Category: 401(k)

Six Charitable Moves to Consider Before Year-End

The tax changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) are extensive and far-reaching.  The standard deduction will be raised starting in 2018, which means that going forward taxpayers will need to provide more itemized deductions in order to receive the tax benefit of excess deductions.  If you are charitably inclined, you should to consider these six charitable planning moves before the end of the year given the impending changes to the tax code.
 
If you itemize your taxes:

  1. Donate highly appreciated stocks or mutual funds. The stock market has been on a terrific run, and you may have highly appreciated stocks or mutual funds that you are holding on to because you do not want to pay capital gains taxes.  By donating appreciated investments, you avoid paying the capital gains tax and can take a deduction for the fair market value of the investments.  If you are considering gifting mutual funds, do so before they declare their year-end dividends and capital gains and you will save on taxes by avoiding that income as well.  While your deduction is limited to 50% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), you can carry the unused portion to future tax years.
  2. Consider bumping up this year’s contributions: essentially, make contributions that you would have made in 2018 before the end of 2017. The rationale here is that your tax rate is likely to be lower next year than it is this year due to the TCJA, so every additional dollar given this year is deducted against your higher current 2017 rate.
  3. If you want to create a legacy or are unsure of where to contribute, use a Community Foundation or Donor Advised Fund (DAF) to max out your contributions. For example, if you give $50,000 to a DAF, you can deduct the entire amount now but designate your gifts and charities over time.  You can invest the portion of your DAF that is not immediately donated to a specific charity, creating the potential for even greater giving in the future.
  4. If you are considering an even larger donation, or are interested in asset-protection, you may want to consider creating either a charitable lead or remainder trust. With a charitable remainder trust, you get a deduction for your gift now; generate an income stream for yourself for a determined period of time; and at the expiration of that term, the remainder of the donated assets is distributed to your favorite charity or charities.  A charitable lead trust is essentially the inverse of the remainder trust: you get a deduction for your gift now; generate an income stream for one or more charities of your choice for a determined period of time; and at the expiration of that term, you or your chosen beneficiaries receive the remaining principle.  The deduction you receive is based on an interest rate, and the low current rates makes the contribution value high.
  5. Donate your extra property, clothes, and household items to charity. Make time to clean out your closets, spare bedroom and garage, and donate those items to one of the many charitable organizations in our area.  CHKD, Salvation Army, Purple Heart, ForKids, Hope House are just a few organizations that will take old clothes, appliances, household items and furniture.  Some of them will even come to you to pick up items.  Make sure to ask the charity for a receipt and keep a thorough list of what you donated.  You can use garage sale or thrift store prices to assign fair market values to the donated items, or you can use online programs (such as itsdeductible.com) to figure out values.

 
If you are over age 70 ½:

  1. Make a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD).  Essentially a QCD allows you to donate all or a portion of your IRA Required Minimum Distribution to a qualifying charity.  The donated amount is not included in your taxable income and also helps to lower your income for certain “floors” like social security benefit taxation and Medicare Part B and Part D premiums.  QCDs are very tax-efficient ways to make charitable donations.

Beware the Quirks of the TSP in retirement

The TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) is a retirement savings and investment plan for Federal employees. It offers the kind of retirement plan that private corporations offer with 401(k) plans.

Here is a little information about he investment options in the TSP.

The TSP funds are not the typical mutual fund even though the C, F, I, and S index funds are similar to mutual fund offerings.
The C Fund is designed to match the performance of the S&P 500
The F Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, a broad index representing the U.S. bond market.
The I Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Morgan Stanley Capital International EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index.
The Small Cap S Fund’s objective is to match the performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market Index, a broad market index made up of stocks of U.S. companies not included in the S&P 500 Index.
The G Fund is invested in nonmarketable U.S. Treasury securities that are guaranteed by the U.S. Government and the G Fund will not lose money.

One advantage of the TSP is that the expenses of the funds are very low.  However, if you plan to keep your money in the TSP after you retire you need to understand your options because there are traps for the unwary.

The irrevocable annuity option.  

This option provides you with a monthly income.  You can choose an income for yourself or a beneficiary – such as your spouse – that lasts your lifetime or the lifetime of the beneficiary.  The payments stop at death.  Once your annuity starts, you cannot change your mind.

Limited withdrawal options. 

You can’t take money out of your TSP whenever you want.  When it comes to taking money out you have two options.

  1. One time only partial withdrawal. You have a one-time chance to take a specific dollar amount from your account before taking a full withdrawal.
  2. Full withdrawal.   You can choose between a combination of lump-sum, monthly payments or a Met-Life annuity.

Limited Monthly Payment Changes

If you take monthly payments from your TSP as part of your full withdrawal option you can change the amount you receive once a year, during the “annual change period” but it takes effect the next calendar year.  If you choose this option, make sure that you know how much you will need for the coming year.

Proportionate distribution of funds

When you take money out of your TSP you have no choice over which fund is liquidated to meet your income needs.  It comes out in proportion to which your money is invested.  This means you can’t manage your TSP and decide which of the funds you will access to get your distribution.

If you want to give yourself greater flexibility once you retire you have the option of rolling the TSP assets into a rollover IRA without incurring any income tax.

 

Is your retirement plan a ticking time bomb?

In your mind’s eye, how do you see yourself living retirement?  Does it include the activities that you enjoy now … without the time you spend at work?  When you have the time, do you see yourself seeing the world?  Retirement presents an opportunity for some life-changing experiences.

But there are a few things that can cause those retirement dreams to become nightmares.

If your retirement plan includes a pension, you may want to consider the risk.  It is a fact that many private and public pension plans are sadly underfunded.  Some public pension plans are the worst offenders.  As an extreme example, the Illinois General Assembly Retirement System is only 13.5% funded.

A long period of very low interest rates means that pension plans with large bond investments have generated low returns.  It has caused others to take greater risk.  At some point that can affect the pensions of those who believed their Golden Years were paid for.

Living longer than you expected is another risk.  In 1950 the average life expectancy was 68.  That meant that the average worker retired at age 65 and died three years later.

Sixty years later, in 2010, the average life expectancy was 79 and many people are living longer.  In 2010 there were 1.9 million people over age 90 and three quarters of those were women.  One of the biggest concerns that retired people have is running out of money as savings are eroded by inflation.    How would living past age 90 affect your retirement plans?

The third thing that is causing the average worker concern about retiring is insufficient savings.  Fewer people are covered by pension plans.  Many employers have replaced guaranteed pensions called “Define Benefit Plans” with 401(k)s and 403(b)s known as “Defined Contribution Plans.”  This transfers the responsibility for retirement from the employer to the employee.  Too few people are taking advantage of these programs, not saving enough, and making unwise investment choices.  This can result in insufficient savings when the time comes to actually retire.  One result is that more and more people continue to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65.

What is to be done?

We have to accept a greater responsibility for our own retirement.  We have to be honest about how safe those pension promises are, whether we work of a large corporation or for a government entity.  We have to start saving early and make wise investment choices.  One of the wisest things people do as they prepare for retirement is get the services of a competent retirement professional who will guide them to a safe haven at the end of the road.

 

Benchmarking Inverts the Basics of Investing

The problem with “benchmarking”  – that is measuring your investment performance against market indexes (known as “benchmarks”) – is that it often leads to buying into asset bubbles.

During the tech boom of the last 20th century, billions of dollars went into internet stocks whose values became wildly inflated.  People who participated in this as a way of reaching for high rates of return, found that no one rang a bell when the party was over.  Many lost their retirement savings and saw their 401(k)s devastated.

Certain stocks become wildly popular, industries become wildly popular and investing styles become wildly popular, all of which leads to wildly inflated values.  This almost inevitably leads to financial pain.

But this does not only happen in the stock market.  In the first decade of the 21st century, real estate seemed to be a way of making outsized profits.  Of course, when the housing bubble collapsed, many not only lost money, but their homes.

The focus of serious investors is to align your portfolio with your personal objectives.  The focus should be on long-term – multi-year – performance.  The only benchmark that should concern you is the one you set for yourself.

At Korving & Company we keep our clients grounded and work with them to meet their personal benchmarks.  Contact us to do the same for you.

Top 5 Tax Mistakes Investors Make

The tax laws are fairly complex and people make mistakes, but there are some mistakes that investors should not make.

  1. Taking short-term gains when waiting will turn the gain into a long-term gain.  Appreciated gains on assets held one year or longer are taxed at a lower rate than those held for less than a year.
  2.  Foreign stock investments held in a tax-qualified account.  Many foreign companies are required to withhold foreign taxes on dividends paid. U.S. investors can claim a tax credit on their tax returns, effectively recouping this lost dividend, but only if the foreign stocks are held in a taxable account.
  3. Failing to realize capital gains.  If you have a gain in a stock and believe that stock is now overvalued, do not allow fear of taxes to sell and lock in a gain.  That is the trap that many tech stock owners fell into in 1999, just before the tech bubble burst in 2000.
  4. Failing to take capital losses.  If you have a loss in a stock, the loss can be used to offset a realized gain in another stock, thus reducing your tax liability.  If you still like the stock you have a loss in, you can buy it back later as long as you observe the “wash sale rule.”
  5. Taking a direct distribution from a 401(k) or similar retirement plan.   Distributions from retirement plans should be done via a custodian-to-custodian transfer or you can be subject to taxes as well as potential penalties if you are under 59 1/2.
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