond (high yield, high quality, government, corporate) fund options. A balanced fund offers a combination of both stock and bond securities to help capture growth as well as capital preservation.

If you invest regularly through a 401(k) plan at work or defer income to an IRA, note that your money will purchase more shares when prices drop, which is often the case during a recession. As long as you have vetted and have faith in your investment choices, this discounted buying opportunity can set up your portfolio for stronger gains once the market recovers.

Cash Allocation

It is always a good idea – even more so during a recession – to hold an allocation in cash or cash-equivalent vehicles such as CDs and money market funds. However, it is not a good idea to sell stocks that have lost ground just to beef up your cash allocation. It may be better to sell a stock with significant appreciation instead, especially if it is in an industry that does not tend to perform well during a recession (e.g., Construction, Manufacturing, Retail, Leisure, and Hospitality).

Estate Taxes vs. Inheritance Taxes: Understanding the Differences

Estate Taxes vs. Inheritance TaxesEstate and inheritance (“death”) taxes are levied on the transfer of property at death. The difference between an estate tax and an inheritance tax is based on who pays the bill. An estate tax is levied on the estate of the deceased, while an inheritance tax is levied on the heirs of the deceased. That’s the simple explanation. As for execution, there are far more nuances based on the monetary value of a bequest; the status of the beneficiary/(ies); and where you live when you pass away.

Federal Estate Tax

An estate tax applies to the value of the assets left behind by a decedent and is paid out from the proceeds of the estate before the rest of the assets are distributed to heirs. Estate wealth is usually comprised of cash, securities, and real estate.

In 2023, if an estate is valued at more than $12.92 million ($25.84 million for couples), the estate will owe a progressive tax rate levied on the value above that amount. For example, if an estate is valued at $15 million, it will pay estate taxes on the $2,080,000 above the exemption. The federal tax rate ranges from 18 percent to 40 percent, depending on the taxable value of the estate.

Generally, the estate tax applies to only the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, and only 0.07 percent of estates end up paying the tax, according to the Tax Policy Center. Note that assets inherited by a spouse or charitable organizations are generally not subject to an estate tax.

Some states also levy an estate tax based on the location of the property. Presently, 12 states plus the District of Columbia levy an estate tax:

  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Estate Tax Strategies

To minimize or eliminate estate taxes, the estate owner has several options. Among the more sophisticated are structuring an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, a Family Limited Partnership or funding a Qualified Personal Residence Trust. However, the easiest way to legally avoid estate taxes is to give assets away before you die. Estate owners can make tax-deductible contributions to charitable organizations or gift up to $17,000 in 2023 ($16,000 in 2022) a year, per person, to as many people as you want.

Inheritance Tax

An inheritance tax, on the other hand, is a state tax paid by the beneficiary (heir) of an estate. Not every state levies an inheritance tax, and the laws vary considerably by state. The tax is based on the relationship of the beneficiary to the decedent. For example, in some instances, a beneficiary who is a surviving spouse, parent, child or grandchild may be exempt from the tax, whereas a brother, sister, niece or nephew may be subject to an inheritance tax.

Presently, six states levy an inheritance tax (only Maryland levies both estate and inheritance taxes). Each state sets its own exclusion amount, ranging from $1 million to $9.1 million. Amounts above the state exclusion are then subject to a separate estate tax, which tends to range between 1 percent and 18 percent. The tax applies to decedents who lived in one of these states:

  • Iowa (phasing out tax by 2025)
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania

Inheritance Tax Strategies

Similar to estate tax strategies, an estate owner can minimize state inheritance taxes by transferring assets to a trust or family limited partnership or by gifting assets. Be aware that assets owned under a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) – that has been open for at least five years – are not subject to any taxes since contributions were already taxed and earnings grow tax-free. You also might consider using a portion of your assets to purchase life insurance, naming your heirs as beneficiaries. Since life insurance proceeds are not taxable, this is a way to remove money from the estate to create a larger, tax-free inheritance.

As for current estate assets, one surefire way to legally avoid inheritance taxes is to move to a state that doesn’t levy them.

Mega Backdoor Roth IRA

The Roth IRA is a retirement savings account in which you invest only after-tax dollars. Subsequently, all earnings grow tax-free and may be withdrawn tax-free. However, there are limits to who can contribute and how much they can contribute to a Roth IRA.

Federal rules restrict direct contributions to a Roth IRA for high-income earners. In 2023, a single, head of household, or married, filing separately tax filer may contribute up to $6,500 if under age 50; $7,500 if 50 or older. However, if the investor has a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $138,000, he is permitted only limited and phased out contributions up to a total annual income of $153,000, above which he cannot contribute to a Roth. Limited contributions for an investor who is married filing jointly begins at $218,000 in annual income and phases out at $228,000.

However, there is a way to work around these contribution rules using a Roth IRA conversion. To optimize this strategy, investors may be able to conduct a Mega Backdoor conversion from their employer-sponsored retirement plan to a Roth.

The Mega Backdoor Roth strategy is suitable in a handful of circumstances:

  • When you’ll be able to max out your employer plan contribution
  • When your earned income is too high to contribute to a separate Roth IRA
  • If you can save more than the 401(k) and IRA combined limits in one year

Employer Rules

To deploy this strategy, the investor must check with his retirement plan administrator to ensure that the plan allows for post-tax contributions and in-service distributions. If so, the investor should first max out his income-deferred contributions to the 401(k). In 2023, the maximum 401(k) contribution limit is $22,500; $30,000 if age 50 and older.

However, he may invest a maximum of $66,000 or $73,500 (age 50 and up) in his 401(k) for the year, which is the combined total for employer and employee contributions. For example, let’s say a 52-year-old employee earns $200,000 and defers 15 percent ($30,000) of his pre-tax income. His employer kicks in another dollar-for-dollar match up to 4 percent of his salary ($8,000). With the deferred total at $38,000, the employee could pitch in another $28,000 in post-tax contributions to his after-tax 401(k) account – to reach the maximum total of $66,000.

The next step is for the employee to take advantage of in-service distributions by immediately rolling over his contributions from the 401(k) to an in-plan Roth option or a separate Roth IRA – before any earnings accrue (to avoid taxes on earnings).

Tax Notes

Once the after-tax funds are converted to the Roth IRA, the money grows tax-free, and the investor can withdraw it as tax-free income in retirement. There also is no RMD requirement for Roth IRA funds at any age. However, note that if the funds are converted to an in-plan Roth option, earnings are subject to a penalty if withdrawn before age 59½. If the funds are converted to a separate Roth IRA, tax-free withdrawals are only available penalty-free five years after each corresponding rollover is conducted.

The Mega Backdoor Roth strategy is appropriate for high earners looking to minimize taxes on both their current income and their long-term retirement investments.

Multigenerational College Planning with a Family Dynasty 529 Plan

College Planning, Family Dynasty 529 PlanThe College Savings 529 plan offers a way for modest-income families to save and invest for college expenses for their children as early as birth up to college age. When invested 529 funds are used to pay for the beneficiary’s qualifying education costs, earnings are distributed tax-free.

However, a lesser-known advantage for wealthier families is that the 529 plan can be used as an effective tax-advantaged tool for funding college expenses for family members over multiple generations. Basically, the 529 enables the investment to continue growing tax-free for years and even decades after the death of the original owner and beneficiary.

Assets from a 529 account may be used to pay for expenses associated with higher education, including tuition, fees, books, room, and board. The 529 also can be used to pay up to $10,000 a year in tuition expenses for K-12 education and a lifetime total of up to $10,000 in student loan repayments.

No Age or Use Restrictions

The two key components to this planning strategy, referred to a Family Dynasty 529 plan, are that the beneficiary can be changed at any time and that there is no time frame during which all assets must be distributed (including no required minimum distributions).

Note that the selection of a 529 beneficiary is rather broad:

  •        Account owner (self)
  •        Spouse
  •        Child
  •        Spouse of a child
  •        Brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister or their spouse
  •        Mother, father, the ancestor of either or their spouse
  •        Stepfather, stepmother or the spouse of either such person
  •        Nephew, niece or their spouse
  •        Aunt, uncle or their spouse
  •        Son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law or their spouse
  •        First cousin

While the 529 can have only one named beneficiary at a time, the beneficiary can be changed at any time (such as once a student graduates), leaving the remaining funds for the next beneficiary.

No Contribution Limit

Unlike federal tax filings, many states offer a limited tax deduction on annual 529 contributions. Note that there is no limit to the amount that can be contributed to a 529 account each year. However, there is a limit to how much can be contributed to each 529 account in total, and that amount differs by state, with the range falling between $235,000 and $529,000. Georgia and Mississippi are the lowest at $235,000, and California features the highest limit at $529,000 (note that a California account can be opened no matter where the owner or beneficiary lives). Moreover, there is no limit to how much invested tax-free 529 assets can grow.

One strategy is to fund a family dynasty 529 with the maximum limit in one lump sum. The idea here is that one lump sum invested for tax-free growth offers the potential to fund college education expenses for a vast number of extended family members over several generations. Each time a beneficiary graduates, a new beneficiary is named. If there are multiple students scheduled to attend college at the same time, multiple 529 accounts can be opened with separate beneficiaries.

Changing Owner for Dynasty Plan to Continue

It is likely that when funding over several generations, the original 529 account owner will pass away. A few plans permit change of ownership only in the event of the death or incapacity of the current owner, but most 529 plans allow the change in ownership at any time, as long as the owner has reached the age of majority for that state’s plan. By periodically changing both owners and beneficiaries of the account, the family dynasty 529 can continue to grow and pay for qualified education expenses indefinitely.

The 529 also may be structured so that the account owner is a trust, which makes it unnecessary to change owners as they pass away. A trust can help protect 529 funds from creditors and may contain language mandating that assets can be used only for higher education – thus eliminating the potential for a beneficiary to drain the account with non-qualified withdrawals.

Potential Gift/GST Tax Consequences

Be aware that some state 529 plans may treat a change in ownership as a distributable event and will issue Form 1099 for tax purposes. Also note that when a new 529 plan beneficiary is one or more generations below the most recent beneficiary, distributed assets beyond the annual gift tax exemption ($17,000 for 2023) may be subject to the gift tax. In this scenario, should excess amounts exceed the lifetime gift tax exemption ($12.92 million for 2023), distributions may be subject to an additional generation-skipping transfer tax (GST).

The Family Dynasty 529 plan is best optimized when started early, such as the birth of the first child, and overfunded to the maximum limit. This allows for the best growth opportunity, wherein college expenses may be funded using tax-free earnings, leaving the principal available to grow for the next student beneficiary. Better yet, parents or grandparents can retain control of the account to ensure it is used only for college funding over multiple generations.

401(k) Options After You Leave an Employer

Apart from the spike in inflation, 2023 ended the year with a relatively strong economy, boasting an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent (below the market forecast of 3.7 percent) with increases in wages, corporate profits, and economic growth over the past two quarters. Despite the positive data, a slate of companies, including Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, and Bed Bath & Beyond, have all announced significant layoffs planned for this year.

Whether the result of a layoff, a new job, or retirement, the reality is that over the course of a career, most people will change jobs several times. The good news is that 401(k) plan assets are portable – meaning you can take them with you. However, it is important to be aware of all your options so that you choose the most advantageous one each time you change employers.

You Don’t Have to do Anything Right Away

The first thing to note is that the income deferrals you contributed to your employer’s retirement plan are yours to keep. However, an employer match may be subject to a vesting schedule. If you do not work at the company long enough to satisfy the vesting schedule, you might lose all or a portion of the unvested assets in your account.

It is not necessary to roll over your 401(k) assets right away; in many cases, you can leave them where they are indefinitely. However, you will no longer be able to make contributions to the plan, receive matching funds, or tap that money for a loan. If the plan has a wide range of investment options, low fees, and expenses and has performed well, then leaving assets where they are may be your best choice.

On the other hand, you should investigate to ensure your plan does not change once you no longer work for a former employer, as some plans charge higher fees for inactive employees. Also, some employers may require you to cash out of your account balance – usually if it is below $1,000. If your balance is above $1,000, that employer must offer you the option to roll those assets into a personal IRA.

Take the Money

If you opt to withdraw the cash value of your account, you will be subject to an immediate tax impact. Your company may cut you a check for the amount withdrawn, but it is required to withhold 20 percent of the amount to prepay the tax you’ll owe. If you have not yet reached age 59½, the IRA will classify the distribution as an early withdrawal. This means you might owe a 10 percent penalty in addition to the federal tax withholding. The balance also may be subject to state and local taxes. All told, you could lose up to 50 percent of the account value if you take an early distribution.

For young adults in particular, it can be tempting to withdraw their 401(k) balance when they leave an employer. They may not have acquired much in assets, not met vesting requirements for the employer match, and figure they have more need for the money now than in 50 years when they retire. However, bear in mind that investments made early as an adult often purchase good, dependable stocks at low prices, with decades for those stocks to appreciate. Holding onto those assets over the long term allows for maximum growth opportunity, whereas withdrawing them means you’ll have to start all over again.

Roll Over Assets to Your New Employer’s 401(k)

Some employer plans will accept transfers from a former retirement plan, but not all of them do. You will have to inquire. If this is an option, recognize that there is no need to roll over right away. You may want to work there for awhile to ensure you’re happy, the company is viable, and you plan to stay there a while. Furthermore, you may have to wait until the next enrollment period to request a rollover, and some employers may require that you work a specific period of time (e.g., one full year) before you can transfer old 401(k) assets to your new plan.

Open a Personal IRA

A third option is to transfer your old employer’s 401(k) assets to a personal individual retirement account (IRA) that you open through a brokerage of your choice. The new brokerage custodian will give you the forms needed to request the formal rollover, and your former 401(k) plan administrator might have forms to complete as well. It is best to have the two custodians conduct the transfer directly so that you never take possession of the funds yourself, which could result in tax penalties if not conducted correctly.

You’ll need to select new investment options (e.g., mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, individual stocks or bonds) for the IRA, and be sure to compare its fees with your old account. By rolling over to an IRA that you manage yourself, you will have a wider range of investment options and can shop for plans with lower fees.

Bear in mind that, moving forward, any additional contributions you make to this IRA will be subject to lower annual contribution limits (in 2023: $6,500 if under age 50; $7,500 for 50 and older) than 401(k) plans as well as the income limitations applicable to a Roth IRA (2023: less than $153,000 Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) if you are single; less than $228,000 if you’re married and file jointly).

There are three IRA rollover options for 401(k) plan assets:

  • Roll over to a new or existing traditional IRA – No taxes are due on the assets you transfer, and earnings continue to accumulate tax deferred until withdrawn. It’s best to directly roll-over the funds from one custodian to another.
  • Roll over to a new or existing Roth IRA – This option requires that you pay taxes on the rollover amount in the tax filing year they are transferred. You may use money from the 401(k) plan or pay the tax separately using other assets (the latter is preferable so that your equity continues to appreciate). Once the IRA has been open for at least five years, and you are at least age 59½, contributions and earnings can be withdrawn free of all taxes and penalties. Furthermore, unlike the traditional IRA, you are not required to take minimum distributions (RMDs) from a Roth.
  • Roll over a Roth 401(k) to a new or existing Roth IRA – No taxes are due when the money is transferred, and new earnings accumulate tax deferred. Contributions and earnings are eligible for tax-free withdrawals once the IRA has been open at least five years and you are at least age 59½.

Do Something

Leaving your 401(k) with a former employer is a perfectly acceptable option, but you should consider consolidating your 401(k) plans at some point. More and more people are working for multiple employers throughout their careers, and they may lose track of where they hold 401(k) assets. In fact, at the end of 2021, there was a nationwide total of $1.35 trillion sitting in forgotten 401(k) plans.

Don’t let that happen to you.

No-Heir Estate Planning

Even if you have no heirs, you should have an estate plan. Otherwise, the state will determine the fate of your worldly possessions. In fact, if you pass away “intestate” (without a will), the state can even keep all of your assets for itself – if no heirs are found.

The most basic tenet of no-heir estate planning is to write a will. Every state has different rules about what constitutes a legally enforceable will, so be sure to check out your state’s guidelines. If you move, you’ll need to update your will according to the state you live in when you pass away.

In yourwill, direct who receives which of your assets. There is no edict that says you must leave possessions to a relative. You can choose a friend, a group of people or even one or more charitable organizations. You also should choose an executor of your will: someone you trust to carry out your wishes. This person can be an attorney or bank custodian of your assets. You should speak with whomever you choose to make sure they are willing to take on the role of executor. It is generally no small task, and might entail distributing and even selling your possessions in order to make cash distributions to the beneficiaries.

If you have any pets, be sure to figure out during the planning process who is willing to take care of your animals after you pass, or direct their care to a specific shelter.

Also, consider the beneficiaries you will designate for bank and investment accounts, as well as any insurance policies you own. Note that beneficiary designations you assign on these accounts will supersede your will instructions, even if they precede when you wrote your will. For example, your employer might pay for a life insurance policy in your name that pays out proceeds equaling two to three times your salary. You might not even remember that you completed this paperwork years ago, naming your girl/boyfriend at the time as your beneficiary. If you don’t keep those designations up to date, you may end up leaving a substantial sum to a woman/man who broke your heart, instead of the person who embraces it now.

It is also a good idea to name a “Transfer on Death” (TOD) designation on other types of accounts, such as your bank checking and savings accounts. This designation also supersedes will instructions and allows your money to be distributed once the beneficiary presents your death certificate and proper ID. It’s actually advisable to name the executor of your will as TOD, as he may need to access your funds quickly to pay for funeral and burial expenses. Other assets can take longer to distribute, so a TOD designation is a quicker way for your beneficiary to access cash.

Be aware that even if you have prepared a will, your estate will still be subject to probate, in which a judge makes the final determination of your assets. If you wish to avoid this step, you can fold all or a portion of your assets under one or more trusts, which will distribute them according to the trust directionsand avoid probate altogether. A trust is particularly beneficial if you have a large estate or wish to leave a substantial donation to one or more charities.

Another estate planning consideration is what to do if, instead of dying, you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself. As part of the estate planning process, you should name a power of attorney to make financial decisions for you. This can be anyone – a friend or close neighbor, or the person you name as executor of your will.

You should also establish a living will, advanced care directive, and/or healthcare proxy. A living will is a directive that states your wishes regarding medical care should you become incapacitated (e.g., permanently unconscious). An advanced care directive can be more specific, such as establishing a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order if your breathing or heartbeat stops, and if you would like to donate tissues or organs after you pass.

A healthcare proxy, which may be referred to as a medical or durable power of attorney, is the assignment of a person who will make all of your healthcare decisions when you no longer can. Note that with medical instructions as well, states have varying guidelines. It’s important to be familiar with your state’s requirements and update your medical care directives if you relocate to another state.

Retirement Tax Planning For 2023

Retirement Tax Planning For 2023Although you might get busy with the holiday season, don’t forget to consider ways to strengthen tax efficiencies for 2023 and beyond.

2023 Retirement Contribution Increases

Set up your accounts to automatically defer money to meet the new increases in retirement contributions next year. In 2023, you can defer up to $22,500 in a 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the government’s Thrift Savings Plan. Plan participants who are age 50 and older may defer up to $30,000 next year.

Furthermore, the combined 2023 limit for Traditional and Roth IRAs is $6,500, or $7,500 if you’re age 50 or older.

If you are a business owner with a solo 401(k) plan, you may make an additional employer contribution of up to 25 percent of compensation, for a combined maximum of no more than $66,000 in 2023. Note that self-employed individuals are subject to specific calculation rules.

Investment Tax Management

If you’re bullish that the New Year will outperform the dismal investment market returns of 2022, consider repositioning assets to reduce your tax liability. One way to take advantage of this year’s poor results is to convert assets from a Traditional IRA to a Roth. While you still have to pay taxes on any earnings to date, the tab should be lower than in a year of outperformance. Going forward, any gains made under the Roth will grow and be withdrawn free of taxes. This can help lower your tax bill during retirement. It’s a good idea to do a Roth conversion while still working in order to pay capital gains without having to use money from the account. Be aware that you don’t have to convert the entire IRA balance. Assets will be reported as 2022 income, so try to convert only up to your current tax bracket.

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to spread your investment portfolio across a variety of vehicles, including taxable (brokerage), tax-deferred (employer plan) and tax-free (Roth IRA) accounts. When you retire, you can better manage your tax bill based on which accounts you draw money from each year. Conventional guidance recommends withdrawing from taxable accounts first, giving your tax-advantaged accounts more time to grow. However, another option is to make proportionate withdrawals from both taxable and non-taxed accounts for a more stable tax impact each year – that way you won’t have a higher tax bill in the latter years of retirement.

Residential Property Sales

Higher housing prices may cause some home sellers to exceed the current tax exclusion amount:

  • Exclude $250,000 from the sales profit if the seller is single or married filing separately
  • Exclude $500,000 from the sales profit if the seller is married and filing jointly

If your sales profit is higher than these exclusions, that amount may be subject to capital gains taxes. However, if you make value-added improvements to the home, keep those receipts because you may be able to add certain expenses as well as closing costs to your cost-basis – which will help reduce your tax bill.

Charitable Giving

If you are required to take distributions (RMDs) from retirement plans but don’t need the money, consider redirecting that money to a qualified charity. This tactic enables you to redirect up to $100,000/year and avoid paying taxes on those distributions. Another way to donate and receive a substantial tax break is to gift stocks with long-term appreciation to the charity of your choice. This will allow you to receive a tax deduction without having to pay capital gains taxes by selling the stock first.

If you are on the cusp of exceeding the standard deduction for your 2022 return, consider making several years’ worth of charitable donations in one year in order to exceed it and be able to itemize your return. If you don’t know where you stand for this year, consider delaying charitable gifts until next year so you can bunch them on your 2023 return. Note that for charitable donations to qualify for a deduction, they must be completed by Dec. 31 of the tax filing year.

Estate Transfer Planning

The 2023 gift tax exclusion ($12.92 million per person; $25.84 million for married couples) is scheduled to return to $6 million in 2026. Therefore, ultra-high net-worth households should consider taking advantage of this window to transfer much of their net worth by the end of 2025. Also, you may gift up to $17,000 (2023) per year per person without those amounts counting toward the gift tax exclusion limit.