Withdrawal Tax-Traps You Want to Avoid!

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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

News Flash:  Baby boomers are getting older! (film at 11).   As if they didn’t have enough to worry about (i.e., parents coming home to live with them, children that can’t seem to leave home, wondering it their money will last through retirement, and an outlook that screams for increased health care costs and taxes), what if there’s an emergency that forces an early withdrawal from a retirement account?   What happens if it occurs before age 59-1/2 and the IRS levies a 10% tax penalty on top of the income tax?

Not a happy situation.  Someone in a 25% tax bracket who needs $10,000 will have to withdraw $13,333 plus money to cover the penalty…

… unless there’s an exception.

For example, an employee over age 50 who withdraw money from company plans after separating from service can withdraw money from his/her plan without paying the penalty – but, as highly-regarded retirement guru Ed Slott reminds us[1] it’s important to know that not every exception applies to every type of plan.  Some exceptions apply to company plans alright, but not all.  Some apply to IRAs, but not all.  Some apply to both.

Is your head spinning yet?  Mr. Slott says he sees the biggest errors with first-time home buyers and people in higher education – situations where the exceptions apply only to IRAs and never to company plans.  In one case a school teacher withdrew over $67,000 from her 403(b) for college education expenses only to find out (in tax court) she had to pay the 10% IRS penalty.

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Here’s another from the Slott files:  A Big-10 accounting firm accountant lost in tax court when he found he had to pay the 10% penalty on top of the taxes for the $30,000+ distribution he took from his 401(k) to begin his Ph.D. studies.   Here’s a real shocker:  Even a person who has negative income for the year and is able to withdraw funds from an IRA tax-free even after the distribution income is factored-in, will still have to pay the 10% penalty – yes, even if there’s no income tax!  This one lost in tax court and again on appeal.  The 10% penalty is completely independent of the level of income for the year.

Medical expenses are another possible trap, according to Mr. Slott.  In one case, someone withdrew a little over $17,000 from her qualified play to pay for medical treatments that began in the same year.  Payment for the treatments, however, was made the following year.  The IRS assessed a 10% penalty, a little over $1,700.  She lost.  The expenses had to be paid in the same year the money was withdrawn.  It’s important to remember that the medical expenses must qualify as deductible, meaning it must exceed the income threshold for claiming the deduction, which increased to 10% of AGI (adjusted gross income) for 2019.  The exception is still available even if the taxpayer uses the standard deduction.

As you can see, there are a number of tax-traps when withdrawals from retirement plans (IRA or company plans) are used to meet emergencies.

Mr. Slott argues – and I have argued as well – this is why it’s important for advisors and their clients to set-up tax-free sources of income, such as non-IRA funds – money that’s already been taxed – so the money will be available for those emergencies when they arise.

It’s not something you can do at the last minute; but, it is something you can plan for IF you plan ahead.

Hope this helps,

Jim

[1] Financial Planning, June 2019.  Ed Slott is a practicing CPA and a nationally recognized 
retirement expert, often appearing on PBS conducting highly entertaining and informative 
educational sessions. 

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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Alternative Investments (“alts”) and The Flight to Safety – Part II

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

In my last post, a talked about how the financial planning profession has changed dramatically since I opened my first office in  1991; but, the financial services industry – not to be confused with the profession that operates alongside it – seems to have changed little, though it’s changed a lot.

I talked about how the financial product manufacturing, marketing, and sales channels represent an industry that exists alongside – not necessarily a part of – the financial planning profession.  It doesn’t help, of course, that anyone can call themselves a financial planner – but I digress.

Alternative investments (alts) represent one example, which I discussed in the last post.  Another alternative investment is deferred annuities.

People love guarantees.  Marketers know this and the use of the word virtually always gets investors’ attention – particularly those who’ve amassed significant assets and are contemplating retirement.

The media – always on the alert for something they can hype or bash for ratings and typically lazy – find it easy to highlight high costs and shady salespeople.   And, there’s some truth to that.  Guaranteed income or withdrawal riders and  equity indexed annuities do tend to have high costs.  Often the guarantees that are less attractive than those presented.

The cost-benefit argument could, and probably will, go on forever.   I have other issues.  The first is, does an annuity make sense at all?  – Any annuity.   There’s no tax-deferral benefit if used inside an IRA and it limits your investment choices.  They also often have surrender charges that enter into future decision-making; but, even when there are no surrender charges, the withdrawals can harm performance or even undermine the guarantees that were the focus of the sale.

For me, here’s the big issue:  the annuity creates something most of my clients no longer want any more of – deferred income (who know what future tax rates will look like in 10-15 years as government deficits climb?  Deferred income comes out first and is taxed at ordinary income tax rates.

Deferred income in non-qualified annuities (outside IRAs, etc., funded with normally taxable money) is income in respect of a decedent (IRD) and does not get a step-up in cost basis at the death of the holder – someone will pay taxes on the earnings and they may be in a higher tax bracket or the IRD may put them there.

There may be other ways to invest using alternative strategies.  Options can work, but they also carry additional costs and risk.

Talk to your advisor –  a real one would be a good idea – to see what your plan should be.

Jim


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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Alternative Investments (“alts”) and The Flight to Safety.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

The financial planning profession has changed dramatically since I opened my first office in  1991; but, the financial services industry – not to be confused with the profession that operates alongside it – seems to have changed little, though it’s changed a lot.  What?  I’ll explain.

The industry, comprised largely of product manufacturers and their sales arms (these days it seems anyone can say their a ‘financial advisor’), has a long track-record of constantly packaging new products to take advantage of a demand among investors that the product manufacturers create through their marketing.   New ‘issues’ (created by marketing) give rise to new products to be sold to fill a marketing-driven demand.  Changes in product innovation to generate new sales is the constant that never changes.

This doesn’t mean it’s all bad; it’s just that it can be difficult for spectators to recognize the game without a program.

Alternative investments get a lot of press these days – especially if there’s a perceived risk of a down or bear market… a perception that’s  convenient to exploit at almost any point in time.  The media likes ratings, so profiling people that called a market  top or decline – and made money – is always good for attracting an audience.  And, since there’s  always someone on each side of a trade, finding someone on the right side  isn’t difficult.

I’ve always felt that many fund managers operate like baseball free agents.  Being on the right side of a call gets them on tv, which in turn attracts new assets, which in turn leads to bigger year-end bonuses.  I could be wrong, or not.

Many captive “advisors” are putting their clients into “alts” these days because their employer firms (the distribution arm for the product manufacturer) are emphasizing them.

My sales pitch for alternatives:   With alternatives, you can have higher costs, greater dependency on a fund manager’s clairvoyance, less transparency, low tax-efficiency, and limited access to your money!  What do you think?

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a black and white decision.  They can have a place in a well-designed portfolio; and, while many endowment funds and the ultra-wealthy do tend to own alts, most of us aren’t among the ultra-wealthy and risk mitigation is important.

What can you do?  What should you consider instead?  Well of course that depends on your situation – everyone’s different.   But, I’ll have a few thoughts you can chew on – and discuss with your advisor – in my next post.

Jim


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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.