Proposed SECURE Act Make Roth IRA Conversions More Valuable

Proposed Regulations to SECURE Act Make Roth IRA Conversions Even More Valuable
by Lange Legal Group, LLC

Cartoon depiction of the SECURE Act featured on CPA/Attorney James Lange's website PayTaxesLater.com

Randy Bish

On February 23, 2022, the IRS nonchalantly released 275 pages of Proposed Regulations which shocked the retirement and estate planning professional community. Since the passage of the SECURE Act at the end of 2019, many planners have been reeling over the ten-year payout requirement for inherited retirement accounts created by the Act, subject to limited exceptions.

Families and their retirement and estate planners have been scrambling to minimize the greatly accelerated income tax burden caused by the ten-year payout rule and have been recommending in many cases (particularly with Roth IRAs) to wait until the end of the payout period to withdraw the funds from the inherited retirement account.

The most devastating announcement under the Proposed Regulations was for beneficiaries of retirement accounts who inherited from retirement account owners already receiving Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)—those who reached their required beginning date for distributions prior to their death, i.e. the April 1st of the year after they reached age 72 or retirement, whichever is later. This group represents most retirement account owners, and these beneficiaries will likely be required to take annual distributions in the first nine years immediately following the year of the IRA owner’s death, and then be forced to take a lump-sum distribution for the balance of the retirement account in the final distribution year. These proposed distribution rules will apply to traditional retirement accounts but not to Roth retirement accounts because Roth retirement accounts never have a required beginning date for distributions.

If the Proposed Regulations are passed in their current form with respect to RMDs from IRA owners who reached their required beginning date before their death, our general recommendations to inherited retirement account owner beneficiaries are as follows:

    • Traditional Retirement Accounts: Consider your likely income tax bracket for the next ten years and then decide whether it is more advantageous to take roughly one-tenth the first year, one-ninth the second year, and so on or take advantage of the limited income tax deferral still available by taking the minimum amount out years 1-9 and take out the balance in year ten. This strategy will most likely make sense on more modest retirement accounts ($500,000 or less) and averaging the income or strategically withdrawing the IRA in some other manner will likely make sense for larger IRAs. Each case should be evaluated based on running the numbers, and our group is well-positioned to help you with that analysis.
    • Roth Retirement Accounts – The advice for Roth retirement accounts is more straightforward. We recommend that Roth IRA beneficiaries wait until year ten and then take out the balance in year ten.

The Proposed Regulations provide important guidance for when a minor child is no longer considered a minor (age 21) and when a beneficiary is considered disabled (defer to the Social Security definition for beneficiaries ages 18 or older and use a common-sense definition for determining disability before age 18 (if an individual has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that results in marked and severe functional limitations and that can be expected to result in death or to be of long-continued and indefinite duration).

In addition, the Proposed Regulations provide important clarifications for planners regarding what language can and cannot be in a trust to qualify for stretch exceptions and/or the ten-year rule. Finally, the Proposed Regulations do waive the failure to take an RMD penalty (50%) if the missed distribution is taken by the due date of your tax return.

We will alert you to the approved Final Regulations which we anticipate being published later this year. However, we felt that it was crucial that you were aware of this pending additional change regarding inherited retirement accounts.

If you have inherited a retirement account after 2019, will inherit a retirement account in the future, or you’re looking for more information please register to attend Jim Lange’s upcoming webinars on Tuesday, May 3rd and Wednesday, May 4th at https://PayTaxesLater.com/Webinars

How the For the 99.5 Percent Act Should Get All of Us to Think About Our Estate Planning

Blog Post 'How the For the 99.5 Percent Act Should Get All of Us to Think About Our Estate Planning by Matt Schwartz featured on PayTaxesLater.com

How the For the 99.5 Percent Act Should Get All of Us to Think About Our Estate Planning

On March 25th, Senator Sanders and Senator Whitehouse presented in the Senate Budget Committee an initial draft of the “For the 99.5 Percent Act” which will have a significant impact on estate planning going forward. There are still a lot of specifics to be determined through the political process but understanding the blueprint of the Act is crucial to determining what actions to consider in 2021 before the 2022 effective date of any new estate tax legislation.

Federal Estate Tax Exemption Amount Adjustment:

Currently, the federal estate tax exemption amount is $11,700,000 per person or $23,400,000 per married couple and is adjusted each year for inflation. The proposed federal estate tax exemption would be reduced to $3,500,000 per person or $7,000,000 per married couple adjusted each year for inflation. Policy experts in Washington DC think it is more likely that the exemption will drop by 50% to $5,850,000 with any unused federal estate tax exemption remaining portable from the deceased spouse to the surviving spouse.

Federal Gift and Estate Tax Rates:

The proposed rates under the proposed Act are 45% between $3,500,000 and $10,000,000, 50% from $10,000,000 to $50,000,000, 55% from $50,000,000 to $1,000,000,000 and 65% on any amount above $1,000,000,000.

Federal Gift Tax Exemption Amount Adjustment:

Since 2011, the federal gift tax exemption has been unified with the federal estate tax exemption. The proposed Act would reduce the federal gift tax exemption to $1,000,000. Although policy experts believe that it is likely that the gift tax exemption will remain unified with the federal estate tax exemption, this development is something to watch closely in the proposed legislation.

Annual Exclusion Gift Adjustment:

The proposed Act reduces the annual exclusion from $15,000 per year (adjusted for inflation) to $10,000 per year (to be adjusted for inflation) and reduces the exemption to all restricted gifts in a year to $20,000 per year such as gifts to trusts or other gifts with limitations.

Limitations on Dynasty Trusts:

Multi-generation trusts created after the effective date of the proposed Act (currently, that date would be January 1, 2022, if legislation is passed in 2021) would only be allowed to last fifty years. Pre-existing trusts would have to be terminated fifty years after the enactment of the act.

Limitations on Irrevocable Trusts for Estate Planning Purposes that Qualify for Step up in Basis Treatment:

The proposed Act is seeking to eliminate the opportunity of creating the power to have a step-up in basis on an irrevocable trust for a beneficiary which means that there would be significant capital gain exposure on long-term trust accounts.

Estate Planning Action Steps

  • Make annual exclusion gifts to the beneficiaries of your estate if you have the means to do so. If outright gifts will not be effective, consider gifts in trust that can be controlled by a trusted family member.
  • Consider making credit-consuming gifts above the annual exclusion. Large gifts made now above the future exemption will not be clawed back (taxed again at your death) even if the federal estate tax exemption at the time of your death is less than your lifetime use of the exemption.
  • Develop a flexible estate plan in 2021 without mandatory trusts that have a proactive giving bent to maximize current tax benefits while they still exist.
  • Consider second-to-die life insurance with long-term trusts for family members (if appropriate) to maximize long-term tax-free money to the family while these opportunities still exist.
  • With the additional likelihood of higher income tax rates in 2022 and beyond for some taxpayers, consider Roth IRA conversions and other means to accelerate income in 2021.
  • Have a discussion with your Lange Legal Group attorney in 2021 to put a plan in place now that will maximize your protection against these pending law changes.

  • Although it is likely that the final federal estate tax act that Congress passes will be different than the “For the 99.5 Percent Act”, it is critical not to bury your head in the sand with regard to your estate plan and to act this year. Federal estate tax changes will most likely be in effect for 2022 so now is the time to contact us to revisit or to develop your estate plan and wealth transfer plan.

    Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel for COVID-19 but the light in the tunnel may be dimming for proactive estate planning. We look forward to hearing from you.

    For more information, send an email to Matt by clicking the button below.

    Contact Matt Schwartz, Attorney at the Lange Financial Group for Estate Planning needs including Wills.

    Optimizing Your Estate Plan Now in the Event of a Biden Presidency and a Democratic Congress

    Optimizing Your Estate Plan Now in the Event of a Biden Presidency and a Democratic Congress

    by: Matt Schwartz, Esq.

    Image featured in a blog post by Matt Schwartz, Esq on PayTaxesLater.comAs the 2020 election approaches, a frequent question that I receive as an estate planner is what should I be doing now to maximize what I leave to my family as an inheritance.

    One can reasonably assume that if Trump is reelected or the Senate remains Republican that there will unlikely be any sizable tax increases over the next four years.  However, what if Biden is elected and both the House and Senate are Democratic?  In that scenario, it is likely that the estate tax exemption returns to $5,000,000 adjusted for inflation per person and that the step-up in basis rules on appreciated assets will be repealed with immediate recognition of capital gain at the time of the taxpayer’s passing.  In addition, the maximum personal income tax rate will rise to 39.6% on income over $400,000 with capital gains being subject to ordinary income tax rates of 39.6% on income (including the capital gain) over $1,000,000.

    What can I do now to be safe no matter what happens in the election?

    Consider Recognizing Some Capital Gains Now: Over the years many people have ignored sound economic theory regarding diversification of your financial portfolio because of the extremely adverse tax consequences of capital gain recognition when such capital gain could be forgiven at the time of death.  Perhaps this thinking needs to be reevaluated.  With today’s current low income and capital gains tax rates, perhaps it makes sense to recognize $50,000 to $100,000 of unrealized appreciation through a capital gain if the federal income tax is 15% (or 20% depending on your other income).  For some families, it may make sense to recognize significantly more at 20% if you are looking at a future prospect of having some of this income be recognized at 39.6% at the time of death.  The prospect of recognition of the capital gains tax on the transfer of appreciated assets (especially less liquid appreciated assets such as business interests and commercial real estate) when most of the other assets to pay the tax are retirement assets could be draconian.

    Consider Second-to-Die Life Insurance: In recent years, I have been less of a fan of second-to-die life insurance based on the high federal estate tax exemption.  However, life insurance (probably ideal to get before 70 if you are a couple) could be a great asset (income tax-free) to cover the tax that will be due on the transfer of appreciated assets at death where the primary assets remaining to pay this tax in many estates could be retirement assets that are subject to income tax upon withdrawal. 

    Consider Transferring Some Appreciated Assets to Lower Income Family Members Now: Traditionally, we have recommended transferring appreciated assets to individuals who are in low tax brackets so that they can recognize the gain with little or no tax consequence.  In addition, to continue transferring a modest amount of appreciated assets to lower-income family members to keep their income down on the recognition of the capital gain, you may want to consider transferring more to them if they can recognize it at current favorable 15%-20% rates compared to having to recognize it at the time of your death at a possible 39.6% rate.

    Consider Transferring Appreciated Assets to Charity: It is always a good idea to fund a gift with highly appreciated assets as long as the gift is large enough to be deducted as an itemized deduction.  It will make even more sense to transfer highly appreciated assets to charity if Biden becomes President and both houses of Congress are Democratic.

    Consider Roth IRA Conversions Particularly if you are currently Married: We are seeing more and more widows and widowers in the 32% bracket or higher so considering Roth IRA conversions while you are still married to maximize the 24% bracket is a good planning strategy.

    The first of these four ideas is a relatively new idea for consideration in light of the understanding of many estate planners including myself that the step-up in basis was a permanent part of the tax law.  So, I would wait until after we know the outcome of the election to act too aggressively on recognizing capital gainsHowever, all of the other ideas are good tax, retirement, and estate planning ideas to consider now irrespective of the outcome of the election and I would act on those sooner than later if they are a good fit for your situation.

    Please do not hesitate to send me an email to matt@paytaxeslater.com or give me a call at (412) 521-2732 if you are interested in having a further discussion on these topics or any other retirement and estate planning topics.

     

    Tax Planning Opportunities During Coronavirus

    Article by Matt Schwartz

    Planning Opportunities During Coronavirus a blog by Matt Schwartz on paytaxeslater.com

    Two months ago if you’d told me that in a matter of weeks I’d be walking two miles each way to an ATM to deposit a check or walking a mile and a half round trip to the nearest post office box to put a letter in the mail, I would have questioned your sanity or asked you what planet you live on. But this is the reality of Coronavirus and the way it has totally upended our daily lives. At the same time, on these treks to the ATM or the post office box I have connected with neighbors, Mt. Lebanon professional colleagues and potential clients whom I would not have seen but for my walks. Of course, we always make sure to maintain a safe social distance during these impromptu catch-up sessions.

    I have really enjoyed these interactions with fellow community members and they have reinforced my belief that connecting with friends, colleagues, and clients is particularly important during this period of social distancing. For our firm, this means finding methods of communication that can be used in place of in-person meetings. I’ve been reaching out to a number of clients by email, Facetime, telephone and even social distance signings at their homes by viewing clients signing in their garages or on their porches.

    All of these discussions begin in a similar fashion with me asking the clients how they are doing and feeling very reassured when they tell me that they are doing OK. No one is doing great, but we are all in this together trying to figure things out one day at a time. Once we check in with each other, since clients always want to make sure my family is doing OK too, they ask me what planning opportunities that they should be considering right now.

    Here are a few of the strategies I often recommend:

    • Roth IRA Conversions – My wife, Beth, completed a Roth IRA conversion about a week and a half ago by making an in-kind transfer of all of the positions in her rollover IRA to her Roth IRA. She did not have to realize a loss by selling positions in her IRA, and she was able just to transfer the funds directly into the Roth IRA. This year clients will have additional opportunities to make larger Roth IRA conversions because of the recently passed Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act or “CARES Act” (we only get acronyms like this from Congress) waives the requirement for clients to take required minimum distributions from qualified plans. This includes those that were inherited before 2020, whether they are inherited Roth IRAs or inherited traditional IRAs. If you are interested in utilizing this strategy this year, I recommend that you consult with one of the CPAs at Lange Accounting Group who can develop a Roth IRA conversion masterplan for you.

    • Tax Loss Harvesting – With the volatility in the market, there are opportunities to recognize losses to offset remaining gains in equities, while buying a similar enough equity to get around the 30-day wash rules which prohibit you from buying back the same exact investment within 30 days. We recommend that you consult with your financial advisor on how you can best pursue this strategy.

    • Charitable Giving – With the increased need in the community, the CARES Act allows those who can afford to do so to make cash contributions to public charities up to 100% of their adjusted gross income rather than 60%. Most of us do not have enough savings to be able to afford to do that. But the broader point is that we should consider charitable giving to the extent that we can afford to do so and perhaps even consider bunching (giving more than you normally would so that you can itemize the deductions and help the charities now).

    I am confident that we will survive Coronavirus, and the economy will eventually get back on its feet. I also appreciate how difficult a time this is for all of us. At the same time, I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities before the market really starts to recover.

    Best wishes to all of you for what I hope is continued good health. I am looking forward to the time that we can meet again in person.

    Best wishes,

    Matt

    Contact Matt Schwartz, Attorney at the Lange Financial Group for Estate Planning needs including Wills.

    The Defenses Against the SECURE Act

    The Best Defenses Against the SECURE Act by James Lange

    photocredit: Getty

     

    This blog post has been reposted with permission from Forbes.com

    I have posted several articles explaining the most important provisions of the SECURE Act and the devasting effect that its provisions will likely have on individuals who inherit IRAs or retirement plans.  This article will address some of the proactive steps you can take now and after the SECURE Act or something similar becomes law.

    Reduce Your Traditional IRA Balance With Roth IRA Conversions

    If timed correctly, Roth IRA conversions can be an effective strategic planning tool for the right taxpayer. Often, a well-planned series of Roth IRA conversions will be a great thing for you and your spouse and will be one of the principle defenses from the devastation of the SECURE Act.

    You and your heirs can benefit from the tax-free growth of the Roth IRA from the time you make the conversion up to ten years after you die.  One of the advantages of making a series of conversions is that the amount you convert to a Roth IRA reduces the balance in your Traditional IRA, which will reduce the income taxes your heirs after to pay on the Inherited IRA within ten years of your death.

    Inherited Roth IRAs are subject to the same ten-year distribution rule after death as Inherited Traditional IRAs under the SECURE Act.  The important difference between the two accounts is that the distributions from Roth IRAs are generally not taxable.  One good thing about Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is that it temporarily lowered income tax rates, so this year is probably a better than average year for many IRA and retirement plan owners to consider Roth IRA conversions as part of their long-term estate planning strategy. We did several posts on Roth IRA conversions earlier this year and concluded this was a great time to look at Roth conversions.  Now, it is even more important.

    In short, it may make more sense for you to pay income taxes on a series of Roth IRA conversions done over a period of years than it would for your heirs to pay income taxes on the accelerated distributions required under the SECURE Act.  The strategy of doing a series of Roth IRA conversions over several years tends to work better because you can often do a series of conversions and stay in a lower tax bracket than if you did one big Roth conversion.  Of course, there is no blanket recommendation that is appropriate for every IRA and retirement plan owner.

    Spend More Money

    Many of my clients and readers don’t spend as much money as they can afford.  Maybe if they realized to what extent their IRAs and retirement plans will be taxed after they die, they would be more open to spending some of it while they are alive.  Assuming you can afford it, why don’t you enjoy your money rather than allowing the government to take a healthy percentage of it?  Considering taking your entire family on a vacation and pay for everything. My father in law takes the entire family on a four-day vacation in the Poconos every year.  Yes, it costs him some money, but those family memories will be a much more valuable legacy than passing on a slightly bigger IRA – especially if your IRA is destined to get clobbered with taxes after you die.

    A variation on the same idea is to step up your gifting plans – not only to charity but also to your family.   Sometimes it makes sense to give a financial helping hand to family members who might need one sooner than later. Not only might you be able to ward off additional troubles for them, but it might help your own peace of mind if you don’t have to worry about them.  What about that new grandbaby?  Consider opening a college savings plan – it could open a whole new world of opportunity for him when he reaches college age.

    If you donate to charity, make sure that you “gift smart”.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 made it more difficult for many Americans to itemize their charitable contributions.  If you fall into this category, you need to know about a provision in the law that allows you to make charitable contributions directly from your IRA.  Known as a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD), this strategy allows you to direct all or part of your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) directly to charity.  The amount of the QCD is not an itemized deduction on your tax return – but it’s even better.  It is excluded from your taxable income completely!  So, if you are required to take RMD’s from your retirement plans and intend to donate to charity anyway, a QCD may be a much more tax-efficient way to do it.

    Update Your Estate Plan

    Thoughtful estate planning can provide options for survivors that will allow them to make better decisions because they can do so with information that is current at the time you die. Even if you have wills, life insurance and trusts, the changes in the laws suggest you review and possibly update your entire estate plan.   This includes your IRA beneficiary designations too, and that’s particularly true if you have created a trust that will be the beneficiary of your IRA or retirement plan.   Assuming some form of the SECURE Act is passed into law, you would likely improve your family’s prospects by updating your estate plan.

    Consider Expanding Your Estate Plan

    The changes brought about by the SECURE Act could make life insurance even valuable to your estate plan than in the past.  The idea is you would withdraw perhaps 1% or 2% of your IRA, pay taxes on it, and use the net proceeds to buy a life insurance policy.  The math on this type of policy stays the same as in the past.  The difference is in the past your heirs could stretch the IRA over their lives.  This makes the life insurance option much more attractive because the alternative is worse.  Charitable Trusts might also become a good option depending on the final form of the law.

    One idea that we think can be a good strategy for some IRA owners under the SECURE Act are Sprinkle Trusts.  If used in an optimal manner, they can provide families with the opportunity to spread the tax burden from inherited IRAs over multiple generations by including children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as beneficiaries.  Sprinkle Trusts have been one of the many “tools” in the sophisticated estate planner’s repertoire for years but have become much more attractive recently because they can offer significant tax benefits to certain IRA owners.   They can also have hidden downfalls, so consider talking with an attorney who has expertise in both taxes and estate planning to help map out a strategy that is appropriate for your situation.

    Combine Different Strategies

    Perhaps the best response to the SECURE Act involves a combination of strategies.  For example, in some situations the most course of action might be revised estate plans, a series of Roth IRA conversions, a series of gifts, and the purchase of a life insurance policy.

    Spousal IRAs

    The SECURE Act will not apply directly to an IRA or retirement plan that you leave your spouse.  After your spouse dies and leaves what is left to your children, then the SECURE Act does rear its ugly head.

    The SECURE Act is a money grab – an action by Congress that betrays retired Americans.  You will likely be able to at least partially defend your family against its worst provisions by taking action.  This is not one of those posts where you think “great post, now back to watching television”.  It is a post meant to create dread that the IRA you worked so hard to accumulate will get clobbered with taxes after you die unless you take action.  The ideas discussed above are some of our favorite action points.  This post should be the beginning, not the end of your research and action on this enormous problem.

    For more information go to https://paytaxeslater.com/next-steps/ to take next steps to protect your financial legacy.

    If you’ll be in the Pittsburgh area, go to https://paytaxeslater.com/workshops/ for updates on Jim’s FREE retirement workshops to learn even more about how to established retirement plans that will be beneficial to make the most out of what you’ve got for your family.

     

    James Lange

    The Potentially Dire Consequences to Your Legacy with the “Death of the Stretch” IRA

    The Death of the Stretch IRA is rearing its ugly head again.

     

    Death of the Stretch Inherited IRAs by James Lange CPA/Attorney in Pittsburgh, PAAs I have written about, this is personal to me. I was hoping that distributions from my Roth IRA and IRA would be “stretched” over the life of my daughter and maybe grandchildren.  It could make a difference of well over a million dollars to my family.

    If you have a million dollar or more IRA or retirement plan, this threatened (but as yet not totally defined) legislation could be just as devastating to you and your family.  Once the two houses reconcile their differences (see the above post for the details of the different proposals), established estate plans will likely need to be reevaluated.  This threat increases the merits of Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan or a similar flexible estate plan. It also creates an even greater incentive for IRA owners considering significant Roth IRA conversions.

    I wrote two books on this topic based on the proposal that advanced through the Senate Finance Committee beginning in 2016. While the changes to IRA and retirement plan distribution rules weren’t included in the last set of tax changes (much to our surprise), clearly the idea still has a huge bipartisan appeal.

    The action points in both books was to reconsider and revisit the idea of converting more of your IRAs to Roth IRAs. This is consistent with my most recent recommendations encouraging higher conversions because of the low income-tax rates we are currently enjoying.  The threat of losing the ability to stretch distributions from IRAs and retirement plans for generations only makes looking into Roth IRA conversions more compelling. If you have an IRA and/or other retirement plan and were hoping to leave it to your heirs with a favorable tax treatment and want to be kept up to date with this information, please call our offices at 412-521-2732.

    How Does the Tax Reform Affect Retirees?

    How does the Tax Reform Affect Retirees? Read More on https://paytaxeslater.com/how-does-the-tax-reform-affect-retirees/

    How does the Tax Reform affect Retirees?

    I was able to spend some time reading over the holiday, and of course much of my efforts were devoted to finding out how people were reacting to the new tax reform bill. In quick succession, I came across three articles published by three different media outlets. The first said that the tax reform would hurt poor people; the second insisted that the tax reform would hurt the middle class, and the third swore that the tax reform would hurt the rich. Many of our clients are retired, and they are asking “how will the tax reform affect me?” So I thought I would give you some ideas about how the tax reform might affect retirees.

    One concern for retirees involves the changes made to the rules affecting Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. Will the tax reform affect you if you are retired, and you have been able to itemize? The short answer is that, depending on what and how much you deduct, the tax reform may affect you because some of the itemized deductions were reduced or even eliminated. Let’s look at specifics.

    Tax Reform and Medical Expenses

    Many retirees have high medical costs – and the good news is that medical expenses will still be deductible in 2017 assuming that they exceed a certain threshold. What makes this statement less than straightforward, though, is that there were two different thresholds when you did your taxes last year. Prior to the tax reform, individuals who were younger than age 65 had to have medical expenses that exceeded 10% of their adjusted gross income in order to be able to use the deduction.

    If you or your spouse were 65 or older, though, the threshold was lower – only 7.5%. And whatever your age, you could only deduct the medical expenses that were in excess of your threshold. The bottom line for retirees? If you itemize, tax reform shouldn’t affect your medical deductions unless both you and your spouse are younger than 65 years old. The tax reform may actually benefit younger individuals who have high medical costs because, starting in 2017, everyone regardless of their age will have to meet a threshold of only 7.5% before they can deduct any medical expenses.

    Tax Reform and Property Taxes

    Many retirees could be affected by the changes in state and local tax (or, SALT) itemized deductions. Through 2017, you can deduct all of your state, local, real estate, sales and personal property taxes on Schedule A if you itemize. In 2018, those deductions will be capped at $10,000. How does this affect retirees? It depends. If you didn’t deduct these expenses because you used the standard deduction last year, this provision in the tax reform won’t affect you at all.

    But if your income is high enough that it is subject to state and local tax, or if you own a home on which you pay high property taxes, any deduction that you might be able to take after the tax reform could be reduced. If this sounds like you, you will need to check the Schedule A on your prior year return to see exactly how much of the taxes you paid were deductible in the past. The tax reform could affect you negatively if you’ve been able to deduct more than $10,000 because, starting in 2018, your deduction will be limited to that amount.

    Tax Reform and Mortgage Interest

    Many retirees prefer to have the mortgages on their homes paid off before they leave the work force. If that’s you, the changes to the mortgage interest deduction rules, by themselves, shouldn’t affect you. Prior to the tax reform, married couples could deduct the interest they paid on mortgages that were less than $1,000,000. Under the tax reform, that mortgage limit is lowered to $750,000 – which means that individuals who have large mortgages may not be able to deduct as much of the interest as in the past. If you are retired, this change should not affect you unless you are planning to buy a new home in 2018 or later. If you do buy a new home and finance more than $750,000 (and you itemize) you will not be able to deduct as much as you would have prior to the tax reform.

    Tax Reform and Miscellaneous Deductions

    How about miscellaneous itemized deductions? The big ones for my clients are their investment account fees and, in some cases, employee business expenses, but includes smaller deductions such as tax preparation fees and safety deposit box fees. The new law temporarily repeals all of those, so if you itemize and have taken advantage of them in the past, the tax reform may hurt you in this area of your return.

    Tax Reform and Charitable Contributions

    What about charitable contributions? The tax reform will not affect charitable contributions at all. If you don’t itemize, your charitable contributions weren’t deductible in prior years and so nothing has changed for you. If you do qualify to itemize, contributions that you make to legitimate charities will still be deductible in 2018.

    This leads me to my big finale! My theme throughout this post has been, “assuming that you qualify to itemize”. Even if you were able to itemize in the past, you may not need to itemize after the tax reform because the standard deduction (or, the amount that the government gives to everybody with no strings attached) has almost doubled. In 2017, the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly is $12,700 but in 2018 it will be $24,000. So even if you fall into one of the categories where you believe the tax reform might initially hurt you – for example, if you have a significant amount of investment account fees that are no longer deductible – it might be a moot point if the government is going to just give you more than what you would have gotten by itemizing anyway.

    Confusing? You bet! So please bear with us during tax season as we try to sort this out!

    Stop back soon!

    -Jim

    Learn how Jim Nabors saved $4.8 Million by marrying his husband.

    Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017: Ten Huge Take-Aways

    Ten Huge Take-Aways from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act by Jim Lange

     

    Ten Huge Take-Aways from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017

    by James Lange, CPA/Attorney

    The first thing to consider about the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is that it is just a proposed tax bill.  It is possible it will face stiff resistance in the Senate and possibly get no votes from the Republicans.  Jeff Flake, John McCain, Bob Corker, and Lisa Murkowski might be on that list of Republican “no” votes. So, like health care it is possible, and even likely, that nothing will happen this year and maybe not in the foreseeable future.

    Depending on your personal circumstances, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 could be good or bad for your family.  Critical factors like how many children you have, whether you live in a high-tax state and itemize your deductions or take the standard deduction, whether you own a home or are looking to buy one could sway you from benefiting from these changes or suffering from them.

    In fact, there are so many variables to consider that it is difficult to make a blanket statement that the proposal will offer you tax relief.  Corporate America is a clear winner. Reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, Speaker Paul Ryan argues, will create more jobs and drive up wages.  But critics, even Republican critics, say it is not a given that companies will pass their savings on to workers vs. shareholders through higher dividends.

    However, the bill as it stands now is far from becoming law.  Ultimately, the Senate will introduce more changes and what we will end up with and whether it will pass are still great unknowns.  But, going forward it will still be helpful to understand some of the main provisions the bill advances so you can begin to assess the impact on you and your family.

    Champions and underdogs in the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017:

    1. This doesn’t appear to be an overall tax-cut for the middle class, as promised. What we see in this bill is a tax cut for some, and a tax hike for others.  As usual, it all depends on how much you make, how you earn your living, where you live, the mortgage on your home, your property taxes, student loans, etc.  The Tax Policy Center commented that the bill wasn’t really tax reform but rather it was more of a complicated tax cut.  We have compared differences for different hypothetical clients and the results were less dramatic than we thought.  In one case, the elimination of the alternative minimum tax was helpful, but the dis-allowance of state and local income taxes netted out to a tax increase for one client.
    2. The bill reduces the number of tax brackets from seven to four. Currently the brackets are 10-15-20-28-33-35-39.6%.  Under the new provisions there will be a zero bracket (in the form of an enhanced standard deduction according to the bill), and from there the brackets will be 12-25-35-36.9%.  Here is how they break down:
    2017 Single Filer 2017 Married Filing Jointly 2017 Head of Household
    $0- $9,325 – 10% $0-18,650 – 10% $0- $13,350 – 10%
    $9,326- $37,950 – 15% $18,651- $75,900 – 15% $13,351- $50,800 – 15%
    $37,951- $91,900 – 25% $75,901- $153,100 – 25% $50,801- $131,200 – 25%
    $91,901- $191,650 – 28% $153,101- $233,350 – 28% $131,201- $212,500 – 28%
    $191,651- $416,700 – 33% $233,351- $416,700 – 33% $212,501- $416,700 – 33%
    $416,701-$418,400 – 35% $416,701- $470,700 – 35% $416,701- $444,550 – 35%
    $418,401 + – 39.6% $470,701+ – 39.6% $444,551 + – 39.6%

     

    Proposed Single Filer Proposed Married Filing Jointly Proposed Head of Household
    $0-$44,999 – 12% $0-$89,999 – 12% $0-$67,499 – 12%
    $45,000-$199,999 – 25% $90,000-$259,999 – 25% $67,500-$229,999 – 25%
    $200,000-$499,999 – 35% $260,000-$999,999 – 35% $230,000-$499,999 – 35%
    $500,000+ – 39.6% $1,000,000+ – 39.6% $500,000+ – 39.6%

    Additionally, the bill would eliminate the alternative minimum tax (AMT), a second tax calculation for people earning about $130,000 which reduces the impact of many tax breaks.

    1. The bill doubles the current standard deduction, giving $12,000 to single filers, $24,000 for married filing jointly, and $18,000 for heads of household.
    1. But before you get too excited about a larger deduction, they’ve decided to repeal the personal exemption—currently $4,050 per person—and the deductions for state and local taxes. So, it isn’t as much of a break as you think it is.
    1. They are taking away one of our favorite, and edgiest strategies. No more recharacterization of Roth IRAs. If you’ve heard me talk about Roth IRAs, you’ve probably heard me mention recharacterization.  The ability to recharacterize, basically undo the Roth conversion, adds enormous flexibility in our Roth IRA conversion planning.  This will mean that the days of do-it-yourself Roth IRA conversion calculations will be highly risky.  Having a professional you can trust, who knows the system in and out, and who has the experience to get it right will become incredibly important.
    1. Taxpayers with a net worth of $10 million or more (and their children) have a reason to cheer as the plan almost doubles the current federal estate tax exemption from $5,490,000 to $10,000,000 per individual, with spouses exempt from any limits. The Joint Committee on Taxation has commented that this provision, while being a boon for business owners and wealthier Americans will reduce the federal revenue by around $172 billion over 2018-2027.  Oh, yeah…and after 2023, the estate tax will be repealed all together.  Compensating for that loss of revenue is a huge stumbling block for the proposed tax reform.  Though hard to confirm, rumor has it that originally they were going to eliminate the estate tax entirely but put this provision in to secure the support of Alaska.
    1. While the bill does simplify many areas, it also complicates many areas. It is not a major tax simplification.  I do not fear that our CPA firm will lose business because clients will find it so easy to complete their tax returns.
    1. While corporations and businesses will see a reduced corporate tax rate—from 35% to 20% – it will come with a price¾a much more involved and complicated filing process. New anti-abuse rules, complicated multi-national corporation rules, new tax treatments on interest, and changes in international income rules will make navigating your business tax return much more difficult.  Shareholders of pass through entities, like Subchapter S corporations will get a big break, but the complications for claiming that break are considerable.
    1. The Act is silent on the Death of the Stretch IRA. We still aren’t sure if and when this will happen.  It is very possible that they are holding it in reserve to for future negotiations pertaining to reducing the deficit.  The tax cuts in this bill will massively reduce federal revenue.  We’re talking in the trillions of dollars here.  To get any version of this to pass, it is very likely that the GOP will have to come up with ways to offset some of the deficit.  Killing the ability to stretch IRAs and retirement plans for generations is one way to do that.
    1. Even the Republican’s admit that this bill will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years, and that is a huge issue. Critics on both sides see increasing the deficit as unacceptable.  Further, the Tax Policy Center and other tax policy commentators on both sides of the aisle think that this estimate is too low or too high, and many do not believe that this bill will provide the economic growth or tax-relief promised to the middle class.

    If you want to read an excellent 82-page summary of the bill, check out The Fiscal Times online:

    http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2017/11/02/Read-House-GOPs-Tax-Bill-or-Summary-Key-Points

    If you are looking for more of a brief overview summary, these are excellent resources:

    https://taxfoundation.org/details-tax-cuts-jobs-act/

    http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxvox/house-gop-tax-bill-mostly-business-tax-cut-will-create-new-winners-and-losers

    As I mentioned above, this bill is simply the first iteration of what the final bill might look like, and it isn’t clear that anything in it is going to become law.  But it bears some scrutiny since some of the main points are likely to provoke debates.  We will continue to watch as the process evolves.  We might even have to interrupt our series on Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan once again!  If that happens, I hope you will bear with us.  But unless there is major news, we will see you next week as we continue exploring the advantages of the LCBP

    Disclaimer: Please note that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 removed the ability for taxpayers to do any “recharacterizations” of Roth IRA conversions after 12/31/2017. The material below was created and published prior the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. 

    Special Alert About the Equifax Data Breach

    The Equifax Data Breach:
    All You Need To Know

    The Equifax Data Breach – What Should You Do

    The recent data breach at Equifax has sparked a lot of discussion about how vulnerable the personal information of all Americans may be to theft.  Is there anything you can do to protect yourself in our computer-driven society?  While the Equifax hack was by far the largest in history, it’s not the first and will not be the last.  In 2017 alone, Verizon, Blue Cross Blue Shield/Anthem, Dun and Bradstreet, Chipotle, Washington State University, and even the IRS have discovered that they’ve been hacked – exposing the personal information of millions of Americans to thieves.  The breach at Equifax was so far-reaching that several corporate officers have retired, and many on Capitol Hill are calling for a complete investigation.  With over 143 million Americans at risk of being involved in this massive breach, you could very easily be affected.

    What You Can Do If Your Information Has Been Compromised

    So what can you do to protect yourself?  You probably know that Equifax has set up a website where you can check to see if your number has been exposed.  If your information was exposed in the breach, you can get free credit monitoring for one year.   In my opinion, that’s like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out.  They’re happy to let you know that someone has opened up a fraudulent account in your name, but it’s still up to you to clean up the mess if they do!  And what happens when your year of free credit monitoring is over?  If you don’t pay for credit monitoring every year for the rest of your life, you may never know if someone is using your identity at some point down the road.

    What Does Freezing Your Credit Report Do?

    Some experts are recommending that you place a freeze on your credit files.  A freeze prevents lenders from even accessing your credit report.  The advantage to freezing your file is that, if they do not know your credit history, lenders will not offer credit to a thief who is trying to use your identity.   What are the disadvantages of freezing your credit files?  First, it’s not an easy process.  There are three major credit reporting bureaus, and you will have to place three separate freezes.  You can do so by using these links:

    Equifax freeze

    Transunion freeze

    Experian freeze

    If you are a Pennsylvania resident, the law permits the credit bureau to charge you $10 to freeze your file.  Equifax has agreed to waive their fee, but only after public pressure.

    Unfortunately, the data breach at Equifax has caused all three credit reporting agencies to be overwhelmed with requests to freeze accounts.  Many consumers are complaining that they can’t even get into the websites or if they do get in, that the site crashes after they fill out the application form.  If you have not already frozen your account, you may have a better chance of getting through if you try before 7:00 a.m., or after 11:00 p.m.  Another disadvantage of freezing your credit files is that if you need to apply for credit yourself – for a car loan, a home equity loan or even a medical credit card – you must first remove the freeze from your files.  You will need a PIN number to remove the freeze and, if you lose your PIN number, you will be facing a time-consuming and difficult process to get another one.

    The Equifax Data Breach and Your Tax Return

    Opening phony credit accounts in your name, unfortunately, could be just the tip of the iceberg.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which has issued more than $20 billion in fraudulent tax refunds over the past few years, could be plundered unless there is intervention by Congress.  By law, the IRS must process your tax return within a specified period – generally 45 days – or they have to pay you interest on your refund.  To meet those guidelines, they’ve adopted a “pay first, ask questions later” philosophy.  In our practice, it’s not uncommon to see a client get a tax refund check and then an audit notice a year later! The IRS’s system requires little more than a name, date of birth and Social Security number to process tax returns – information which was exposed in the Equifax data breach – and they accept returns as soon as January 1st.   On the other hand, employers aren’t required to submit updated employment information to the IRS until March.  By that time, about half of all of the refund checks have already been issued!

    Protecting Yourself After the Equifax Hack

    So what can you do to protect yourself?  If you don’t want to freeze your credit files, then you should be checking your credit reports regularly for fraudulent activity.  Most of the major credit card companies allow you to request that you be notified if a charge is processed on your account that exceeds a certain dollar amount.  You should consider placing an alert for an amount that exceeds your normal spending threshold.   If you are traditionally a procrastinator when it comes to filing your tax return, don’t wait – get it filed as soon as possible.  Even if you owe, you don’t have to pay the IRS until April 15th.  If you have any credit card debt, get it paid off.  Financial institutions that fall victim to fraudsters because of the Equifax data breach will have to pass the cost of their losses on to their customers – and you don’t want to be one of the unlucky ones footing the bill.

    Last but not least – whatever you do to protect yourself, make sure that you do the same for those who might not, including children and elderly parents!

    Stay safe out there!

    Jim

     

    4 Reasons Why We’re Excited that Retire Secure! is Interactive on the Web!

    If you haven’t made your way to www.langeretirementbook.com yet, now is the time!

    Here at the Lange Financial Group, LLC, we are very excited to bring you an interactive version of Retire Secure! A Guide to Getting the Most Out of What You’ve Got.

    Reason #1 – The entire book is on this website. Yes, all 420 pages of the book, including the front and back covers, all about the best strategies for retirement and estate planning.

    Lange-Retirement-Book-Wesbite1

    Reason #2 – The book is divided into chapters for ease of reading. Meaning, you don’t have to flip through 400-some pages to get to Chapter 11 – The Best Ways to Transfer Wealth and Cut Taxes for the Next Generation.

    Lange-Retirement-Book-Wesbite-2

    Reason #3 – We honestly haven’t seen anything like this before. Granted, I’ve read magazines on viewers where you can flip the pages as you read. But not a website for a book that includes a viewer, as well as a forum where readers can engage with each other.

    The comments are moderated by the Lange Financial Group, LLC staff and myself. One of us will reply to your comment as soon as we can. To leave a comment, all you need to do is connect with your Amazon, Facebook, or LinkedIn account. This measure is for your protection, as well as ours. We don’t want spammers posting comments or incorrect information about such an important topic.

    Lange-Retirement-Book-Wesbite-3

    Reason #4 – We are hoping this interactive website encourages you to purchase the book! Retire Secure! is available from Amazon and JamesLange.com. Once you’ve read the book, feel free to return to LangeRetirementBook.com to ask questions, as well as Amazon and Goodreads to review the book for the benefit of others.

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