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Zach Abraham

Annual Medicare Open Enrollment Begins October 15 and Runs Through December 7

By | Health Care, Medicare | No Comments

If you’re already enrolled in Medicare it may be time to evaluate your current coverage, make changes or switch plans during the open enrollment period from October 15 through December 7. If you have a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, and are considering making changes from Original Medicare (Parts A and B) to a Medicare Advantage Plan, or vice versa, now is your chance to make changes or enroll.

Medicare health and drug plans are allowed to make changes to their offerings each year, including changes to costs, coverage, and what pharmacies and providers are in their network. If they no longer meet your requirements, during the Open Enrollment Period you can change Medicare health plans and prescription drug coverage for the following year. Changes made during Open Enrollment (also known as the Annual Enrollment Period) are effective for coverage as of January 1, 2020.

During Open Enrollment you can:

  • Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan, and vice versa
  • Switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another
  • Switch from one Part D plan to another
  • Change from a Medicare Advantage plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage to one that does, and vice versa

You can also join a Prescription Drug (Part D) Plan for the first time if you missed your personal deadline for signing up. Or, you can drop your Part D coverage altogether.*

Do I Need to Change Plans?

If you’re enrolled in a Medicare health or prescription drug plan, review the materials that your plan sent you like the “Annual Notice of Change” (ANOC). If your plan is changing, be sure that it still meets your needs for the following year. If it doesn’t, now is the time to review your plan so that you’re satisfied with the level of care and coverage your receiving. Also, consider if your health has changed, if you may need additional care in the coming year, or if your premiums and out-of-pocked expenses are too high.

Since health care and drug expenses make up a good portion of a retiree’s budget and the budget of those close to retiring, we are available to answer your questions and help you with your options. Drug costs may differ substantially depending on the drug plan, so we suggest you review your current plan against others to see which offers the lowest out-of-pocket expenses for the particular brand-name and generic drugs, if any, that you use.

Among this year’s changes for 2020 is the closing of the coverage gap, or donut hole, for generic drugs. The gap was closed in 2019 for prescription drugs.

Here’s how the coverage gap works, according to Medicare. After you and your drug plan have spent a certain amount of money for covered drugs, you may have to pay more for your prescription drugs up to a certain limit. In 2019, once you and your plan have spent $3,820 on covered drugs, you’re in the coverage gap (this amount may change each year, and Medicare has yet to announce any changes).

Once you reach that coverage gap, you’ll have to pay 25% of your out-of-pocket costs for brand-name and generic drugs. You continue to pay those costs until you reach the threshold for catastrophic coverage, which for 2019 is $5,100 (again, this could change for 2020). Once you hit that limit you have to pay no more than 5% of your drug costs for the rest of the year.

Other changes to the Medicare program coming in 2020 are to Medigap plans (Medicare supplemental insurance). In general, Medigap policies are sold by private insurance companies and cover some of the health care costs that Medicare doesn’t, including co-payments, coinsurance and deductibles. They are standardized plans that must provide the same basic benefits, but some offer additional benefits and premiums vary.

For 2020, Medigap plans sold to new people with Medicare won’t be allowed to cover the Part B deductible. Because of this, Plans C and F will no longer be available to people new to Medicare starting on January 1, 2020. If you already have either of these two plans (or the high deductible version of Plan F) or are covered by one of these plans before January 1, 2020, you’ll be able to keep your plan. If you were eligible for Medicare before January 1, 2020, but not yet enrolled, you may be able to buy one of these plans.

ARE YOU ABOUT TO TURN 65?

The Open Enrollment Period doesn’t apply if you’re new to Medicare.

If you are 65 or older or turning 65 in the next three months and not already getting benefits from Social Security you should sign up for Medicare Parts A and B, unless you are working for a company with 20+ employees.

*If you don’t elect to get Part D coverage when you are first eligible, you may have to pay more to get this coverage in the future.

 

Medicare is an important part of retirement. Let’s discuss your retirement plan. Contact Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395

 

 

 

Sources:
“What actions can I take during Medicare open enrollment each year?” AARP. https://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-qa-tool/actions-to-take-during-open-enrollment/
“Closing the Coverage Gap—Medicare Prescription Drugs are Becoming More Affordable,” Medicare.gov, The Official U.S. Government Site for Medicare. https://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/11493.pdf.
“How to compare Medigap policies,” Medicare.gov, The Official U.S. Government Site for Medicare. https://www.medicare.gov/supplements-other-insurance/how-to-compare-medigap-policies

 

Congress Looks to Provide More Options for Retirement Savers

By | Retirement, Tax Planning

While changes to traditional IRAs, RMDs offer some benefits, there are tradeoffs.

 

Broad proposals are in the works in the retirement savings arena to ease rules on tax-deferred savings vehicles, make it easier for employers to offer 401(k)-type savings plans and also convert balances into annuities for lifetime income.

In late May, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (SECURE). Key provisions within the SECURE Act offer more flexibility for when distributions would have to be taken out of tax-deferred accounts. On the flip side, the Act takes direct aim at estate planning strategies that enable heirs of traditional IRAs to stretch out those payments throughout their lifetimes.

In addition to the SECURE Act, there are other legislative proposals winding their way in the Senate, known as the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act of 2019 (RESA), and the Retirement Security and Savings Act of 2019 (RSSA).

The SECURE Act would repeal the age cap for contributing to a traditional individual retirement account (IRA). Currently, if you have a traditional IRA you aren’t able to contribute to it after age 70½. That is different from Roth IRAs, which don’t have age caps, though the amount you can contribute begins to be phased out above $122,000 for single filers and $193,000 for married, joint filers.

The act would increase the starting age for required minimum distributions (RMDs) to 72, up from 70½. This provides an additional 18 months of tax-deferred growth for tax-qualified plans. It also could mean a higher RMD if you were to leave that money in the account until age 72 – because of the potential for the account’s growth and shorter life expectancy (that is, if the life expectancy tables used to calculate RMDs aren’t updated).

The “Stretch” IRA would be eliminated for non-spouse heirs. This essentially means that heirs who aren’t spouses would no longer be able to stretch out required minimum distributions from inherited tax-qualified accounts like IRAs and defined contribution plans over their lifetimes. Some beneficiaries would be exempt, including the disabled or chronically ill, minors, and individuals less than 10 years younger than the account owner. Those not meeting that criteria would have to withdraw the money over a 10-year timeframe under the SECURE Act. That time frame compresses to within five years under the RESA bill in the Senate if the account value exceeds $400,000.

For the various changes to take effect in the various bills, lawmakers from the House and Senate would have to reconcile any differences before a full House and Senate vote. That means it is still early days, as they say, with regards to the changes. However, we think it is important for you to consider looking into other strategies and options if what is, in essence, the “death” of the Stretch IRA is incorporated into law and the tax code.

Let’s talk about your retirement plan, your tax-deferred qualified accounts, ways to minimize taxation during retirement, and ways you can transfer wealth to your heirs in a tax-advantaged manner. Call Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395

 

Sources:
 “Secure Act Calls for Changes to IRAs, RMDs,” June 14, 2019. Rachel L. Sheedy. Kiplinger’s Retirement Report. Retrieved from: https://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T032-C000-S004-secure-act-calls-for-changes-to-iras-rmds.html
“Washington Threatens to Change Retirement Planning Forever,” June 9, 2019. Dan Caplinger. Motley Fool. Retrieved from: https://www.fool.com/retirement/2019/06/09/washington-threatens-to-change-retirement-planning.aspx

Women and Social Security: Do you really know your benefits?

By | Social Security | No Comments

Social Security guidelines for retirement benefits were established all the way back in the 1930’s and were founded on a traditional family situation1. With marriage patterns and caregiving needs constantly evolving, the modern woman could be at a disadvantage if strategic retirement planning is not properly implemented. While Social Security is gender-neutral and individuals with identical earnings histories are treated equally in terms of benefits, the reality of the matter is that women face greater economic challenges than men do when it comes to retirement for a number of reasons2.

For example, women tend to live longer than men, but have lower lifetime earnings. Because of this, women have a strong likelihood of reaching retirement with significantly smaller pensions and/or assets than their male counterparts3. Because nearly 55 percent of Social Security beneficiaries today are women, it is important to know the details of your benefits that you may not be aware of.

 

Caregiving and Strategizing

Losing one paycheck is a concern due to women outliving men. Women also have a higher probability of being single and dependent on only one income. Furthermore, women have a tendency to care for multiple people at a time: parents, spouses, and children, etc., and leave the workforce to care for these loved ones. Taking a break from the workforce to care for loved ones may result in less wealth accumulation and a smaller Social Security benefit. Being single with just one income while possibly taking care of multiple different people at a given time is one of the reasons why it is so important for women, the likely caregivers, to strategize their retirement income. Marriage typically helps Social Security beneficiaries, and knowing that you can take a former spouse’s Social Security benefit could be a major advantage depending on your specific situation.

 

The Facts You Should Know

If you are married or have ever been married, you have options when it comes to your Social Security benefit…options that no one may have told you about. Did you know that divorced women may be able to receive benefits on an ex-spouse? Even if they have remarried! Married women also have the option of claiming benefits on either their work record or 50% their spouse’s benefit6. Women who have been widowed are also eligible to receive a survivor’s benefit. Here are the cold, hard facts:

 

Married Women

  • Married women are eligible to claim half of their spouse’s Social Security benefit instead of their own. This option may be beneficial for couples with large earnings differences. To be qualified, you have to be at least 62 years of age (dependent on your birth year) in order to start receiving your benefit.

 

Divorced Women

  • If divorced, you may be eligible to claim benefits on a former spouse’s record, even if your ex-spouse is remarried. If your marriage lasted 10 or more years, you are currently unmarried, and you are 62 years or older, you are certainly qualified to receive Social Security benefits. Your ex must also be at least 62 years old, and your benefit has no effect on the benefit amount of your spouse.

 

  • And possibly the most important part of all: your ex-spouse never has to know. The Social Security Administration will not notify your ex if you are receiving his benefit7. And even if your ex-spouse is deceased, you still have the option of receiving his benefit. Which leads to the next point…

Widowed Women

  • If widowed, you are eligible to receive your late spouse’s Social Security payment in the form of a survivor benefit, provided that it is a greater amount than your own benefit. (Why would you take your late spouse’s benefit if it is less than your own?) You must be at least 60 years of age—if widowed, you are not required to wait until age 62. If you are disabled, you can receive this benefit at the age of 50.

 

  • Know that if you remarry before the age in which you are eligible to receive your late spouse’s benefit, you will be unable to receive their benefit. If you remarry after you start receiving your deceased spouse’s benefit, you can still continue to receive benefit (but if your new spouse is a Social Security recipient and his benefit is larger than your late spouse’s, you may consider applying for your current spouse’s benefit instead). You cannot receive both benefits, you will have to choose one or the other.

 

Knowledge is power, and the more you know about your Social Security options, the greater you will benefit from your benefit.

We can help, contact Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395  or invest@bulwarkcapitalmgmt.com. 

 

Sources:
1 https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/18/why-the-stakes-are-higher-for-women-when-claiming-social-security.html
2 https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/women-alt.pdf
3 https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10127.pdf
4 https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/102814/what-maximum-i-can-receive-my-social-security-retirement-benefit.asp
5https://www.nasi.org/learn/socialsecurity/overview
6https://www.fidelity.com/viewpoints/retirement/social-security-and-women
7https://www.wiserwomen.org/index.php%3Fid%3D219%26page%3DSocial_Security_and_Divorce:_What_You_Need_to_Know

 

What’s the difference between an IRA and a Roth IRA?

By | Financial Literacy, Retirement

Common financial wisdom tells us that as a paid member of the American workforce, you should contribute the maximum to your 401(k), 403(b), 457(b) or similar retirement plan, especially if your organization matches a percentage of your contributions.

But not every company has one of these plans. As an individual taxpayer with earned income, you have other options available to you in order to save for retirement, including the IRA or “Individual Retirement Account.”

An IRA is a type of account which acts as a shell or holder. Within the IRA, you can invest in many different types of assets—you have far more choices than your company 401(k)’s short list of fund options. You can choose between CDs, government bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, stocks, annuities—almost any type of investment available. You can open an IRA account at a bank, brokerage, mutual fund company, insurance company, or some may be opened directly online.

The question is, should you open your IRA as a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA? Your decision should be based on your income as well as your current and future tax situation, because both Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs are retirement savings and investment vehicles subject to different IRS rules.

Here’s a basic overview of how a Roth compares to a traditional IRA:

 

+ The biggest difference between Roth versus traditional IRA retirement accounts is that Roth IRA contributions are made with post-tax dollars, while traditional IRA contributions are typically made with pre-tax dollars. This gets accounted for on your tax return in the year you choose to make the contribution. You have until the April 15 tax deadline to open or contribute to either type of IRA.

+ When you begin taking money out of these two types of accounts for retirement, traditional IRA distributions are treated as ordinary income and taxed accordingly, while Roth IRA distributions are usually taken out tax-free, because you already paid income taxes on the money before you invested it.

Essentially, with a Roth IRA, your interest, dividends and capital gains which accumulate inside it are tax-free as long as you follow all Roth IRA withdrawal rules.

+ Roth IRAs have income restrictions that may disqualify higher-income people from participating; traditional IRAs do not.

For instance, in order to contribute to a Roth IRA for 2019, single tax filers must have a modified adjusted gross income (MAGA) of less than $137,000 (contributions are phased out starting at $122,000), while the MAGA limit for married filers is $203,000 (with contribution phase outs starting at $193,000).

+ The annual maximum contribution limits for both traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs are the same. For 2019, you can contribute up to $6,000, plus an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution if you reach age 50 by the end of the tax year.

If married, you can contribute up to that amount for yourself in your own IRA, plus up to that amount in a separate IRA for your non-working or low-earning spouse subject to certain restrictions.

If you are eligible to contribute to both types of IRAs, you may divide your contributions between a Roth and traditional IRA. However, your total contribution to both IRAs must not exceed the total limit for that tax year (including the catch-up contribution if you’re age 50 or over).

+ With Roth IRAs, there is no age limit on contributions. With traditional IRA accounts, you can no longer contribute starting the year you reach age 70-1/2.

+ Roth IRA contributions have never been deductible on your taxes, but contributions to a traditional IRA may be deductible on federal and state tax returns, lowering your taxable income for the year, depending on your tax status and whether or not you or your spouse contributes to a plan through work such as a 401(k).

If you do participate in a plan at work like a 401(k), and if your income is less than $74,000 for an individual or $123,000 for joint filers, your traditional IRA may still be fully tax deductible for 2019.

NOTE: Even if you have a high income, a non-tax-deductible traditional IRA still may be opened for you or your spouse.

+ Both traditional IRA and Roth IRA contributions may make you eligible for a “saver’s tax credit” if your income is low enough. The 2019 AGI (adjusted gross income) limits for the saver’s credit are $32,000 for single filers and $64,000 for married couples filing jointly.

+ Roth IRA accounts are not subject to annual RMDs, or Required Minimum Distributions, which are required for traditional IRA accounts starting at age 70-1/2. The amounts withdrawn are subject to ordinary income tax based on your tax bracket for the year.

+ Roth IRA withdrawals:

When it comes to withdrawing money, you can withdraw your Roth IRA contributions at any time, at any age with no penalty as long as the account has been in place for five years, so your Roth IRA can double as your emergency fund.

However, if you withdraw Roth IRA earnings prior to reaching age 59-1/2, you may have to pay income taxes on them, with some exceptions, such as first-time homebuyer expenses up to $10,000. Qualified education and hardship withdrawals may also be available before the age limit and without the five-year waiting period, but you may have to pay tax on any amount that was attributed to earnings.

Remember, with a Roth IRA, there are no RMDs. If you don’t need the money, you’re not required to withdraw any money from your Roth IRA at all, and it can pass to your heirs with tax advantages, although beneficiaries will be subject to RMDs.

+ Traditional IRA withdrawals:

Traditional IRA withdrawals come with a 10% tax penalty before age 59-1/2, plus ordinary income taxes will be due on the amount withdrawn.

Certain exceptions to the tax penalty on early withdrawals may apply, you may withdraw up to $10,000 to pay for some hardships, health care, disability or higher education expenses, or to make a down payment on your first home. NOTE: Although there may not be a penalty, you will still have to pay income taxes on the withdrawal.

With traditional IRAs, RMDs start at age 70-1/2 whether you need the money or not, and you have to pay ordinary income tax on the amounts withdrawn each tax year. There is no grace period to April 15; you must withdraw the money each year by midnight on December 31 or pay a 50% penalty plus taxes owed.

Additionally, beneficiaries must pay taxes on inherited traditional IRA accounts.

+ You can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, but strict rules apply. And be careful, because you have to pay income taxes on the money converted, and recent tax law changes mean you can’t undo this later.

+ If you are a business owner or have self-employment income, you may be eligible to set up a Simplified Employee Pension or (SEP) IRA, or a SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees), depending on your company’s structure. You can usually contribute a lot more money to these plans than you can to traditional IRA or Roth IRA accounts.

+ One final note. It is very important for you to understand that the beneficiaries you name on your 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), traditional IRA, Roth IRA and insurance policies take precedence over your estate documents. That’s why it’s critical to make sure that your beneficiaries are always kept up-to-date.

 

If you have any questions about this information, or want to review or update your current financial or retirement planning documents, we can help. Contact Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. Our headquarters are located in Silverdale, Washington.

 

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any individual with tax or financial advice. We encourage you to consult with your tax professional, financial advisor or attorney to discuss your personal situation. It’s also important to keep in mind that Congress can change the rules regarding these accounts at any time. The regulations may be very different when you retire.

Sources:
“What Is an IRA and How Many Types Are There?” Thebalance.com. https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-an-ira-and-how-many-types-of-iras-are-there-2388700 (accessed May 8, 2019).
“Traditional IRA vs. Roth IRA,” RothIRA.com. https://www.rothira.com/traditional-ira-vs-roth-ira (accessed May 8, 2019).
“Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA: What’s the Difference?” Investopedia.com. https://www.investopedia.com/retirement/roth-vs-traditional-ira-which-is-right-for-you/ (accessed May 8, 2019).
“Saver’s Tax Credit Qualifications for 2018 & 2019,” 20somethingfinance.com.  https://20somethingfinance.com/savers-tax-credit/  (accessed May 9, 2019).

 

 

Social Security Taxation

Are your Social Security benefits taxable?

By | Retirement, Social Security, Tax Planning | No Comments

The answer is: Yes, sometimes.

If you don’t have significant income in retirement besides Social Security benefits, then you probably won’t owe taxes on your benefits. But if you have large amounts saved up in tax-deferred vehicles like 401(k)s, you could be in for a surprise later.

AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) versus Combined Income.

You are probably familiar with what AGI, or adjusted gross income, means. To find it, you take your gross income from wages, self-employed earnings, interest, dividends, required minimum distributions from qualified retirement accounts and other taxable income, like unearned income, that must be reported on tax returns.

(Unearned, taxable income can include canceled debts, alimony payments, child support, government benefits such as unemployment benefits and disability payments, strike benefits, lottery payments, and earnings generated from appreciated assets that have been sold or capitalized during the year.)

From your gross income amount, you make adjustments, subtracting amounts such as qualified student loan interest paid, charitable contributions, or any other allowable deduction. That leaves you with your adjusted gross income, which is used to determine limitations on a number of tax issues, including Social Security.

Combined Income is a formula used after you file for your Social Security benefits.

Whether or not your Social Security benefits are taxable depends on your combined income each year, which is defined as your adjusted gross income (AGI) plus your tax-exempt interest income (like municipal bonds) plus one-half of your Social Security benefits.

The IRS provides a worksheet for this. (See the worksheet here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p915.pdf#page=16)

If your combined income exceeds the limit, then up to 85% of your benefit may be taxable. But in accordance with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules, you won’t pay federal income tax on any more than 85% of your Social Security benefits.

What are the combined income limits?

Social Security benefits are only taxable when your overall combined income exceeds $25,000 for single filers or $32,000 for couples filing joint tax returns.

If you file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your combined income is:

  • Between $25,000 and $34,000 – you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits.
  • More than $34,000 – up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable.

If you file a “joint” return, and you and your spouse have a combined income that is:

  • Between $32,000 and $44,000 – you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits.
  • More than $44,000 – up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable.

RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions) can be an unwelcome surprise.

Starting at age 70-1/2, you are required to start taking money out of your tax-deferred accounts, whether you need the income or not. These accounts include:

  • Traditional IRAs
  • SEP IRAs
  • SIMPLE IRAs
  • Rollover IRAs
  • Most 401(k) and 403(b) plans
  • Most small business retirement accounts

There are precise formulas for calculating how much you have to withdraw each year based on the IRS Uniform Lifetime Table. If you miscalculate, or if you or your plan administrator fail to move the money by December 31, you could face a 50% tax penalty; there is no grace period to April 15.

NOTE: The table goes up to age 115 and beyond. You can find the IRS life expectancy table as well as an IRS worksheet for calculating RMDs here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/uniform_rmd_wksht.pdf

Simplified RMD example for illustrative purposes only:*

Let’s say you are single, age 72, and you have one qualified account—$400,000 was the value of your 401(k) plan as of December 31 last year. You divide $400,000 by your life expectancy factor of 25.6 which give you $15,625.

This is the amount that you have to take out of your 401(k), which will count as part of your AGI.

Simplified Combined Income example for illustrative purposes only:*

To continue with our simplified example, let’s say you, our 72-year-old single person above, receives $2,800 per month in Social Security ($33,600 per year) and you don’t have any other source of income besides the RMD taken from your 401(k) account as illustrated above.

Based on the combined income formula:

AGI = $15,625

+ Non-taxable interest = $0

+ Half of Social Security = $16,800

__________________________________________

Your total combined income is = $32,425   

Because you are over the combined income limit of $25,000 for an individual, but less than the $34,000 which would require 85%, you would pay taxes on 50% of your Social Security benefit.

###

At Bulwark Capital Management, we provide retirement planning and Social Security benefit optimization, and we work in conjunction with your CPA or tax professional to help you consider taxes and how to minimize them as part of your overall retirement plan. Call us at
253.509.0395.

* This material is not intended to be used, nor can it be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding U.S. federal, state or local taxes or penalties. The information in this article is provided for general education purposes only. Do not rely on this information for tax advice. Check with your CPA, attorney or qualified tax advisor for precise information about your specific situation.

Sources:

https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/013015/how-can-i-avoid-paying-taxes-my-social-security-income.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/taxableincome.asp

https://smartasset.com/retirement/how-to-calculate-rmd

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/uniform_rmd_wksht.pdf

It’s Tax Season for Your 2018 Returns – Will You Owe More?

By | Tax Planning | No Comments

This year, the deadline to file your income tax returns is April 15, 2019.

As of early February of 2019, Time Magazine1 reported that many Americans who had already filed their 2018 taxes were shocked by their lower refunds this year likely stemming from the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” law that passed in December 2017, which significantly overhauled the tax code in the U.S.

“The initial batch of tax refunds in the first two weeks of the season declined an average of 8.7% from last year as of Feb. 8, according to a report from the Internal Revenue Service. 1

“Because so many pieces of the tax code shifted, it’s difficult to tell why certain people are affected differently than others, according to tax specialists and financial experts. 1

“Those most at risk for receiving less money in their tax refunds are taxpayers who itemize their deductions and have no dependents, homeowners in high tax states and employees who have unreimbursed business expenses.” 1

Retirees in lower tax brackets who don’t itemize and who live in states with low taxes will probably not be affected, or may even pay less because of the higher standard deduction, which nearly doubled.

“The rise in the standard deduction might mean that retirees can achieve roughly the same overall deductible by taking the standard amount as they could by itemizing.”2

But there is much uncertainty as people approach this tax season with trepidation about their own situation.

Healthcare rule changes when it comes to taxes.

There are a couple things you should know about healthcare expenses this tax season.

  1. You may be able to deduct more for unreimbursed allowable medical care expenses2.

For the 2018 tax year, the IRS allows you to itemize and deduct healthcare expenses if they totaled more than 7.5% of your AGI (adjusted gross income).

As an example, if your AGI is $45,000, you can itemize and deduct healthcare expenses from the 7.5% mark, or $3,375, up to your amount spent. In this scenario, if you spent $5,375 on allowable unreimbursed healthcare expenses, you will be able to deduct $2,000 of them.

For the 2019 tax year, this percentage will revert back to 10%, so the allowable deduction will be lower going forward.

  1. The ACA is still in effect.

For retirees who don’t have health insurance or Medicare yet, know that the ACA mandate and penalty for not having health insurance is still in effect for the 2018 tax year.

The federal penalty will disappear in 2019 per the new tax code. However, some states—like New Jersey, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia—will still charge penalties. And lawmakers in Vermont and Rhode Island and other states intend to impose new state penalties in the future.3

Regardless of the law changes, many retirees are shocked to find that they owe income taxes in retirement.

For retirees who have saved up a lot of money in tax-deferred accounts like traditional IRAs or 401(k) plans, when RMDs (required minimum distributions) begin at age 70-1/2, the tax ramifications can hit hard.

  1. Many people even have to pay taxes on their Social Security income.5

RMDs are taxable as income. For individuals, if your combined income* is between $25-$34,000 (or between $32-44,000 per year for couples), you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your Social Security benefits. More than that, and up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable.

*The IRS defines combined income as your adjusted gross income, plus tax-exempt interest, plus half of your Social Security benefits.6

  1. When you start RMDs makes a difference.4

As you approach 70 1/2, you can choose to take your first minimum withdrawal during the year you turn 70 1/2, or you can take it by April 1 of the year after you turn 70 1/2. Your choice can have significant tax implications, because if you don’t take your initial minimum withdrawal during the year you turn 70 1/2, you must take two—and pay the resulting double dip of taxes—in the following year.

  1. Calculations for withdrawals are tricky—and doing it wrong can be costly.4

For each year, you must take at least the required minimum withdrawal by Dec. 31 of that year or owe the tax plus a 50% penalty. There is no grace period to April 15.

The calculations for withdrawals require you to take your Dec. 31 prior year tax-deferred account balances and divide by your life-expectancy figure (from Table III in Appendix B of IRS Publication 590-B) based on your age as of the end of the tax year. You may be able to aggregate balances if you have multiple accounts and take the RMD from only one account, or you may not be able to, depending on IRS rules.

  1. You may be able to delay 401(k) distributions if you are still working after age 70 1/2.4
  2. You may be able to donate an IRA required distribution directly to a qualifying charity and satisfy the taxes which would have been due.4
  3. Roth IRA accounts don’t have distribution requirements in retirement.5

However, Roth 401(k) accounts do require withdrawals starting at age 70 ½. Income tax is generally not due on a Roth 401(k) distribution, except for any untaxed portion matched by an employer.

 

Don’t try to do this alone, we’re here to help.

As a service to our clients, we provide retirement tax planning in conjunction with your tax professional or CPA. Let’s talk about how we can create a plan now to pay the proper amount of tax later in retirement. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management in Silverdale, Washington at 253.509.0395

 

This material is not intended to be used, nor can it be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding U.S. federal, state or local taxes or tax penalties. Please consult your tax professional, CPA, personal attorney and/or advisor regarding any legal or tax matters.

Sources:
1 “Many Americans Are Shocked by Their Tax Returns in 2019. Here’s What You Should Know.” Time.com. http://time.com/5530766/tax-season-2019-changes/ (accessed March 11, 2019).
2 “How Will the New Tax Law Affect Retirees?” Fool.com. https://www.fool.com/retirement/2019/01/07/how-will-the-new-tax-law-affect-retirees.aspx (accessed March 11, 2019).
3 “Changes to Obamacare in 2019 and the Effect on the Premium Tax Credit.” TheBalance.com. https://www.thebalance.com/changes-to-obamacare-and-insurance-4582310 (accessed March 11, 2019).
4 “Understanding the IRA mandatory withdrawal rules.” MarketWatch.com. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/understanding-the-ira-mandatory-withdrawal-rules-2015-03-09 (accessed March 11, 2019).
5 “7 New Taxes Retirees Face.” Money.usnews.com. https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/iras/slideshows/new-taxes-retirees-face (accessed March 11, 2019).
6 “Avoid Paying Taxes on Social Security Income.” Investopedia.com. https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/013015/how-can-i-avoid-paying-taxes-my-social-security-income.asp (accessed March 12, 2019).

 

Financial Vows for Money-Savvy Couples

By | Financial Planning, Lifestyle | No Comments

February is a good time to celebrate your relationship with your significant other—and renew your commitment to your mutual financial success. Here are some ideas to say “I do” to this month.

  • Vow to protect yourselves from emergencies

During the government shutdown early this year we learned that 40% of Americans don’t have enough money set aside to handle even a $400 emergency. Whether you determine you want an amount equal to six months’ or 12 months’ worth of living expenses, vow to set aside an emergency fund in liquid, readily-accessible accounts so that you have adequate cash on hand should you need it.

  • Vow to protect your family finances by shifting risk

Along the same lines as an emergency fund, work with a financial advisor to determine how much risk you both face from other potentially life-altering events. What would happen if one of you suddenly became unable to work or function due to a disability? What if you required nursing care? What if one of you suddenly passed away?

Insurance companies offer policies designed to shift many of life’s unexpected financial risks away from your family. Be sure to compare policies offered by multiple highly-rated insurance companies to help ensure you get the best coverage for your premium dollar.

  • Vow to put an estate plan in place (or update your current plan)

If one or both of you have children from a previous marriage, make sure all of your documents are in order so that family squabbling is reduced to a minimum if one of you predeceases the other. Most experts say that you should have at least some of your assets transfer immediately lest one of you remarries or other circumstances change and money that you expected would pass to your biological children gets spent by an unintended party.

Similarly, did you know that the beneficiaries you designate on retirement accounts and insurance policies and similar accounts take precedence over your wills and/or trusts? If you haven’t looked at that old 401(k) for decades, chances are that your ex-spouse might inherit that money regardless of your true wishes or life circumstances at the time of your death.

All of your documents need to be reviewed on a regular basis—let’s get together as soon as possible.

  • Vow to make saving and retirement planning a priority for you both

Even though retirement accounts are held separately, it’s important to have a shared vision about your retirement together. Be sure to meet with your retirement planner or financial advisor to discuss your future goals and time horizon. Other financial goals should also be prioritized so that you’re both on the same page, like saving up for the kids’ college expenses or the daughters’ weddings.

  • Vow not to keep secrets about money and keep the communication flowing

Hopefully you’ve been honest from the beginning of your relationship about your level of debt, how you handle sticking to a budget, or whether or not you have a low credit score. Understanding each other’s financial position and money habits is the first part of being able to take control of your finances together in order to achieve mutual goals as a couple.

And remember that it’s important that both of you understands your overall combined financial picture, even if one of you pays the bills or the other takes the lead role in investing. Don’t delegate this, make it a point to stay in the loop with financial decisions. Even if you have separate bank accounts to handle the day-to-day finances, you both need to understand where you’re at and where you’re headed when it comes to your financial future as a couple, especially your plan for retirement.

Even if it doesn’t seem exactly romantic, talking about money can make your relationship a more perfect union for the long-term. Aiming “for richer” rather than “for poorer” together can strengthen your matrimonial bonds.

We’re here to help. Call us at Bulwark Capital Management in Silverdale, Washington at 253.509.0395.

 

Sources:
CNN, “40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense.” https://money.cnn.com/2018/05/22/pf/emergency-expenses-household-finances/index.html (accessed February 11, 2019).
Forbes, “6 Financial Vows Couples Should Take To Heart.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/judithward/2019/01/23/6-financial-vows-couples-should-take-to-heart/?ss=personalfinance#1a8149385241 (accessed February 11, 2019).

 

Managing Your Finances

By | Lifestyle | No Comments

We work with dozens of people to help them create retirement plans. But in order to get to a successful retirement, there are thousands of small decisions along the way. Like, should you drive through your local coffee place and grab a latte this morning? Go with the office gang for lunch at that little bistro across the street, which usually costs you around $15? Should you order pizza delivered for dinner tonight because you didn’t go to the grocery store yesterday? Grab that new shirt because it’s 50% off?

Sticking to a budget is the beginning of mastering your money. But why do so many of us find it difficult?

A recent article in Forbes magazine may hold some clues as well as ideas about how to take control of your discretionary expenses. The author, Thomas Dichter, advocates writing every expenditure down, to the penny, as well as calculating how well you met your budget on an annual basis. (He usually comes within 1% of his goal, and many times comes in under, which he attributes to his meticulous record-keeping.)

Mr. Dichter explains how he started the process:

I forced myself to write down what I had spent under each category. After a week my inner accountant had emerged and I kept at it. By month six I noticed something magical: the act of tracking expenses had a feedback effect on my spending. My expenses in the categories that all of us tend to ignore (take-out food and coffee, a candy bar at a vending machine, impulse buying a shirt, or a magazine at the check out line, etc.) were going down, not because I wanted to deny myself, but because I could see what was happening.

At the end of that first full year those few minutes a day of what became compulsive recording paid off. It took me about a half hour to add up each category and then total it all (a side benefit became obvious when I had to do my taxes). Then I compared that total to my take-home income for the year and saw I was ahead, for the first time in my life. I decided to do a budget for the next year, using the past year’s expenses as a guide. At the end of that year I saw I had come within 1% of my budget estimate. Passing that self-imposed test soon became an annual goal. Each year on December 31st, I see how close I’ve come to my budget estimate of twelve months earlier. Usually I come within that 1%, sometimes over but more often under.

The author goes on to say that he believes that easy access to credit, along with an economy based on consumption, contributes to the overspending problem in America. And the main excuse for resisting his simple method—“I don’t have time”—is just a cover story for other, deeper reasons. For example, he believes that some people don’t really want to know what they spend, because it might rock their feeling that “everything is okay.” Some operate on the subconscious wavelength that it’s better to risk their financial future rather than turn into some kind of accounting nerd or tightwad.

As financial advisors who work with people every single day, we are here to tell you that managing your finances is possible, and might even be easier than you think. Let’s talk. Call us at Bulwark Capital Management in Silverdale, Washington at 253.509.0395.

 

Source:
“A New Year’s Resolution To Manage Your Finances: Why Is Sticking To It So Hard?” by Thomas Dichter, Contributor, Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasdichter/2019/01/01/a-new-years-resolution-to-manage-your-finances-why-is-it-so-hard/#38ef8202106f (accessed January 14, 2019).

 

5 Tips for Setting Better New Year’s Resolutions

By | Financial Planning, Lifestyle | No Comments

If you typically give up on your goals by March, you’re not alone. Try these tips for 2019.

  1. Go ahead and set them again.

Even if you’re one of the majority of people who have set New Year’s Resolutions in the past but gave up on them within a few weeks, try again. Because there is good news about setting goals, even if you haven’t quite mastered the follow-through.

According to one study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, people who set New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to actually change their behavior than people who don’t make these yearly goals. Tony Robbins says, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” So go ahead and write down your objectives for 2019.

  1. Make sure you actually want what you say you want.

Some of the most common resolutions include losing weight, making better financial choices, and eating healthier. All of these sound great—if they’re what you really want. For instance, make sure losing weight is your desire, not something you read about—or a photo you compared yourself to—in a magazine.

If you typically set goals for things you think you should want, instead of what you really do want, you will not succeed because you’re not really motivated. (And frankly, who cares, because you didn’t want that stuff anyway.) Dig deep this year to try to find out what your deepest desires are, and why.

  1. Replace a bad habit with a good habit.

At the end of the day, goals are one thing, but day-to-day habits are another. An article in Psychology Today puts it this way:

“A lot of New Year’s resolutions have to do with making new habits or changing existing ones. If your resolutions are around things like eating healthier, exercising more, drinking less, quitting smoking, texting less, spending more time ‘unplugged’ or any number of other ‘automatic’ behaviors then we are talking about changing existing habits or making new habits. Habits are automatic, ‘conditioned’ responses. You get up in the morning and stop at Starbucks for a pastry and a latte. You go home at the end of work and plop down in front of the TV.”

According to the article, there are three facets necessary to changing habits. You must choose a small action, attach it to an existing habit, and make it easy to do for three to seven days in a row.

For example, “Get more exercise” is not small. “Take the stairs each morning to get to my office, not the elevator” is a small, actionable, better resolution to make. Your existing habit of walking to the elevator can be changed to walking to the stairs, and it will become a new habit within just a week of practice.

  1. Create a new “story” about yourself.

“The best (and some would say the only) way to get a large and long-term behavior change, is by changing your self-story,” according to science.

Whether you realize it or not, you make decisions based on staying true to your unconscious self-stories, and you strive to be consistent. If you have a story about yourself that you are “realistic” because of things that have knocked you down in the past, you may have a story about yourself that keeps you in a state of cynicism about your life.

You can rewrite any story you have about yourself that might be holding you back. It’s kind of like writing a script for your own movie—you are the lead character, and the movie is your life unfolding. Instead of Mr. Cynic, moping along chained to his past, you are now your own hero, Mr. Positive, who takes new actions every day to improve the lives of others based on his experiences.

“The technique of story-editing is so simple that it doesn’t seem possible that it can result in such deep and profound change. But the research shows that one re-written self-story can make all the difference.”

  1. Tell people—or not.

For some people, telling their friends and family members keeps them on-track, holding them more accountable on the path to achieving their resolutions. But if you have friends and relatives who tend to shoot holes in your dreams, or sabotage your goals in subtle or obvious ways, keep your goals to yourself.

Consider surrounding yourself with supportive people for the year, limiting communication to “small talk” with people who aren’t on board. Take notice of people who drain your energy instead of energize you, and make choices accordingly. You have the perfect right to say “no” or “yes” more often to the activities you decide to engage in, and the people you elect to spend time with.

Have we scheduled your annual review? Let’s meet and review your financial plan in light of next year’s short- and long-term objectives. Please call Bulwark Capital Management in Silverdale, Washington at 253.509.0395 or email us at invest@bulwarkcapitalmgmt.com.

5 Things to Know About Long-Term Care

By | Long Term Care | No Comments

November is long-term care (LTC) awareness month. Here are five things you should know.

 

  1. There are different types of facilities providing increasing levels of care.1

If you hear the words “long-term care” and automatically think “nursing home,” you should know that long-term care encompasses a wide range of options and a progression of choices. The most self-sufficient seniors might live in independent retirement living facilities, while assisted living often adds medication management, daily personal care, meals and housekeeping.

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) offer a tiered approach so that seniors can transition on site as they require more services. Adult foster care is available in private homes run by trained caregivers—there are even special homes designated for military veterans with chronic medical conditions overseen by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Of course, nursing homes are also part of the spectrum, offering 24-hour supervision, nursing care, help with daily living activities and three meals per day. Secured memory care units, which are more expensive, are often located within nursing homes to provide a safe but more homey environment for people suffering with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Skilled nursing facilities (SNF) are not identical to nursing homes—they often staff doctors and nurses around the clock and offer physical rehabilitation services. People in these facilities may be bedridden, need two people move them, and require dialysis or other intensive treatments.

 

  1. Statistics vary on how many people will need long-term care.

With 10,000 people turning 65 every single day in America until around year 20302, there are varying statistics regarding the need for long-term care—some as high as 75%.3 In late August, Morningstar put together their 2018 updated statistics, placing the percentage of people 65 or older who will need long-term care at 52%, the majority female.4

 

  1. Alzheimer’s dementia is on the rise due to longevity.5

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s dementia every 66 seconds.” An estimated 5.5 million Americans—one in 10 people age 65 and older (10%)—are living with Alzheimer’s dementia, almost two-thirds of them women.

In addition to gender, race evidently also plays a role in the risk of developing the disease. Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia as whites, while African Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia as whites.

 

  1. Long-term care costs are high, and rising.

According to Genworth’s 15th Annual Cost of Care Survey, the “blended annual median cost of long-term care support services has increased an average of 3% from 2017 to 2018, with some care categories exceeding two to three times the 2.1% U.S. inflation rate.” 7

Annual National Median Costs 2018 8

Homemaker Services: $48,048

Home Health Aide: $50,336

Adult Day Health Care: $18,720

Assisted Living Facility: $48,000

Semi-Private Room in a Nursing Home: $89,297

Private Room in a Nursing Home: $100,375

Most expensive states in order are Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, Delaware, Maine, Washington, Minnesota, Oregon and California.7

 

  1. Hybrid policies are now more popular than standalone LTC policies.9

When it comes to helping people solve the problem of potentially needing long-term care, hybrid whole life, hybrid indexed universal life (IUL) and hybrid annuities have been more popular than traditional long-term care policies, and they are becoming more popular every year.

The reasons for the rise in popularity have to do with a combination of factors, including the rising cost of standalone LTC policies as well as the attractive features of some new hybrid annuities and life policies.  The elimination of the “use it or lose it” nature of typical long-term care insurance policies, in some cases providing a death benefit if the policyholder does not need long-term care during their lifetime, is often cited as the most attractive feature of hybrid policies.

 

 

If you would like more information about how to make sure you are covered for long-term care if you need it, please call Bulwark Capital Management in Silverdale, Washington at 253.509.0395 or email us at invest@bulwarkcapitalmgmt.com.

We can help you compare your many new LTC policy options!

 

 

Sources:
1 “What’s the Difference Between Types of Long-Term Care Facilities?” USNews.com. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/aging-well/articles/2018-10-30/whats-the-difference-between-types-of-long-term-care-facilities (accessed November 5, 2018).
2 “Baby Boomers Retire,” Pewresearch.org. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2010/12/29/baby-boomers-retire/ (accessed November 5, 2018).
3 “Long Term Care Statistics,” LTCtree.com. https://www.ltctree.com/long-term-care-statistics/  (accessed November 5, 2018).
4 “75 Must-Know Statistics About Long-Term Care: 2018 Edition,” Morningstar.com. https://www.morningstar.com/articles/879494/75-mustknow-statistics-about-longterm-care-2018-ed.html  (accessed November 5, 2018).
5 “Alzheimer’s Is Accelerating Across the U.S.,” AARP.org https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2017/alzheimers-rates-rise-fd.html (accessed November 5, 2018).
7 “Top 15 Most Expensive States for Long-Term Care: 2018,” Thinkadvisor.com. https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2018/10/24/top-15-most-expensive-states-for-long-term-care-20/   (accessed November 5, 2018).
8 “Cost of Care Survey 2018,” Genworth.com https://www.genworth.com/aging-and-you/finances/cost-of-care.html (accessed November 5, 2018).
9 “Why hybrid policies are so popular,” Thinkadvisor.com. https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2018/03/28/why-are-the-new-hybrid-ltc-policies-so-popular/  (accessed November 5, 2018).
Further reading:
“How clients can use annuities to pay for long-term care,” Financial-planning.com. https://www.financial-planning.com/news/as-ltc-insurance-prices-rise-long-term-care-annuities-gain-popularity (accessed November 5, 2018).
 “Could Your Long-Term Care Premiums Be Hiding in Plain Sight?” Morningstar.com. https://www.morningstar.com/articles/879259/could-your-longterm-care-premiums-be-hiding-in-pla.html (accessed November 5, 2018).
“Hybrid policies for long-term care,” Chicagotribune.com. https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-201806261243–tms–savingsgctnzy-a20180626-20180626-story.html (accessed November 5, 2018).
“Hybrid Policies Allow You to Have Your Long-Term Care Insurance Cake and Eat It, Too,” Elderlawanswers.com. https://www.elderlawanswers.com/hybrid-policies-allow-you-to-have-your-long-term-care-insurance-cake-and-eat-it-too-15541 (accessed November 5, 2018).