Five IRA Rollover Mistakes to Avoid

Making a mistake when rolling your 401(k) to an IRA could result in unexpected taxes and possible penalties.
Making a mistake when rolling your 401(k) to an IRA could result in unexpected taxes and possible penalties.

Recent changes in the job market have led to an increase in IRA rollovers, but at the same time, people are making more mistakes when transferring their employer related retirement accounts to an IRA, reports The Wall Street Journal in a recent article, “The Biggest Mistake People Make With IRA Rollovers.” These IRA rollover mistakes may result in additional taxes and penalties.

Done properly, rolling funds from a 401(k) to a traditional IRA offers you more flexibility and control. A company retirement plan may limit you to a half-dozen or so investment choices; but, depending on the IRA custodian, the IRA owner may choose investment options ranging from stocks and bonds to mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, certificates of deposits or annuities.

However, if you are considering rolling over an employer related retirement plan to an IRA, make sure to avoid these common IRA rollover mistakes:

Mistake #1:  Taking a lump-sum distribution of the 401(k) funds instead of moving the funds directly to an IRA custodian. The clock starts ticking when you do what’s called an “indirect rollover.” Miss the 60-day deadline and the amount is considered a distribution, included as gross income and taxable. If you’re younger than 59½, you might also get hit with a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

There is an exception: if you are an employee with highly appreciated stock of the company that you are leaving in your 401(k), it’s considered a “Net Unrealized Appreciation,” or NUA. In this case, you may take the lump-sum distribution and pay taxes at the ordinary income-tax rate, but only on the cost basis, or the adjusted original value, of the stock. The difference between the cost basis and the current market value is the NUA, and you can defer the tax on the difference until you sell the stock.

Mistake #2:  Not realizing when you do an indirect rollover, your workplace plan administrator will usually withhold 20% of your account and send it to the IRS as pre-payment of federal income tax on the distribution. This will happen even if your plan is to immediately transfer the money into an IRA. If too much tax was withheld, you’ll get a refund from the IRS.

Mistake #3:  Rolling over funds from a 401(k) to an IRA before taking a Required Minimum Distribution or RMD. If you’re required to take an RMD for the year that you are receiving the distribution (age 72 and over), neglecting this will result in an excess contribution, which could be subject to a 6% penalty.

Mistake #4:   Rolling funds from a 401(k) to a Roth IRA and neglecting to pay taxes immediately. If you move money from a 401(k) to a Roth IRA, it’s a conversion and taxes are due when you make the transfer. However, if you have some after-tax dollars left in the 401(k), you can make a tax-free distribution of those funds to a Roth IRA.

Mistake #5:  Not knowing the limits when moving funds from one IRA to another, if you do a 60-day rollover. The general rule is this: you are allowed to do only one distribution from an IRA to another IRA within a 12-month period. Make more than one distribution and it’s considered taxable income. Tack on a 10% penalty, if you’re under 59½.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 1, 2021) “The Biggest Mistake People Make With IRA Rollovers”

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When to Take Social Security?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet” asks you to imagine if, when you were a child, your mom baked your favorite pie and made you an offer. She could serve you a piece of pie right then and let you eat it. Alternatively, if you waited until after dinner, you’d get a bigger slice. Or, if you could wait until bedtime, your piece would be even larger. And not just that day, but for the rest of your life.

Every time you had pie for dessert, the size of your piece would be based on the decision you made that one day.

There are many justifications for taking the smaller piece of pie right away, when offered. Many people want to begin their retirement as soon as possible, and they want or need the Social Security income to do so. Some want to claim their benefits and invest the money to further grow their nest egg. Many people are concerned that the Social Security trust fund will be depleted before they get their share.  Others are concerned about health and whether they will receive Social Security for very long. Finally, there are some who just aren’t aware of how much bigger their monthly payment could be if they waited.

While you can get your benefits as early as 62, that choice, can mean a permanent reduction in benefits of up to 30% less than what you could receive by filing at your full retirement age (FRA). Retirees who file after their FRA receive a delayed retirement credit of 8% per year until they turn 70.

Admittedly, eight years (from 62 to 70) is a long time to wait to tap into this significant income stream. Most seniors would jump at the chance for more money, particularly as many baby boomers face these challenges that could put even the best-laid income plans to the test in retirement:

Longevity. The longer you live, the greater the chance that your savings will have to endure multiple financial storms, such as increased taxes, inflation and costly health care issues as you get older. The Social Security Administration estimates that the average 62-year-old woman born in 1958 can expect to live another 23½ years, and a man with the same birthdate can expect to live another 20⅔ years. That’s a long time to have to make your money last. However, if you maximize your Social Security benefits by earning delayed retirement credits, you’ll always have that guaranteed income.

Low interest rates. In the current low-interest environment, the return on “safe” investments, such as CDs, bonds, and money market accounts, won’t protect you from inflation. Thus, one of the best investments that retirees can make right now isn’t really an investment at all, but rather it’s growing their Social Security payments by delaying to take them.

Continuing to work.  Many seniors are continuing to work  well past traditional retirement ages to make ends meet.  Taking Social Security while still working may result in devastating tax losses.  It may make sense to delay Social Security until completely retired.

Decline in employer pensions. The retirement savings system in the United States traditionally has been built on three pillars: Social Security, a workplace pension and individual savings. However, over the past two decades, many employers have stopped offering pensions. As a result, the full responsibility for retirement investing has been shifting to employees with defined contribution plans. However, 40.2% of older Americans now depend on Social Security alone for income in retirement. Only 6.8% receive income from a defined benefit pension, a defined contribution plan, and Social Security. Fidelity Investments also reports that the median 401(k) balance in the first half of 2019 was $62,000 for savers in the 60 to 69 age group.

Ask an elder law attorney who practices in Social Security matters to help you make some calculations to determine your “break-even” age, which is when you’d come out ahead by waiting instead of claiming early. If you haven’t already, sign up with the Social Security Administration to get an estimate of your retirement benefits at 62, 67, and 70, using their online benefits calculator.  You may also consider speaking with a financial advisor who can evaluate opportunities to earn greater income with money in hand with earlier Social Security.

If your objective is to land the biggest possible piece of pie — and you can manage it — waiting is the name of the game.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 21, 2020) “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet”

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How Do I Stop COVID-19 from Eating Up My Retirement?

Covid-19 has complicated retirement planning.
Covid-19 has complicated retirement planning.

COVID-19, as well as the efforts taken to slow the spread of the disease, have caused financial and health crises throughout the country, especially for seniors. As a result, financial and other life decisions for seniors and those planning for retirement are much more complicated than they were just a few months ago.

The USA TODAY recently published an article entitled “What you can do if coronavirus is threatening your retirement” that examined some of the challenges and opportunities people should consider as they move into retirement, especially during the current pandemic.

Decrease your 401(k) contributions. As you hit 50, you’re able to make catch-up contributions to your 401(k) and IRA accounts. For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,500 annually to a 401(k) and, if you’re over 50, up to $1,000 above the $6,000 annual limit to either a traditional or Roth IRA. You might look at reducing your contributions. If you have credit card debt or a car loan, paying that off that before retiring might be more important than building your nest egg. When you retire, your savings would be your main source of income.

Take some money out of your IRA. You can withdraw funds from either an IRA or a 401(k) at age 59½. If you’re still working, and your employer has a 401(k), you can continue to contribute to it as long as you are eligible. However, you must start withdrawing funds when you reach 72. You can’t continue contributing to a traditional IRA once you reach that age, but that’s not the case with Roth IRAs. The longer you can leave your savings untouched (or keep adding to them), the more you will have when you retire.

Think about your wheels. Ask yourself if you really, really need a new or fairly new car at all. If yes, notice that the down payment on a lease is typically lower and so are the monthly payments. After the lease term is up (usually three years), you can get a lease on a new car and do it again. Know that it takes about five years to pay off a new car loan and you will be driving it payment-free for 10 or more years, if you keep it for 15 years. Therefore, buying an affordable vehicle may be a better choice.

Take your Social Security now. When you turn 62, you can start collecting Social Security retirement benefits. You’ll get another opportunity at age 65 or later (depending on your birth year) and at 70, you’re required to take it. In 2020, if you begin collecting benefits at age 62, the maximum monthly payment is $2,265; at 65 or later, the monthly benefit is $3,011; and at age 70, the maximum benefit is $3,790. Usually, you’d want to wait as long as you can to take the benefit, because your monthly income will be higher when you need it most (i.e., when you’re older).

Look into a reverse mortgage. They often get a bad rap, but there are situations when it may make sense. If your home is your largest asset, and you need cash and have no other way to get it, a reverse mortgage may be your best option. However, to get one, your mortgage must be paid off (or nearly so).

Downsize. Consider selling your home and buying smaller digs. By downsizing, you might be able to pay cash for a smaller home and use the rest of the proceeds from the sale of your old house to pay off other debt.

Other Ideas. You can also lessen your debt load, plan to keep your current car a few years loner and plan to work a year or two longer. A few other ideas are to join AARP, trim your household expenses, see if you can cut your cellphone bill, take advantage of senior discounts and pre-plan your funeral.

For more information on Covid-19 and retirement planning see https://www.galliganmanning.com/should-you-cut-retirement-savings-efforts-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

Reference: USA TODAY (April 13, 2020) “What you can do if coronavirus is threatening your retirement”

 

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