Delaying retirement affects benefits and taxes

n today’s economic environment, you may decide you have to work beyond the “normal” retirement age. Here’s how extending your work life can affect your taxes and retirement benefits.

“Normal” retirement age is not a fixed number. For social security purposes, the “full” retirement age threshold ranges from 65 to 67, depending on your birth date. However, you can elect to start receiving lower payments as early as age 62, or you can maximize your benefits by forgoing them until you’re 70. Once you reach age 70, there’s no incentive to postpone your benefits further since you’ll already have reached your maximum.

* Earnings limit

If you’re working, you probably should forgo the early payment option. Benefits received before full retirement age will be reduced by $1 for every $2 earned over an annual limit (currently $15,120). However, you will receive a compensating increase when you do reach full retirement age, and your payments will not be reduced thereafter no matter how much you earn.

* Taxable benefits

Whether or not you draw benefits, you’ll continue to pay social security and Medicare taxes on any income you earn from wages or self-employment. Up to 85% of your benefits may become subject to income tax, depending on the amount of your other income.

* Medicare

Medicare eligibility begins the year you reach age 65. The program encompasses four types of coverage: Medicare A (hospital insurance), Medicare B (general medical insurance), Medicare C (Medicare Advantage), and Medicare D (prescription drug coverage).

It’s wise to sign up for Medicare A as soon as you’re eligible. There’s generally no cost, and the program provides supplemental coverage even if you’re already insured at work. Medicare B and D are neither free nor mandatory, but the monthly premiums are reasonable, and either may be used as a stand-alone program or in conjunction with a private plan. If you have “creditable coverage” at work (i.e., coverage that’s at least as good as Medicare), you can postpone signing up for Medicare B and/or D until you’re no longer employed.

Your employer’s plan also may offer Medicare C, which provides for private programs administered under contract with the government. These plans typically merge Medicare A and B benefits with other coverage.

Working beyond retirement age can require several complex decisions. Call us for help with planning the outcome that’s best for you.

Want to lower your 2013 tax bill? The time for action is running out. Read more.

Want to lower your 2013 tax bill? The time for action is running out, so consider these tax-savers now.

* You can choose to deduct sales taxes instead of local and state income taxes. If you’re planning big ticket purchases (like a car or a boat), buy before year-end to beef up your deductible amount of sales tax.

* If you’re a teacher, don’t overlook the deduction for up to $250 for classroom supplies you purchase in 2013.

* Consider prepaying college tuition you’ll owe for the first semester of 2014. This year you can deduct up to $4,000 for higher education expenses. Income limits apply.

* Max out your retirement plan contributions. You can set aside $5,500 in an IRA ($6,500 if you’re 50 or older), $12,000 in a SIMPLE ($14,500 if you’re 50 or older), or $17,500 in a 401(k) plan ($23,000 if you’re 50 or older).

* Establish a pension plan for your small business. You may qualify for a tax credit of up to $500 in each of the plan’s first three years.

* Need equipment for your business? Buy and place it in service by year-end to qualify for up to $500,000 of first-year expensing or 50% bonus depreciation.

* Review your investments and make your year-end sell decisions, whether to rebalance your portfolio at the lowest tax cost or to offset gains and losses.

* If you’re charity-minded, consider giving appreciated stock that you’ve owned for over a year. You can generally deduct the fair market value and pay no capital gains tax on the appreciation.

* Another charitable possibility for those over 70½: Make a direct donation of up to $100,000 from your IRA to a charity. The donation counts as part of your required minimum distribution but isn’t included in your taxable income.

* Install energy-saving improvements (such as insulation, doors, and windows) in your home, and you might qualify for a tax credit of up to $500.

These possibilities for cutting your taxes are just the starting point. Contact us now for a review of your 2013 tax situation and tax-saving suggestions that will work best in your individual circumstances.

Can you have too much of a good thing?

Employees often have too much of their employer’s company stock in their 401(k) or other retirement plan. Employees feel they know their company best, overlooking the risks of having too much of an investment in any one company, including their own.

What are some of the risks of loading up on your employer’s stock?

* Tremendous bet in a “safe haven.” Overweighting investment holdings in any company minimizes diversification, exposing your portfolio to increased risk. The belief that employer shares are less risky is an illusion.

* Double whammy potential. No company is protected from economic downturns. If your employer’s performance weakens, you may lose your job, as well as growth in your retirement portfolio from the company’s market value.

* Lock-up periods. Some companies prohibit employees from converting the employer retirement match contributions in company stock into other investments until after a number of years. In this case, use your own contributions to diversify your holdings.

* Tendency to forget. As you move closer to retirement, you may forget the riskiness of your employer’s stock to your portfolio. At the same time, contributions of company stock may be growing, based on higher benefit matches – just when portfolio reallocation is becoming more important.

Your goal should be to create a well-balanced portfolio that suits your age (investment horizon) and your risk tolerance. Call us for assistance in reviewing your retirement situation.

Know the tax consequences of borrowing from your 401(k) plan

hen you borrow from your 401(k), you become both a borrower and a lender. Whether that’s a good idea depends on your personal financial situation – and in the process of making the decision about lending money to yourself, you may have questions regarding the tax consequences.

For instance, though you probably know the initial borrowing has no federal income tax effect, you might be wondering whether the interest you pay will be deductible. In general, the answer is no. That’s true even when you use 401(k) loan proceeds for your home.

Ordinary loan repayments are not taxable events either. That is, you don’t have to pick up the interest you repay into your account as taxable income. And, though you’re increasing your 401(k) account with the principal portion of each payment, that amount is not considered a contribution. You can still make pre-tax contributions up to the annual limit ($17,500 for a traditional 401(k) during 2013, plus an additional $5,500 when you’re age 50 or older).

What if you default on the 401(k) loan? The balance of your loan is considered a distribution to you, and you’ll have to report it as ordinary income on your federal tax return. In addition, when you’re under age 59½, a 10% early-withdrawal penalty typically applies.

Being both a 401(k) borrower and a lender can lead to tax surprises. Give us a call to make sure you have the whole story before you arrange a 401(k) loan.

Have you changed your mind about a Roth conversion?

It turns out you can go back after all – at least when it comes to last year’s decision to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth. The question is, do you want to?

You might, if your circumstances have changed. For example, say the value of the assets in your new Roth account is currently less than when you made the conversion. Changing your mind could save tax dollars.

Recharacterizing your Roth conversion lets you go back in time, as if the conversion never happened. You’ll have to act soon, though, because the window for undoing a 2012 Roth conversion closes October 15, 2013.

Before that date, you have the opportunity to undo all or part of last year’s conversion. After October 15, you can change your mind once more and put the money back in a Roth. That might be a good choice when you’re recharacterizing because of a reduction in the value of the account. Just remember you’ll have to wait at least 30 days to convert again.

Give us a call for information on Roth recharacterization rules. We’ll help you figure out if going back is a good idea.

RMDs require careful planning

fter all the advice you’ve received about saving for retirement, taking money out of your traditional IRAs and other qualified retirement plans may feel strange. Yet once you reach age 70½, the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules say you have to do just that.

Under these rules, you must withdraw at least a minimum amount from your retirement plans each year. Since the withdrawals are considered ordinary income, planning in advance can help you prepare for the impact on your tax return.

Here are two suggestions.

* Make a list of your accounts. The rules require an RMD calculation for each plan. With traditional IRAs, including SEP and SIMPLE plans, you can take the total distribution from one or more accounts, in any amount you choose. You can also take more than the minimum.

However, withdrawals from different types of retirement plans can’t be combined. Say for instance, you have one 401(k) and one IRA. You have to figure the RMD for each and take separate distributions.

Why is that important? Failing to take distributions, or taking less than is required, could result in a penalty of 50% of the shortfall.

* Plan your required beginning date. In general, you’re required to withdraw RMDs by December 31, starting in the year you turn 70½. The rules provide one exception: You have the option of postponing your first withdrawal until April 1 of the following year.

Delaying income can be a sound tax move. But because you’ll still have to take your second distribution by December 31, you’ll receive two distributions in the same year, which can increase your taxes.

To discuss these and other RMD rules, give us a call. We can help you create a sound distribution plan.

What investment expenses are deductible?

Whether you’re a stock market bull or bear, you have investment expenses – and you may be wondering if they’re deductible on your federal income tax return.

Here’s a quick review.

* What are investment expenses? Investment expenses are amounts you pay to produce or collect taxable income, or to manage, conserve, or maintain your investments.

Professional investment advice or financial newspaper subscriptions are examples of deductible items, as is safe deposit box rent when you use the box to store investment papers. You can also claim fees you incur for replacing stock certificates.

* How much is deductible? Investment expenses are miscellaneous itemized deductions, meaning your total costs generally have to be greater than 2% of your adjusted gross income before you benefit. Other limits may also apply.

* What isn’t deductible? Some investment costs, such as broker’s commissions for buying and selling stocks, are considered part of your basis and affect your gain or loss when you sell the investment instead of being currently deductible.

Travel and fees you pay to attend seminars, conventions, or other meetings – including stockholder meetings – are not deductible, nor are expenses related to tax-exempt income.

Other rules govern certain costs related to your investments, such as interest paid on money you borrow to buy stocks.

Please give us a call to discuss investment-related expenses. We’ll be happy to help you get the greatest benefit.

A job change can change your taxes

Planning to change employers this year? As you look forward to starting your new job, you’re probably not thinking about taxes. But actions you take now can have an impact next April – and beyond.

Here are three tax-smart tips:   * Roll your retirement plan. You may be tempted to cash out the balance in your employer-sponsored plan, such as a 401(k). But remember that distributions from these plans are generally taxable.

Instead, ask your plan administrator to make a direct rollover to your IRA or another qualified plan. If you’re under age 59½, this decision also avoids the additional 10% penalty on early distributions. Bonus: Your retirement money will continue to grow tax-deferred.

* Adjust your withholding. Assess your overall tax situation before you complete Form W-4 for your new employer. Did you receive severance pay, unemployment compensation, or other taxable income? You might need to increase your withholding to avoid an unexpected tax bill when you file your return.

* Keep track of your job-related expenses. Unreimbursed employment agency fees, résumé preparation costs, and certain travel expenses can be claimed as itemized deductions.

Are you moving at least 50 miles to your new job? You may be able to reduce your income even if you don’t itemize. Eligible moving expenses are an above-the-line deduction.

More tax issues to consider when you change jobs include stock options, employment-related educational expenses, and the sale of your home. Give us a call. We’ll be happy to help you implement tax-saving strategies.

Tax records: What should you keep, and what can you toss?

Once you’ve filed your 2012 tax return, you may wonder what records you can toss and what you should keep. Here are some suggestions.

Keep records that directly support income or expense items on your tax return. For income, this includes W-2s, 1099s, and Form K-1s. Also keep records of any other income you might have received from other sources. It’s also a good idea to save your bank statements and investment statements from brokers.

For expense items, keep your cancelled checks as well as support for any itemized deductions you claimed. This includes acknowledgments from charitable organizations and backup for taxes paid, mortgage interest, medical deductions, work expenses, and miscellaneous deductions. Even if you don’t itemize, keep records of expenses for child care, medical insurance if you’re self-employed, and any other expenses that appear on your return.

The IRS can audit you routinely for three years after you file your return. But in cases where income is underreported, they can audit for up to six years. To be safe, keep your records for seven years.

Keep certain other records longer. These include records relating to your house purchase and any improvements you make. Also keep records of investment purchases, dividends reinvested, retirement plan contributions, and any major gifts you make or receive. And finally, keep copies of all your tax returns and W-2s in case you ever need to prove your earnings for social security purposes.

Please call our office if you have specific questions about recordkeeping.

Have a financial talk with elderly parents

One day you may find yourself taking care of an elderly parent who is in declining physical or mental health. This can be stressful, both emotionally and financially. On the financial side, there are steps you can take to prepare for this situation.

* Talk to your parents about their financial affairs. Parents may be reluctant to discuss their finances, but someone needs to know the names of their lawyer and accountant. Someone needs to know where their important financial papers are located. If they are still fit, encourage your parents to make a detailed financial list for you, including information about bank accounts, investments, insurance policies, retirement plans, location of safe deposit boxes, etc. Getting familiar with important information now will be much easier than trying to find this information after a parent becomes physically or mentally impaired.

* Review your parents’ financial picture together. Do your parents have enough retirement income and savings to provide for their needs? Should steps be taken to help stretch their assets over their life expectancies? What if they eventually need nursing home care? Assess whether long-term care insurance makes sense for them.

* Consider these important documents. A durable power of attorney allows another person to make financial decisions on a parent’s behalf if he or she becomes incapacitated. A medical directive or living will is a document stating a parent’s wishes about medical treatment in case he or she becomes too ill to communicate these wishes.

* Help put your parents’ estates in order. Does each parent have a will, and if so, where are the wills stored? When were their wills last updated? The 2001 Tax Act made major changes to the estate and gift tax rules. Have their estate plans taken these changes into account? Encourage your parents to review their beneficiary designations on insurance policies, annuities, and retirement plans to make sure their choices are still suitable.

Talking finances with your parents now can make caring for your parents in the future much easier. For assistance, give us a call.