More Give in the Gift Tax

girl-balloons_LI-532x266 More Give in the Gift Tax
Photo: Senjuti Kundu

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the federal estate tax exemption to $11.18 million for 2018. That’s per person, so the combined exemption for a married couple can be as much as $22,360,000 worth of assets this year.

The same ceilings apply to the federal gift tax, which offsets the estate tax.

Example 1: Mona McAfee plans to give $20,000 to her son Luke this year. Does that mean that Mona’s estate tax exemption would be reduced to $11,160,000?

Probably not. In addition to the lifetime exemption numbers now in effect, there is also an annual gift tax exclusion. Due to an ongoing process of inflation adjustment, that exemption increased to $15,000 in 2018. Therefore, in 2018, each person can give up to $15,000 to any number of recipients without incurring gift tax consequences. That’s up from an annual $14,000 exclusion, which was in effect the previous five years.

Here, Mona’s $20,000 would be partially covered by the $15,000 exclusion, so only $5,000 will have gift tax consequences. Mona would have to report a $5,000 taxable gift on IRS Form 709. That $5,000 taxable gift will reduce her current federal estate and gift tax exemption amount to $11,175,000, assuming no other taxable gifts have been made.

As the recipient of the gift, Luke will pay no taxes.

Real-World Relevance

Most people won’t have estates close to $11 million, so this exercise might seem academic. Still, the $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion can have practical effects in many situations. It’s also worth noting that paying someone else’s medical or education bills directly won’t be included in the $15,000 allowance.

Example 2: Rhonda Cole wants to provide financial support for her son Mark’s two children, Ken and Julie. To do so, Rhonda pays tuition bills for Ken and Julie directly to their colleges. The total is $50,000. In addition, Rhonda gives them each $15,000 in 2018 and no other gifts.

Rhonda also decides to give Mark $15,000 this year and pays $5,000 worth of bills from Mark’s medical procedures directly to the health care providers. In total, Rhonda has given $100,000 to her loved ones, reducing her taxable estate by that amount. However, she hasn’t gone over the $15,000 exclusion for any recipient in 2018, so Rhonda hasn’t made any taxable gifts and will not have to file a gift tax return.

Note that the $15,000 limit presents a handy ceiling for making family gifts each year without the bother and expense of filing a gift tax return. This strategy won’t work as well if Rhonda gives Mark $50,000 so Mark can pay his children’s college bills. Then, Rhonda will have made a taxable gift of this amount and will be required to file Form 709.

Paired Planning

Other possibilities exist if a married couple holds assets jointly, perhaps in a bank or brokerage account. A gift from such an account, or a gift of other property, by one spouse can be considered to be divided equally between the two spouses, so the annual gift tax allowance effectively increases to $30,000. There are two ways to do this. The easy way would be for each spouse to write a separate check for $15,000. If this is not practical, the spouses can get the benefit of a $30,000 annual exclusion by electing “gift splitting” on Form 709.

Gift tax Notes

  • The gift tax lifetime exemption ceiling of $11.18 million for 2018 will increase with inflation, but much lower limits are scheduled after 2025. There is some uncertainty about how this reduction, if it takes effect as scheduled, will affect large taxable gifts.
  • Any future reduction in the lifetime gift tax exemption is unlikely to affect gifts that conform to annual gift tax exclusion rules.

If you have any questions about how gift tax works, please contact our office. One of our tax professionals would be glad to help. You can also complete the following form and we can contact you.

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4209032244 More Give in the Gift Tax



This post originally appeared in the CPA Client Bulletin Resource Guide, © 2018 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Reprinted by permission.

A Bucket Plan Helps Reduce Market Impact on Retirement Funds

travel-the-world_LI A Bucket Plan Helps Reduce Market Impact on Retirement Funds
Photo: Priscilla Du Preez

We have seen an increase in market volatility in early 2018. A steep pullback in stocks could be good news for working people who are building retirement funds, but those approaching or recently beginning retirement might be hurt.

Historically, stock market setbacks have proven to be buying opportunities for patient investors.

Example 1: Harry Walker was 50 years old in 2008, with most of his retirement savings invested in stock funds within his 401(k) account. Then, Harry’s holdings dropped heavily.

Harry stayed the course and continued to buy stock funds as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) rebounded from a 2008 low around 7,500 to 10,000 in 2009, 11,000 in 2010, and so on. Therefore, Harry has built substantial wealth, with the DJIA around 24,000 as of this writing.

Vulnerable to Volatility

Ten years later, Harry’s situation is different.

Example 2: Harry is age 60 now, with $1 million in his 401(k). He plans to retire at 62, but a stock market collapse could trigger a 40% drop, reducing his $1 million 401(k) to $600,000. Harry might have to postpone his retirement or reduce the amount he withdraws from a smaller portfolio. If Harry stops working, he may not be able to keep investing and profit again from any market rebound.

Harry could avoid this potential problem by moving his 401(k) account from stock funds into cash. However, yields on bank accounts and the like are extremely low. If Harry moves out of stocks at age 60, he’ll avoid market risk but also reduce his opportunity for substantial investment growth going forward.

Going for the Flow 

Instead of moving 100% to cash, Harry could implement a so-called “bucket plan.” These plans vary, but the key to success is to have a substantial cash bucket. Continuing our example, Harry Walker would figure out how much money he’ll need for living expenses each month from his portfolio after he stops working. Typically, a cash bucket will hold at least a year’s worth of cash flow.

Example 3: Harry calculates that he’ll need $4,000 a month from his 401(k) or from an IRA after a rollover to maintain a desired lifestyle. If Harry needs to take $4,000 a month from his retirement plan, he would hold at least $48,000 in his cash bucket at the start of retirement with this strategy. From the cash bucket, Harry would arrange to have $4,000 paid into his checking account each month, just as his paychecks from work were handled.

Regular Refills

Setting up the cash bucket is just the beginning of a bucket plan. That bucket must be replenished so cash can keep flowing.

One way to do this is to divide portfolio assets into two broad categories: fixed income (mainly bonds) and equities (mainly stocks). At regular intervals, money can flow from the fixed income bucket into the cash bucket and from the equities bucket into the fixed income bucket. This allows stocks to be held for the long term, which, historically, has been a winning investment strategy.

Other bucket plan strategies can be used. If this method appeals to you as a way to address possible market volatility, our team can go over your plan to illustrate how various portfolio assets can be delivered to you as after-tax cash flow.

Additional Retirement Resources

This post originally appeared in the CPA Client Bulletin Resource Guide, © 2018 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Reprinted by permission.

Be Cautious About Converting from a Roth to a Traditional IRA

laptop-hands-2_LI Be Cautious About Converting from a Roth to a Traditional IRA

The article “Is your employer’s retirement plan getting less attractive?” explains why the new TCJA devalues putting money into traditional tax-deferred plans and favors Roth versions. Does the same reasoning apply to conversions from Roth to traditional accounts? From a tax viewpoint, the answer may be yes, but other factors indicate you should be cautious about such moves.

Example 1: Fred and Glenda Polk would have had $220,000 in taxable income in 2017 without contributing to their employers’ traditional 401(k) plans. However, they contributed a total of $40,000 to the plan, bringing their income down to $180,000. The couple was in the 28% bracket last year, so the income deferral saved a total of $11,200 in tax: 28% times $40,000.

Assume they kept their $11,200 of tax savings in the bank. If their employers have a 401(k) plan that offers designated Roth accounts, they could convert the $40,000 they contributed in 2017 to the Roth side if the plans allow such moves. Alternatively, depending on the plan terms and the Polks’ circumstances, they might be able to rollover the $40,000 to a Roth IRA. Yet another possibility, the Polks might leave the $40,000 in their 401(k)s but convert $40,000 of pretax money in their traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs.

With any of these strategies, the couple would generate a $9,600 tax bill (24% of $40,000) on the Roth conversion, because their joint income falls into the 24% tax bracket in 2018, in this example. The Polks could pay that $9,600 from their $11,200 of tax savings in 2017 and wind up ahead by $1,600.

Therefore, people who move into a lower tax bracket this year might be able to come out ahead with Roth conversions of income that had been deferred at a higher tax rate. Going forward, the money transferred to the Roth side may generate tax free rather than taxable distributions.

One-Way Street

Nevertheless, there are reasons to be cautious about Roth conversions now. For instance, U.S. stocks are trading at lofty levels. Roth conversions could be highly taxed at today’s equity values.

Example 2: Heidi Morris has $300,000 in her traditional IRA, all of which is pre-tax. Investing heavily in stocks, Heidi has seen her contributions grow sharply over the years. With an estimated $100,000 in taxable income this year, Heidi calculates she can convert $50,000 of her traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2018 and still remain in the 24% tax bracket.

However, stocks could fall heavily, as they have in previous bear markets. The $50,000 that Heidi moves to a Roth IRA could drop to $40,000, $30,000, or even $25,000. Heidi would not want to owe tax on a $50,000 Roth conversion if she holds only $25,000 worth of assets in the account.

Under previous law, Heidi had a hedge against such pullbacks, at least for Roth IRA conversions. These conversions could be recharacterized (reversed) to her traditional IRA, in part or in full, until October 15 of the following calendar year. In our example, Heidi could have recharacterized after a market setback, avoided a tax bill, and subsequently re-converted at the lower value. (Timing restrictions applied.)

Such tactics are no longer possible because the TCJA has abolished recharacterizations of Roth IRA conversions. (Conversions to employer-sponsored Roth accounts could never be recharacterized.) Now moving pre-tax money to the Roth side is permanent, so the resulting tax bill is locked in.

In the new environment, it may make sense to take it slowly on Roth conversions in 2018. If stocks rise, boosting the value of your traditional retirement accounts that hold equities, you won’t be sorry about the increase in your net worth; you can convert late in the year at today’s lower tax rate. On the other hand, if periodic corrections occur, they could be an opportunity for executing a Roth conversion at a lower value and a lower tax cost.

If you have questions about your retirement plan, financial planning, or wealth management, our professionals are here to help create a plan that works for you. Give us a call to learn more.

 

This post originally appeared in the CPA Client Bulletin Resource Guide, © 2018 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Reprinted by permission.

Is your employer’s retirement plan getting less attractive?

woman-confused_LI Is your employer's retirement plan getting less attractive?

The TCJA generally lowered federal income tax rates, with some exceptions. Among the ways in which lower rates impact tax planning, they make unmatched contributions to traditional employer retirement plans less attractive.

Example 1: Chet Taylor has around $100,000 in taxable income a year. Chet contributed $12,000 to his company’s traditional 401(k) in 2017, reducing his taxable income. He was in the 28% tax bracket last year, so his federal tax savings were $3,360 (28% of $12,000). An identical contribution this year will save Chet only $2,880, because the same income would put him in a lower 24% bracket.

Not everyone will be in this situation.

Example 2: Denise Sawyer has around $200,000 taxable income a year. Denise contributed $12,000 to her company’s traditional 401(k) in 2017, reducing her taxable income. She was in the 33% tax bracket last year, so her federal tax savings were $3,960 (33% of $12,000). An identical contribution this year will save her $4,200 because the same income would put her in a higher 35% bracket.

Planning Pointers

Considering the changes in tax rates, participants in employer sponsored retirement plans should review their contribution plans. If your company offers a match, be sure to contribute at least enough to get the full amount. Otherwise, you’re giving up a portion of your compensation package.

Beyond that level, decide whether you wish to make unmatched tax-deferred contributions to your traditional 401(k) or similar plans. The value here is tax deferral and the ability to compound potential investment earnings without paying current income tax. Deferring tax at, say, 12%, 22%, or 24% in 2018 will be less desirable than similar deferrals were last year, when tax rates were 15%, 25%, or 28%.

On the Roth Side

If you decide to cut back on tax-deferred salary contributions, spending the increased current income won’t help you plan for your future retirement. Other savings tactics may be appealing.

For instance, your employer might offer a designated Roth account in its 401(k) plan. These accounts offer no upfront tax benefit because they’re funded with after-tax dollars. The advantage is all withdrawals, including distributions of investment income, will avoid income tax after age 59½, if you have had the Roth account for at least five years. (Other conditions can also qualify distributions from a Roth account for full tax avoidance.)

Generally, the lower your current tax bracket and the higher your expected tax bracket in retirement, the more attractive Roth contributions can be.

Example 3: Ed Roberts, age 30, expects his taxable income (after deductions) to be around $50,000 this year, putting him in the 22% tax bracket. Ed hopes to have a successful career, so he might face a higher tax rate on distributions in the future. Therefore, Ed contributes $6,000 ($500 a month) to his company’s traditional 401(k) to get some current tax relief, and $6,000 to the Roth 401(k) for tax free distributions after age 59½.

Some advisers suggest going into retirement with funds in a regular taxable account, funds in a tax-deferred traditional retirement account, and funds in a potentially tax-free Roth account. Then, you may have considerable flexibility in choosing tax-efficient ways to draw down retirement cash flow.

Other Options

What if Ed’s employer’s 401(k) plan does not offer designated Roth accounts? A possible solution for Ed would be to contribute to a Roth IRA instead. In 2018, he can contribute up to $5,500 ($6,500 for those 50 and older). Roth IRAs also offer completely tax-free distributions after five years and age 59½.

Example 4: Assume that Ed’s employer will match up to $4,500 of his 401(k) this year and that Ed plans to save $12,000 for his retirement. Ed could contribute $5,500 to a Roth IRA and $6,500 to his traditional 401(k).

With higher incomes ($120,000 or more of modified adjusted gross income for single filers in 2018, $189,000 for couples filing jointly), Roth IRA contributions are limited or prohibited. People facing this barrier may able to fund a nondeductible traditional IRA, up to $5,500 or $6,500 this year, then convert those dollars to a Roth IRA with little or no tax at this year’s tax rates. (IRA contributions for 2017, with slightly different income limits, are possible until April 17, 2018.)

Ultimately, the choice between traditional and Roth retirement accounts will largely depend on expectations of future tax rates. Deferring tax in a traditional plan this year and saving 24% in tax may not turn out to be a good deal if future withdrawals are taxed at 28%, 30%, or 35%. The fact that the TCJA rates are among the Act’s provisions that are due to sunset in 2026, reverting to 2017 rates, may tilt the scales a bit towards the Roth side, where distributions eventually may escape tax altogether.

Retirement Rules

  • Participants in 401(k) and similar employer sponsored retirement plans can contribute up to $18,500 this year, or $24,500 if they’ve reached age 50.
  • If your company’s 401(k) plan offers a designated Roth account, contributions to the plan can be divided in any manner you choose between a pre-tax account and a designated Roth account, but the total can’t exceed the $18,500 or $24,500 ceilings.
  • Any employer match usually goes into the traditional 401(k), even if the contribution is to the Roth version, so income tax on the matching money is deferred.

If you’re in the financial planning or wealth management phase, our professionals are here to help you plan your strategy and to aid you in your success. Give us a call or complete the following for form for a follow up.

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This post originally appeared in the CPA Client Bulletin Resource Guide, © 2018 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Reprinted by permission.

Five-Year Test for Roth IRAs

retirement-planning_LI Five-Year Test for Roth IRAs

The pros and cons of Roth IRAs, which were introduced 20 years ago, are well understood. All money flowing into Roth IRAs is after-tax, so there is no upfront tax benefit.

As a tradeoff, all qualified Roth IRA distributions can be tax-free, including the parts of the distributions that are payouts of investment earnings.

To be a qualified distribution, the distribution must meet two basic requirements. First, the distribution must be made on or after the date the account owner reaches age 59½, be made because the account owner is disabled, be made to a beneficiary or to the account owner’s estate after his or her death, or be used to buy or rebuild a first home.

Second, the distribution must be made after the five-year period beginning with the first tax year for which a contribution was made to a Roth IRA set up for the owner’s benefit.

Note that the calculation of a Roth IRA’s five-year period is very generous. It always begins on January 1 of the calendar year.

Example 1: Heidi Walker, age 58, opens her first Roth IRA and makes a contribution to it on March 29, 2018. Heidi designates this as a contribution for 2017, which can be made until April 17, 2018.

Under the five-year rule, Heidi’s five-year period starts on January 1, 2017. As of January 1, 2022, Heidi’s Roth IRA distributions are tax-free, qualified distributions because they will have been made after she turned 59½ and after the five-year period has ended. The five-year period is determined based on the first contribution to the Roth IRA; the starting date of the five-year period is not reset for the subsequent contributions.

Note that if Heidi opens her first Roth IRA late in 2018, even in December, the first contribution will be a 2018 Roth IRA contribution and Heidi will reach the five-year mark on January 1, 2023.

Conversion Factors 

Other than making regular contributions, Roth IRAs may be funded by converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and paying tax on any pre-tax dollars moved to the Roth side. For such conversions, a separate five-year rule applies. There generally is a five-year waiting period before a Roth IRA owner who is under age 59½ can withdraw the dollars contributed to the Roth IRA in the conversion that were includible in income in the conversion, without owing a 10-percent, early-withdrawal penalty.

Similar to the five-year rule for qualified distributions, the five-year period for conversions begins on the first day of the year of the conversion. However, unlike the five-year rule for qualified distributions, the five-year rule for conversions applies separately to each Roth IRA conversion.

Example 2: In 2018, Jim Bradley, age 41, leaves his job and rolls $60,000 from his 401(k) account to a traditional IRA, maintaining the tax deferral. If Jim decides to withdraw $20,000 next year, at age 42, he would owe income tax on that $20,000 plus a 10-percent ($2,000) penalty for an early withdrawal.

Instead, in 2019, Jim converts $20,000 from his traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and includes the entire amount converted in income. However, if Jim withdraws that $20,000 in 2019, he also will owe the 10-percent penalty because he does not meet the five-year rule for conversions; the rationale is that the IRS doesn’t want people to avoid the early withdrawal penalty on traditional IRA distributions by making a Roth conversion.

The good news is that, in this example, Jim will have started the five-year clock with his 2019 Roth IRA conversion. Therefore, he can avoid the 10-percent, early-withdrawal penalty on the conversion contribution after January 1, 2024, even though he will only be age 47 then. Jim will owe income tax on any withdrawn earnings, though, until he reaches age 59½ or he meets one of the other qualified distribution criteria.

Note that various exceptions may allow Jim to avoid the 10-percent penalty before the end of the five-year period. Altogether, the taxation of any Roth IRA distributions made before five years have passed and before age 59½ can be complex. If you have a Roth IRA, our office can explain the likely tax consequences of any distribution you are considering. Generally, it is better to wait until the age 59½ and five-year tests are passed before making Roth IRA withdrawals, to avoid taxes. 

Roth IRA Distributions

  • Roth IRA distributions after age 59½ (and five years after you set up and make a contribution to your first Roth IRA) qualify for complete tax-free treatment.
  • Distributions that do not qualify for this tax-free treatment may be subject to income tax, a10-percent, early-withdrawal penalty, or both.
  • Ordering rules apply to non-qualified distributions.
  • First come regular contributions, rollover contributions from other Roth IRAs, and rollover contributions from a designated Roth account.
  • Next come conversion contributions, on a first-in, first-out basis. The taxable portion comes before the nontaxable portion.
  • Earnings on contributions are the last dollars to come out.

If you have questions about Roth IRAs and distributions, call our office to make an appointment, or complete the following form and we’ll follow up with you.

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292206546 Five-Year Test for Roth IRAs



This post originally appeared in the CPA Client Bulletin Resource Guide, © 2018 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Reprinted by permission.