All Posts By

Zach Abraham

Roth Conversions

What is a Roth Conversion?

By | Retirement, Tax Planning

To understand what a Roth conversion is, you must first understand some of the basics about the different types of retirement accounts, called “qualified accounts.”

  • Pensions

Also called defined-benefit plans, pensions are paid for by employers. They have largely gone away for Americans in the private sector starting with the passage of three laws during the Reagan administration, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act passed in 1982, The Retirement Equity Act of 1984, and The Tax Reform Act and Single Employer Pension Plan enacted in 1986.

The lack of pensions is one reason why it’s important for people to create their own retirement income plans.

  • 401(k) Accounts

Defined-contribution plans, including 401(k)s and similar plans, rely on an employee to elect to contribute a percentage of their salary in order to save for retirement. Contribution amounts are usually taken out of an employee’s check on a “pre-tax” basis, and sometimes a company will add a “matching” amount based on the percentage the employee contributes, often based on an employee’s length of service.

A 401(k) plan generally has a limited list of fund choices. The maximum an individual can contribute to a 401(k) in 2020 is $19,500 per year, or $1,625 per month, not including the employer’s matching amount.

For traditional 401(k)s, no taxes are due on 401(k) accounts until the money is withdrawn. Ordinary income taxes are due upon withdrawal at the account owner’s current tax bracket rate, and withdrawals are mandatory starting at age 72. NOTE: Roth 401(k)s are available at some companies, and contributions for those are made on an after-tax basis.

  • Traditional IRA Accounts

An IRA—Individual Retirement Account—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 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.

For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA, plus an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution if you reach age 50 by the end of the tax year. Traditional IRA contributions are typically made with pre-tax dollars, which gets accounted for on your tax return in the year you choose to make the contribution. Depending on your income level, sometimes traditional IRA contributions can also be tax-deductible. Traditional IRA withdrawals are treated as ordinary income and taxed accordingly, and withdrawals are mandatory starting at age 72.

  • Roth IRA Accounts

Like a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA is a type of account which acts as a shell or holder for any number of different types of assets. The difference is that Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax dollars.

Withdrawals are not mandatory for Roth IRAs, but you can withdraw funds tax-free as long as you follow all rules, which include having the account in place for at least five years. Those age 59-1/2 or older can withdraw any amount—including gains—at any time for any reason, and can also leave Roth IRA accounts to their heirs tax-free—beneficiaries just have to withdraw all the money within 10 years of the account holder’s death.

For people under age 59-1/2, as long as they have had their Roth IRA account in place for five years or longer, they can withdraw any amount they have invested at any time—but not the gains or earnings. If they withdraw the gains or earnings, they may have to pay ordinary income taxes plus a 10% penalty on those, with some exceptions, such as first-time homebuyer expenses up to $10,000, qualified education and hardship withdrawals, which may avoid the penalty but still require tax be paid on any amount attributed to earnings.

Roth IRAs offer the potential for tax-free retirement income as well as tax-free wealth transfer to heirs. 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.

For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000 depending on your income, plus an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution if you reach age 50 by the end of the tax year. However, Roth IRAs have income restrictions that may disqualify higher-income people from participating. The income restrictions on Roth IRA accounts are not always a barrier to conversions—a perfectly legal tax strategy called a “backdoor Roth IRA conversion” can be accomplished as long as all IRS rules are followed.

Roth Conversions

Because of the many Roth IRA tax advantages, some people may benefit from converting some of the money in their taxable 401(k) and/or traditional IRA accounts into tax-free Roth IRAs. Conversions are a taxable event in the year they are done, and they cannot be undone, so it is important to work with a qualified advisor to run anticipated tax savings calculations to see if they make sense. Additionally, there are complex tax rules which must be adhered to in regard to the ratio of taxable to non-taxable amounts held in IRAs.

If you have a low-income year due to a job loss or cutback, or you are five to 10 years away from retirement, you may benefit from a Roth conversion, or a series of them at today’s lower tax bracket rates, set to revert back up to 2017 levels for the 2026 tax year.

There are basically three ways to do Roth conversions according to Investopedia:

1) A rollover, in which you take a distribution from your traditional IRA in the form of a check and deposit that money in a Roth account within 60 days.

2) A trustee-to-trustee transfer, in which you direct the financial institution that holds your traditional IRA to transfer the money to your Roth account at another financial institution.

3) A same-trustee transfer, in which you tell the financial institution that holds your traditional IRA to transfer the money into a Roth account at that same institution.

Whatever method you use, you will need to report the conversion to the IRS using Form 8606 when you file your income taxes for the year and follow all rules. Roth conversions are complex and you should seek expert tax guidance.

Let’s talk. Contact Bulwark Capital Management in the Seattle area at 253.509.0395.

 

 

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used for financial or tax advice. Future tax law changes are always possible. Be sure to consult a tax professional before making any decisions regarding your traditional IRA or Roth IRA.

Sources:

https://protectpensions.org/2016/08/04/happened-private-sector-pensions/)

https://blog.turbotax.intuit.com/tax-deductions-and-credits-2/can-you-deduct-401k-savings-from-your-taxes-7169/.

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/investing/how-much-should-i-contribute-to-a-401k/.

https://www.debt.org/tax/brackets/

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/backdoor-roth-ira.asp#

https://www.investopedia.com/roth-ira-conversion-rules-4770480

https://www.kitces.com/blog/roth-ira-conversions-isolate-basis-rollover-pro-rate-rule-employer-plan-qcd/

How Rich Do You Have to Be in Order to Retire?

By | Health Care, Long Term Care, Retirement, Tax Planning

Even though perceptions have changed during the pandemic with more Americans now saying they need less money to feel rich1, when it comes to retirement, most people are still unclear about how much they will need to have saved before they can quit their jobs.

The answer to that question is different for every person.

Here are some of the things you need to think about in order to get a realistic retirement number in mind.

 

What do you want to do during retirement? Where will you live?

Different people have different retirement goals and visions. You may not realize that you need to answer lifestyle questions before you can answer the “how much do I need” question.

Think about it this way. A single woman downsizing into a tiny home in a rural community to enjoy hiking in nature is going to need to have saved up a lot less money than a couple who wants to buy a big yacht, hire a crew and travel around the world docking at various international ports. A man who wants to spend all his time woodworking in his garage in the Midwest will need a smaller nest egg than a power couple collecting art and living in a penthouse in New York.

Most people are somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Yet answering these questions for yourself is very important both financially and emotionally for everyone entering retirement. You don’t want to end up feeling lost or bored not working—you want to feel that you are moving forward into a phase of life that is rewarding to you. And you certainly don’t want to run out of money because you miscalculated.

Take some time to get specific about your needs and desires. Will you want to spend holidays with family or friends? Start an expensive new hobby like golf? Take a big vacation every year? (The pandemic will end eventually!) Visit your grandchildren who live across the country multiple times? Go out to eat every day?

Based on your goals and objectives for your retirement lifestyle, your financial advisor will help you prepare a realistic monthly budget, adding in calculations for inflation through the years.

Once you’ve developed your monthly budget, it can be compared against your Social Security benefit to give you a good idea of how much additional monthly retirement income you will need to generate from your savings. From there, your advisor can come up with strategies to help you create income from savings, and then give you a realistic figure that you will need to have saved up before you retire.

But in addition to your retirement lifestyle, there are a couple of other things that need to be considered.

 

How is your health?

Nearly every retiree looks forward to the day they can sign up for Medicare. But Medicare is not free; the standard Part B premium for 2020 is $144.60 per month2 for each person. Your premiums for Medicare are usually deducted right from your Social Security check.

If you elect to purchase additional coverage through Medicare Advantage, Medigap and/or prescription drug plans, your premiums will cost more. And there will still be deductibles to meet and co-pays you will owe.

Some estimates for health care expenses throughout retirement are as high as $295,000 for a couple both turning 65 in 2020!3

Even worse, keep in mind that this figure does not include long-term care expenses—Medicare doesn’t cover those after 100 days.4

 

Have you planned for taxes?

It’s not how much money you have saved, it’s how much you get to keep net of taxes.

When designing your retirement plan and helping you calculate how much you need to save, your advisor will take into consideration an important piece of the puzzle—taxes. Tax planning is often different than the type of advice you get from your CPA or tax professional when you do your tax returns each year. Tax planning involves looking far into the future at what you may owe later, and finding ways to minimize your tax burden so you will have more money to spend on things you enjoy doing in retirement.

Different types of accounts are subject to different types of taxation. “After-tax” money that you invest in the stock market can be subject to short- or long-term capital gains taxes. Gains accrued on “after-tax” money that you have invested in a Roth IRA account are not taxed due to their favorable tax rules. Interest paid on “after-tax” money in savings, CDs or money market accounts is taxed as ordinary income, although this usually doesn’t amount to much especially with today’s low interest rates.

What your financial advisor will be most concerned about is your “before-tax” money held in accounts like traditional IRAs or 401(k)s which are subject to ordinary income taxes when you take the money out, which you have to do each year starting at age 72 per the IRS. (These mandatory withdrawals are called required minimum distributions.)

If “before-tax” money like 401(k)s are where the bulk of your savings is held, you will want to run projections to calculate how much of a bite income taxes will take out of your retirement, especially since tax brackets will go back up to 2017 levels5 beginning in January of 2026. There may be steps you can take now to help you lower your taxes in the future.

 

Please contact us if you have any questions about your retirement. Contact Bulwark Capital Management in the Seattle area at 253.509.0395.

 

 

Sources:

1 https://www.financial-planning.com/articles/americans-now-say-they-need-less-money-to-feel-rich

2 https://www.medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs/medicare-costs-at-a-glance#

3 https://www.fidelity.com/viewpoints/personal-finance/plan-for-rising-health-care-costs

4 https://longtermcare.acl.gov/medicare-medicaid-more/medicare.html

5 https://taxfoundation.org/2017-tax-brackets/

Zach Abraham In US News & World Report: “It Might Be A Good Time To Explore European Equities”

By | Geopolitical Affairs, On TV, Stock Market

Fixed-income investors looking for yield are struggling in the near-zero interest rate environment in the United States. According to Zach Abraham and other financial industry experts interviewed in US News & World Report yesterday, there may be opportunities in European equities.

When considering European stocks that pay dividends, it’s important for fixed-income investors seeking an income stream to remember that many European companies pay out their dividends only twice a year, instead of quarterly as many American companies do. Also, the fluctuating exchange rates between countries can impact dividends for American investors.

To decide whether any dividend-paying stock is a good investment, it’s important to analyze the business and make sure it has a reasonable valuation. “For dividend-paying stocks, the best place to start is looking at a company’s balance sheet to see if the company can sustain the dividend,” says Zach Abraham, principal and chief investment officer at Bulwark Capital Management in Tacoma, Washington, just outside Seattle.

Zach says that when comparing European companies’ valuations versus those in America, here “we have record valuations, record corporate debt levels, yet you have valuations in the stock market that suggest to you that everything is humming along,” Zach says. In the U.S. in particular, corporate debt levels are rising, and Zach Abraham recommends looking at a company’s debt obligations when evaluating them. “The higher the debt on a company’s balance sheet, the more likely that company is to cut back or suspend that dividend,” he says.

He warns investors that there’s never been a period in America where stock market valuations have been this detached from the underlying economic fundamentals. “In the U.S., the Nasdaq is up in a year where we’ve sustained the biggest economic shock in our history.”

European markets have also been hit by the pandemic; however, Abraham says that “they’re far from trading at record high valuations. Due to the damage the valuation spread has done to the economy, European equity prices are attractive with more upside,” Zach says.

 

Read the whole story here:

https://money.usnews.com/investing/articles/investors-searching-for-yield-in-euro-stocks

The article also appeared on WTOP News.

7 Money Moves to Consider This July

By | Financial Planning

The coronavirus has given us all a lot of stress, as well as a lot of free time to think. If you’re postponing your summer vacation plans, now may be the perfect time to implement some financial planning “to-do’s” that could enhance your personal wealth and financial well-being.

Here are seven things to consider:

  1. Is there too much risk in your portfolio?

If you’re younger, you may have been told to just wait out the volatile stock market, and indeed that may be best for you. But some people—no matter what their age—are more risk-averse than others, and that’s where working with a qualified financial professional comes in. They can help make sure your portfolio matches your individual tolerance for market risk.

As a general rule of thumb, every year as you get older, your financial advisor should ensure that your portfolio contains less and less risk, as asset preservation and protection from market risk becomes more critical with a shorter timeline to retirement.

  1. Does your portfolio contain a lot of bonds or bond funds?

Some financial advisors only have one tool in their toolbox when it comes to lowering risk in your portfolio as you get older—bonds or bond funds. But with today’s low interest rates, and bond yields tied to those interest rates, bonds or bond funds may not be your best option. And with some public figures1 asking that the Fed consider negative interest rates (like they have in seven other countries), bonds could offer you less than ever in the future.

There are financial instruments like annuities which are not correlated to the stock market and offer guaranteed returns regardless of interest rates. Annuities are not investments, they are complex contracts with insurance companies. The guarantees they offer are based on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company, some of which have been around for more than a century. Some annuities offer potential for market growth along with protection from stock market risk, or even lifetime retirement income. Examining the options and clauses for various annuity contracts which might (or might not) work for you requires expertise from a qualified financial professional.

Make sure your financial advisor isn’t a “one-trick pony” and has more than just bonds or bond funds to recommend to you for the fixed, or safer part of your portfolio. You deserve access to other options.

  1. Do Roth conversions make sense for you this year?

Roth IRA accounts have many long-term tax advantages, including tax-free earnings with no RMDs (required minimum distributions) due in retirement—meaning you never have to withdraw any money if you don’t want to. Additionally, you can leave Roth IRAs to your heirs tax-free.

If you roll money over to a tax-free Roth from a taxable retirement account like a traditional IRA, you will pay ordinary income taxes on the amount rolled over in the year that the rollover is completed. This year may be ideal if you’ve earned less and will therefore be in a lower tax bracket already. Or if your traditional IRA account is down in value, you could withdraw some of that money and reinvest it inside a Roth IRA. That way, when the stock market rebounds, those earnings could be tax-free.

NOTE: Rollovers can’t be undone, so it’s best to work with an advisor to do this.

  1. Do you have enough money in your emergency fund?

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for the unprecedented. Now is the time to make sure you’ve set aside adequate liquid funds for emergencies. A rule of thumb is three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

  1. Do you have an estate plan in place?

If there is one thing we all hate thinking about, it’s passing away from this earth. But in today’s crazy world, it’s more important than ever to make sure you have everything in place to make things as smooth as possible for your loved ones should the worst happen to you.

Some people think they don’t have enough money to need an estate plan, or they think they are too young, but pretty much everyone needs one to protect their family members. Estate planning includes a will containing your final wishes, possibly a trust which can bypass probate, a health care directive and a power of attorney should you become incapacitated, and other documents depending on your state of residence.

Don’t put this off. And don’t leave your financial advisor out of the process, either, they often have real-life experience and knowledge about what happens to families in cases of death and can help you and your estate attorney address issues you may not have considered.

  1. Do you understand the basics behind filing for Social Security and Medicare?

The age that you file for Social Security—at age 62 when you are able to file, at your full retirement age of 66 or so depending on your month and year of birth, or at age 70 when your Social Security benefit stops growing—is pretty much your only decision if you are single. But if you are married, widowed or are divorced but had been married for 10 years, getting advice on filing to optimize your Social Security benefits is critical.

Similarly, some people don’t understand that Medicare is not free; it is usually deducted from your Social Security check. If you fail to file for Medicare by age 65, you could have higher premiums for the rest of your life. Get the facts well in advance, and know that co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket health care expenses can really add up even when you’re on Medicare.

  1. Do you have a plan for long-term care?

People still believe that Medicare covers long-term care (LTC). It does not. Medicaid can cover long-term care if you or your spouse needs a nursing care facility, but in order to qualify for it, you have to spend down all of your assets leaving your spouse and/or heirs with nothing.

It’s very important to have LTC coverage in place. The good news is that the traditional long-term care insurance model has been upgraded to plans that can pay for LTC if you need it, but pay other benefits if you don’t.

We are here for you as a sounding board on these and many other issues. Call us. Contact Bulwark Capital Management in the Seattle area at 253.509.0395.

 

 

This article is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide any financial, legal or tax advice. Before making any financial decisions, you are strongly advised to consult with proper legal or tax professionals to determine any tax or other potential consequences you might encounter related to your specific situation. Insurance products like annuities contain fees, such as mortality and expense charges, and may contain restrictions such as surrender periods.

Source:

1 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/10/heres-what-negative-interest-rates-from-fed-would-mean-for-you.html

The Stock Market Rally: Zach Abraham Weighs In

By | Stock Market

Regardless of the pandemic, stocks closed near session highs on Wednesday, July 8, and Zach Abraham, Chief Investment Officer and Principal at Bulwark Capital, says that the Fed is largely responsible. The stock market is just not paying attention to corporate revenues or earnings right now.

Apple hit a record high after a Deutsche Bank analyst hiked his price target on the stock. Fellow tech giants Microsoft, Netflix and Amazon also saw gains even as the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. hit a new single-day high. Twitter stock also rose as their hint of rolling out a subscription service led investors to speculate that the company might better be able to monetize their social media platform, which Zach says they need to do.

In fact, the Federal Reserve is not going to stop; they are the biggest catalyst of stock rises the U.S. is seeing across the board. The stock market rally we are experiencing could roll on a lot longer as the Federal Reserve pulls out all the stops, including purchasing corporate bonds, lowering interest rates to near zero, and expanding its Main Street Lending Program to allow more small and medium-sized businesses to be able to receive support.

 

Watch the whole interview here: https://cheddar.com/media/stocks-close-near-session-highs-as-apple-sets-record

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Retirement Confidence

By | Retirement

The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies recently conducted an online survey of more than 6,000 people in the U.S. and found that many are feeling financially vulnerable.

Americans are feeling a distinct lack of confidence, particularly when it comes to retirement. Whether employed or unemployed, the survey found that 23% of workers are no longer certain they can retire comfortably following the coronavirus pandemic.

Not unsurprisingly, the insecurity was highest for baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, who are closest to retirement—32% said their confidence in their ability to retire has gone down due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, 25% of Generation X, those born between 1964 and 1978, said their retirement confidence has declined, and 20% of millennials, people born between 1979 and 2000, said the same.

The research also uncovered the average amount that each generation has put away in savings toward their retirement years. While millennials have a median of $23,000 saved in all household retirement accounts, Gen Xers had a median of $64,000, and boomers $144,000.

The study found that survey respondents also had some money saved to use toward emergencies. Millennials had a median of $3,000 set aside, while Gen Xers had $5,000 and boomers had $15,000 in emergency funds.

Despite having some emergency money, around 22% of survey respondents said they have taken or plan to take a loan or withdrawal from a 401(k) or other workplace retirement savings account to pay for living expenses like their mortgage, rent or food during the pandemic. Millennials were most likely to take such withdrawals, at 33%, compared to 15% of Gen Xers and 10% of baby boomers.

In part, this may be because recently-enacted legislation, the CARES Act, allows those impacted by the coronavirus to withdraw funds from 401(k)s up to $100,000 without the 10% IRS penalty for withdrawals for people under the age of 59-1/2.

Keep in mind that even though there is no 10% IRS penalty for withdrawals from workplace retirement plans, income taxes will still be due on the money withdrawn, which can be paid to the IRS over a period of three years if needed. Or the withdrawn money can be returned to the plan over three years with no taxes due per the CARES Act.

It’s important for people considering withdrawing money from their retirement accounts to remember a couple of things. One, the CARES Act doesn’t actually mandate that a workplace retirement plan has to allow hardship withdrawals for those impacted by coronavirus—it is up to each individual plan administrator whether or not they will allow withdrawals.

Two, the rules about who will qualify for these withdrawals if allowed by the plan are: being diagnosed with COVID-19, having a spouse or dependent diagnosed with COVID-19, or experiencing a layoff, furlough, reduction in hours, or inability to work due to COVID-19 or lack of childcare because of COVID-19.

Experts remind people that those taking withdrawals need to follow all rules, or they will have to pay income taxes on the money withdrawn and owe the 10% penalty.

 

If you have any questions about the current retirement situation in America and what you can do now to protect yourself and your retirement savings, please contact us for a complimentary consultation.

Retirement planning is one of our focus areas, and we are here to help you as well as your family members and friends.

 

Contact Bulwark Capital Management in the Seattle area at 253.509.0395.

 

Source:

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/01/how-the-coronavirus-pandemic-is-hurting-retirement-confidence.html

Zach Abraham Featured by Business Insider

By | Geopolitical Affairs, Market Risk

Zach Abraham was one of the industry experts quoted in the recent Business Insider story, “The European Union’s $826 billion stimulus plan to battle the coronavirus is ‘too small and too late.’”

Zach Abraham told Business Insider that the EU fund is a mere “stop gap” plan of action.

“While the EU relief package will certainly help things in Europe, it appears to be more of a stop gap measure and pales in comparison to actions taken by the US government,” said Zach Abraham, chief investment officer at Bulwark Capital Management.

In its current structure, Abraham said, the EU cannot survive. What will likely happen is that Germany will back down on European Central Bank guidelines that restrict quantitative easing and other forms of monetary stimulus, and countries such as Italy and Spain will be forced to leave, he said.

Other comments from the article

While analysts at Bank of America believe the EU fund is a decent starting point to negotiations, they say it is “too small and too late” for urgent economic needs. Compared to the Franco-German proposal, Bank of America analysts called the EU’s latest recovery fund “tentative good news.”

Goldman Sachs analysts praised the plan as more “ambitious” than the Franco-German proposal valued at €500 billion. Analysts said that it was “close to the Franco-German proposal, but somewhat more ambitious on the loan-based mechanisms for investment.”

Read the whole article here:

https://www.businessinsider.com/what-eu-826-billion-covid-19-stimulus-package-means-2020-5

The story was also republished by MSN Spain and Libertatea, a top-tier publication in Romania:

https://www.msn.com/es-es/dinero/economia/el-plan-de-est%C3%ADmulo-de-750000-millones-de-euros-de-la-uni%C3%B3n-europea-contra-el-coronavirus-es-demasiado-peque%C3%B1o-y-llega-demasiado-tarde-dicen-los-analistas/ar-BB14Oh1r

https://www.libertatea.ro/stiri/ce-se-intampla-lume-era-covid-3019159