Ways to Cut Taxes for the Next Generation – Consider Gifting Money to Children

gifting money to children lange financial groupIn January of 2015, President Obama proposed eliminating the tax-free benefits of Section 529 college savings plans. Under his proposal, savings would grow tax-deferred, but withdrawals would be taxed as income to the beneficiary (usually the student). His belief was that taxpayers who save in 529 plans are families who can better afford the cost of college than everyone else. In reality, it is estimated that close to ten percent of 529 accounts are owned by households having income below $50,000, and over 70 percent are owned by households with income below $150,000. What isn’t surprising, though, is that the tax revenue realized by this action would have been significant, because as of the end of the 4th quarter of 2014, the assets held in 529 and other college savings plans reached almost a quarter of a trillion dollars. How many students would have been forced to apply for loans if they had been required to pay tax on withdrawals from their college savings plans? Fortunately, the House of Representatives thought differently than the President and, in February of 2015, they passed HR 529. This bill not only maintains the tax-free status of 529 plans, but also makes them more flexible and easier to use. Hopefully the Senate will follow the House’s lead and pass a companion bill with similar provisions.

Do you have college savings plans established for your children or grandchildren and, if so, were you aware of this attack on their tax-free status?

Gifting money to children

Contributing to college savings plans for children and grandchildren is a form of gifting, which is a topic that I discuss in detail in Chapter 11 of Retire Secure!. Gifting money to children is an excellent way to minimize taxes at your death, and, depending on the amount gifted, can also provide the recipient with tax-free income. Unfortunately, strategies that reduce taxes frequently come under fire and it is critical that you stay on top of the rules. Also discussed in this chapter are the perils of gifting to relatives in an attempt to avoid seizure of your to pay for nursing home care. It’s a bad idea – don’t even think about it – but it is still beneficial to understand the laws on this subject.

Many couples are not aware that the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 introduced a concept called portability that makes estate taxes less of a concern for many individuals than in the past. If you have not had your estate plan reviewed since 2012, you should read Chapter 11 to learn about the potential pitfalls of what I call “The Cruelest Trap of All”. Since the passage of this act, many estate plans are outdated and could cause the surviving spouse to be disinherited at the first spouse’s death.

Gifting money to children strategies, and the tax implications of gifting, should be a critical part of every estate plan. Changes in legislation that were not anticipated at the time the plan was established, though, can make your plan ineffective and in some cases disastrous. As much has changed in this area; please read Chapter 11 thoroughly to see how you might be affected.

Stop back soon!

Jim

Jim Lange, Retirement and Estate Planning A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

If you’d like to be reminded as to when the book is coming out please fill out the form below.

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Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA): Don’t Pay More Taxes Than You Need To

Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA) Don’t Pay More Taxes Than You Need To, James LangeSome employees have Stock Options, or the option to buy the stock of the company that they work for within their retirement plans. A unanimous Supreme Court decision in 2014 might discourage employers from offering their employees a stake in the business in future years, because they can now be held liable if the value of the stock drops. Employers can now also be held liable under insider trading laws for certain actions they make within the retirement plan, with respects to company stock.

But what if you do happen to have some company stock in your retirement plan? If you do, be sure to read Chapter 9 for some very important tax planning tips! When you retire and take a lump sum distribution from your retirement plan, the distribution may include employer stock that is (hopefully) worth more than the fair market value at the time it was purchased in your plan. The difference between the value of the company stock at the time you take your lump sum distribution and its value at the time it was purchased is called Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA).

If you own company stock within your retirement plans, you should make sure that you understand Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA) rules outlined in Chapter 9 before you roll over or take distributions from the plan. Many financial advisors don’t understand these rules and, if you don’t, you could end up paying significantly more in taxes than you need to. This is especially true if the company stock in your 401(k) has increased in value!

Stay tuned for an update on our classic case study of Eddie & Emily from Chapter 10!

– Jim

Jim Lange A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

If you’d like to be reminded as to when the book is coming out please fill out the form below.

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Tax Free Roth IRAs: Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Tax Free Roth IRA, Don't Believe Everything You Read, James Lange, The Lange Financial GroupMy wife recently told me that she didn’t think that there was anything that could keep me from blogging about my upcoming book, Retire Secure!  While she was joking, she was also right, I thought. But then, an article that was published in US News and World Report yesterday (April 20, 2015) was inaccurate on so many points that I could not let it go without commenting on it. I submitted a comment to the article and asked that the article be retracted. I can only hope that the magazine will publish a retraction, and quickly, before an unsuspecting reader takes the writer’s recommendations to heart.

The writer is a certified financial planner and registered investment advisor, as well as a published author, from Virginia. He begins by telling readers about Roth IRAs. He says that you can contribute $5,000 to a Roth IRA – that limit was increased $5,500 in 2013. If you have a Roth account in your 401(k), he claims you can add $6,000 to it if you are over 50 years old. (If you are over 50, you can add $24,000 to a Roth 401(k) in 2015this is made up of the $18,000 basic contribution limit plus a $6,000 “catch-up” contribution limit.) He claims that, if you contribute to a Roth, “the money you invest will be taxed”. (Everyone knows that, if you follow the rules, Roth accounts aren’t taxable, right? I sincerely hope that what he was trying to say was that there is no tax deduction for Roth contributions!) Then he tells readers that, after age 59 ½, “when you begin to take distributions” from the Roth, they will be tax-free”. That statement is not inaccurate, but it does omit the very important fact that your contributions can be withdrawn from a tax free Roth IRA before age 59 1/2.  (Earnings on your contributions are treated differently.) It is the traditional IRA that, in most cases, you cannot withdraw from without penalty until age 59 1/2.

The worst advice, though, came when he tried to present the pros and cons of Roth conversions.

He recommends that you take one of your existing IRAs or qualified plans and convert the entire thing to a Roth, but then warns you that you will need to pay tax on that entire conversion at once.What is omitted here is that, if you convert your entire account at once, your tax bill may be so large that you move up in to a higher tax bracket. It would be imprudent to make such a recommendation to a client! What generally makes more sense is to make several smaller conversions, in amounts that ensure that you stay in the same tax bracket. He recommends not making tax free Roth IRA conversions later in life, on the basis that you will not live long enough to enjoy the tax-free benefits. Tongue in cheek, I might argue that that’s a risk at any age, but even if you don’t live long enough to enjoy them, the tax-free benefits to your heirs, who are likely much younger than you, are indisputable. The strangest statement against Roth conversions, I thought, was that “you will potentially have to write a big check to the IRS”. It is true that you will have to pay tax on any amount converted from a traditional to a Roth IRA. But even if you don’t need your retirement money to live on, you will have to start taking withdrawals from your traditional IRAs every year once you turn age 70 ½. Those mandatory withdrawals will be taxable, and at that point you will be writing a big check to the IRS. The question is, does it make more sense to make Roth conversions while your retirement account balance is likely to be smaller, pay tax on a smaller amount of money, and generate tax-free income on all of the future earnings on the converted amount? Or, does it make more sense to wait twenty or thirty years, let the taxable traditional IRA grow as large as possible, and then pay the tax on the larger mandatory withdrawals?

In this age of electronic communications it’s easier to offer opposing points of view, and I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised when I saw the sheer volume of dissenting opinions that the article produced within hours of its publication. I also wondered if there were other individuals who read it and took the advice to heart. That made me think of another question – what would my readers have thought about that article, especially after receiving such dramatically different advice from me? Who are you supposed to trust?

My advice to you is this – trust yourself first. If a financial professional says something that does not make sense to you, ask for clarification. If the answer you are given still doesn’t make sense to you, trust your instincts. Get a second, third, fourth or fifth opinion before you act. Or, look up the answer yourself. There are number of resources that my staff and I use all the time, that are also available to you.   These include the Internal Revenue Service’s website (www.irs.gov), the Social Secure Administration’s website (www.ssa.gov), and the website established by Medicare (www.medicare.gov). Educating yourself about your options is the best defense against making a potential mistake that you have available to you.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Stop back soon for another update on my book.

Jim

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More on The Traditional IRA vs Roth IRA

Retire Secure A Guide to Getting the Most Out of What You've Got, James Lange 2015Over the years, I’ve been challenged by clients who present me with questions that even King Solomon in his infinite wisdom couldn’t answer. Other questions, complicated though they might be, are much easier to manage because they can be solved by running the numbers.

Chapter 3 of the new edition of Retire Secure! quantifies a number of “what if” scenarios that are frequently presented to me by my clients. What if I’m in an average tax bracket, and I need to cash in my retirement account? What if I’m in the highest tax bracket, and I need to withdraw all or part of my retirement account? What if I’m in a high tax bracket now, but am in a lower tax bracket when I need to withdraw all or part of my retirement account? What happens if I’m in a high tax bracket now, but I lose my job and am in a very low tax bracket when I need to withdraw all or part of my retirement account? What happens if I’m in a high tax bracket, but my heir is in a low tax bracket? All of these are very significant considerations if you have to choose between a Traditional IRA vs a Roth IRA.

Questions like these can be accurately answered by using quantitative analysis. Chapter 3 presents a series of hypothetical scenarios which prove that certain tax situations definitely do favor the use of one type of account over another. In some situations, the Traditional IRA is better, and in others, the Roth IRA is better. If your choice is Traditional IRA vs Roth IRA, you may find some of these scenarios thought-provoking. As with the previous chapters, the assumed rate of return has been reduced to a conservative 6%, so the differences in the illustrations will be even more pronounced if you earn a higher rate of return on your own investments. The illustrations should only be used as a general guide. In order to get the most accurate answer for your specific situation, please consider asking us to run the numbers for you.

All this discussion about the Traditional IRA vs Roth IRA debate reminds me: you really should take a look at my next post about Chapter 4. It delves into some surprising new details about spending retirement accounts!

Jim

Jim Lange A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

If you’d like to be reminded as to when the book is coming out please fill out the form below.

Important Tax Birthdays

The “Happy Birthday” song is traditionally sung to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s birth. In 1998, the Guinness Book of World Records proclaimed that very song as the most recognized song in the English language, followed by “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Its roots can be traced back to a song entitled, “Good Morning to All,” which was written and composed by American sisters and kindergarten teachers, Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893.

Throughout the years, many other versions and styles of the “Happy Birthday” song were created. One of the most famous versions of this song was sung by Marilyn Monroe to then U.S. President John F. Kennedy in May 1962. Another famous version of the song was sung by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They shifted the melody to a traditional rock song and increased its complexity and style on their unforgettable double album, “The Beatles” (commonly referred to as the “White Album”) in 1968.

Traditionally, birthdays are fun events, but when it comes to taxes, birthdays have a special place. From a tax standpoint, birthdays are not always “fun” and very often are different and not created the same.

The table below contains some important tax birthdays (after the age of 50) that can dramatically affect your income taxes:

It is very important that as you plan for or reach any of these milestone birthdays that you are working with a qualified financial advisor who can review your specific situation to determine what tax reduction strategies would be best for you.

Contact us today to discuss some of these strategies. If you are a Western Pennsylvania resident, schedule a free initial consultation with us by calling us at 412-521-2732.  Residents outside of Southwestern Pennsylvania should call for more information. Jim’s services are available via the phone or through the Internet. Send an e-mail to admin@paytaxeslater.com.

Important Tax Birthdays